Claire Miller is the Green councillor for Edinburgh City Centre and is the spokesperson for economic development within the Edinburgh Green group of councillors. She was elected in 2017 after a career in business, including financial services.
Cllr Miller’s political interests are local action to prevent climate breakdown, equalities and in particular women’s rights and eradicating poverty. Claire has been involved in getting women into politics via the Parliament Project and within the Scottish Greens through the Women’s Network. You can follow Cllr Miller, and all of her professional announcements, over on Twitter @CllrCMiller
In the form of a video blog, Cllr Miller has shared her responses to questions posed for Step 2 of the ScotWomenStand Campaign, “Understanding Politics & Democracy”. Her answers provide a fantastic insight into life as an opposition Councillor, including how to forge a path into the role, and the many ways it opens up opportunities to contribute to and support our local communities.
[Full Transcript below video]
Hi, My name is Claire Miller - I’m the Green Councillor for the Edinburgh City Centre ward, and I’m making this video for the ScotWomenStand’s theme this month, of “Understanding Politics & Democracy”.
They’ve sent me a few prompt questions, so I’m just going to talk off the top of my head, on some of the questions that are on this prompt.
The first thing they’ve suggested is talking about what issues are important to me, and why:
So, I got into politics because I felt it was important that more women got involved - to campaign, and make change at a local level.
I work at Edinburgh City Council, and I thought that there were issues that could be solved at council level, that were important for us in terms of Green Party politics. Things like tackling climate change, [which] involves making local changes - like transport, energy efficiency of buildings, and so on. And so, there’s lots of local stuff that can be done, that has an impact at a global level. That’s what motivated me to get involved in politics, at a local level, in the first place.
One of the other questions that they’ve asked us to cover when we make these videos and blogs is about role models:
Actually, for me, I never intended to run to be elected. I thought I would join the Green Party because I would maybe support others, from behind the scenes. I’m usually somebody who is more comfortable and confident sitting at a desk, and doing research and supporting others. But, I became encouraged to stand for office because I came in and shadowed the Green Councillors; and I followed my now colleague, Mel Main, who represents the Morningside ward.
I went through some of the work that [Cllr Melanie Main] was doing, and discovered that it was definitely something that I thought I could do. I could bring a lot of my skills to bear.
I thinks it’s worth considering whether, you know - well, you may have already thought about being in political office. My image of it before was that it would be quite scary, there would be a lot of public speaking required, and you would be a target for people’s vitriol. And, to some extent, that is true; but it’s not as prevalent as I thought it would be. I think you can manage the way in which you do your political job, so that it suits you, and it suits our character.
So, while there are some elements of public speaking, actually - at council meetings - I don’t find it too difficult anymore. I think the first year I found it quite stressful until I got used to it. But, actually, it’s really quite doable for people like me who are not too confident at doing that sort of thing.
Having a bit of resilience is important but, actually, more important is building your rules around how you’re going to engage with people. If you open yourself up to that social media free-for-all, then you’ll probably get attacked. But, you can manage your social media presence in such a way that it’s meaningful and helpful to your residents - but, you don’t get involved in flame-wars, and people trolling you. I have only received a few properly negative messages, and certainly nothing scary; and, I think that down to the fact that I use my social media to communicate with people, but I don’t really use it to get into debates about my politics. I don’t necessarily think that that wins people over. So, I just don’t do that.
So, I was inspired by [Cllr Melanie Main], and the ways that she was making a difference in the council, and the fact that it was something I could see myself doing. Because, actually, it’s good to have an inquiring mind, to ask questions; to have the ability to go talk to people, find out how to make changes that will start to take you towards your goals, and work incrementally on things.
That’s the sort of stuff I was already quite good at in business - I came from a business background. So, I’ve been able to apply those skills here, in my work as a Councillor, successfully.
[ScotWomenStand] have also asked what further systems, support, and platforms would I like to see:
I think that’s a really important question, because for women standing for elected office, there are so many barriers in the way of standing. I think there’s got to be a lot of change made in the way that council works before it’s a really accessible place for women to think that it’s a really good place to work, and that it’s an easy place to work once you get elected and find yourself here.
Here I am in my office. As you can see, it’s not very tidy - but, this is where I do most of my work and, unfortunately, some of the technology that I’ve got available to me can be a bit flaky. At that means then that, although I would like to work from home quite often, I find myself here. Even if I could really be doing things from home, it’s sometimes easier to just come in.
We do have the flexibility in that we can set our own timetables. We can decide where we’re going to work, and what time we’re going to work. Which is really helpful, and you can fit it around other responsibilities, and - although I don’t have childcare commitments - I can see that that’s something that is possible to do.
But, we do have problems. There is quite a lot of open-ended, in terms of time, commitments. Committee meetings; so, a committee meeting will have an agenda, and it will have a definite start time, but it doesn’t have a definite end time. So, you don’t know what time you’re going to be finished at a committee meeting. Experience can show you might estimate it to take, but you don’t actually know what time you’re going to get out of there. And, that can be quite difficult.
I think there is a range of issues. It’s just not a very forgiving environment. I suppose, as well - I think if you’re happy with the cut and thrust of the debating with people, then it’s ok. But, it can be quite challenging to fight for what you want, and stand up for the things that you’re looking for. But then, that can be quite rewarding as well. I find it quite rewarding when I manage to achieve something. I feel really that it’s more of an achievement than if I hadn’t had to battle for such a thing. So it’s good from that point of view. But, there are so many things that we need to change.
So, one of the positive steps that I’ve been making is that I’ve joined a working group in CoSLA - CoSLA is the organisation of all of the local authorities in Scotland - and we had a conference last year, with women of all of the local authorities, to look at how we can take down all of the barriers to women standing for elected office. Because I see a lot of women - certainly a lot on that day - who were elected in 2017, the same as me, who are now thinking that they might not stand for election again. And, I know that some of my friends in this council are considering the same. They are thinking about standing down. It is a shame, as it takes a little while to get into the job, to get your network of contacts in the council, and to get your feet under the desk and start to make a difference with the work that you’re doing. So, we need to make it easier and quicker to do that, or we need to make more attractive for women to stand for more than one term of office.
But, I would like to make it easier to get started, because then people would be more likely to take four or five years - a sort of sabbatical, I guess - leave from their work, or work part-time, to come and do an elected role like this, and then go back to their professional role again. Whereas, I think the fact that it’s quite time consuming to get started means that women are either put off from doing it, or you end up with career politicians that stay for a very long time and, perhaps, that’s not the best model. I think it might be better to have women coming in from professions, spending 4-5 years depending on the electoral term, doing the job, and then moving on. Back to their role as a professional, or as a parent or carer - whatever their role that they’re moving on to. That would be my preference.
The other barrier, when you think about that, is that getting elected is very digital. You’re either elected, or you’re not. And you spend a lot of time campaigning for an election, in the run up to it. So, if you’re elected then “hurrah!”, you’re in office. But, if you’re not elected and you haven’t lined up work, or if you’re not sure what direction you’re going to take when you’ve been elected and you’re looking to be re-elected and then you’re unsuccessful, that can be quite difficult to deal with work-wise.
We should talk about the fact that, financially, it’s - again - very digital; you’re either elected or you’re not. If you’re not in administration, you’re not well paid. So, as an opposition Councillor, I’m paid less than £17,000, and that’s because the role is salaried to be a pro-rata part-time role. And, actually, realistically, if I was to do all of my committee work, and all of my case work, and all of my party work - and everything that I do in this role, and add it up, it would definitely not come to part-time hours. So, the pay is really unrealistic for what we do. But, if you’re in administration, if you’re in the ruling party, there are senior Councillor allowances and those are divided up between the different Conveners, and people who have got different roles, such as the Lord Provost. Those roles are reasonably well paid, and on a par with a professional role. So, it can be perfectly well paid, or it can be really, really badly paid. There’s a big disparity, too.
As an opposition Councillor, I do an awful lot of work for a very small amount of money. We don’t have a lot of expenses either, so it’s not as if I’m claiming any additional money at all - I’m not. My one claim is for a bus pass, so I can go around to the different meetings in the ward.
So, yeah, there are a lot of barriers. I’m not going to mince words. But we are working on them, through that CoSLA working group. It’s about all barriers to all groups who have got protected characteristics. So, it’s not just access for women, it’s also for people with different disabilities, or differently abled people; different genders and sexualities, etc. It’s intersectional, and it’s looking at other issues, not just ‘Women’s issues’. Which is really important.
One of the things that I’m quite disappointed in, in the council that I’m in, is that we’re not gender-balanced. Some of the political groups are. We’re lucky in the Greens that we managed, through our gender balancing mechanisms, to get a 50:50 balanced group elected. But, even if you stand 50:50 in your candidates, you might not manage to elect a 50:50 group. So, we’re fortunate, and I’m aware of that. That wasn’t necessarily going to be the outcome under every circumstance. But it would be lovely, in the future, to see a council that did genuinely reflect society. We’re very poor at doing that in Scotland; in our Parliament and our Councils aren’t gender-balanced. Nor do they reflect all of the other different characteristics, ethnicity and so on. They are poorly reflected.
So, yeah, let’s end on a positive! [ScotWomenStand] asks what words of support and guidance do I have for fellow women of Scotland:
I would say, jump in! Genuinely. Contact a Councillor who you admire, or contact an MSP who you admire and think highly of. If you’ve seen them speaking, or you’ve seen an article in the press where you think they presented a point of view that resonated with you, get in touch with them and ask if they’ve got any opportunities to come in and shadow them. Or, to volunteer, to help with any of their work, because that’s the best way to get started. I found that to be really helpful. You find out exactly what the job is like. I would recommend it even if you decide then not to stand as a politician, because it’s just a really interesting experience, and you get to understand what it is that we do!
My work is incredibly varied. Last week we had a meeting of full council, and I made several contributions to different debates. Some of which I won, some of which I did not win. So, it can be quite dramatic at council; and sometimes you can come away from it feeling good, and sometimes not so good, like last week. But, some of the other things I was doing in the last couple of weeks included meeting the director of the National Galleries to talk about some of their strategic plans. I went on a visit to Edinburgh College, because I’m working on a project called Granton Waterfront, where there’s a big development site and they are currently in the middle of that location, so they’re going to be an important partner there. I went on a walkabout with some of the residents in an area in the city centre where they’re having some trouble with cars parking on the pavement. I had a surgery meeting in the evening, and I had a residents’ association meeting.
So, I did lots of varied work, and I think you only get a sense of the kind of variety, and the interesting stuff that we do, if you just spend some time with a Councillor or an MSP to find out what we do. And, there’s lots of support roles, as well. If you look at it all and think “ach no, that’s not for me” there’s lots of jobs that sit either with the parties - so they will advertise for lots of different roles - or there’s jobs working with the Parliament or Council, where you’re supporting the politicians to do their jobs. And, we could not do our roles without those people there. They are really valuable to us, and they provide us with really important support. And, again, it’s a really great way to do something that supports the community.
So, I hope that was interesting! A little bit of a ramble, unprepared - but, probably a little bit more genuine for that. I hope you enjoyed it!