Votes for Women

Councillor Claire Miller - #ScotWomenStand Role Model & Supporter

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]

“I really want councils across Scotland to reflect the people they represent - which means getting more women elected. In this video I talk about some of the reasons why I stood for election, some of the barriers, and what to do if you're thinking about getting into politics.” - Cllr Claire Miller

Video Transcript:

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!

#FBFMightyWomen- Agnes Agnew Hardie

Working as a shop assistant in Glasgow in the late 19th century, Agnes Agnew Hardie later became a pioneering member of the Shop Assistants’ Union, primarily in an organisational role, being the first woman to hold a position in this group. Affiliated to Labour from the start of her political career, Hardie was the Women’s Organiser of the Party during WWI and during this time, joined the Women’s Peace Crusade, opposing conscription laws.

Unfortunately, no widely accessible images of Agnes Agnew Hardie could be found.  ‘If she can't see it, she can't be it' -  let’s work together to ensure visibility of positive role models, so as to inspire every following generation of women leaders.

Unfortunately, no widely accessible images of Agnes Agnew Hardie could be found. ‘If she can't see it, she can't be it' - let’s work together to ensure visibility of positive role models, so as to inspire every following generation of women leaders.

In 1937, Hardie was elected as a Member of Parliament for Glasgow Springburn, holding her seat up until she retired in 1945. Her election in the early 20th century positioned her as Glasgow’s first female MP, and the fifth female MP ever to be elected in Scotland. Amongst these firsts, Hardie was also elected to the Glaswegian School Board, and initial female member of the Glasgow Trades Council.

Throughout her political activism, Hardie spoke boldly on domestic issues, including food shortages, ensuring the household voice that is still often marginalised, was heard. The environment of Glaswegian, like all of Scottish politics, was typically masculine, yet it gradually changed through more women like Hardie entering into, and speaking for the rights of women.

Unfortunately, her legend is documented minimally. Women in history have invested so much and yet their contribution in whatever way, be it domestic, economic, emotional, political or physical has been erased so much from records. After hours searching, her husband’s career, her children’s choices were considerably more evidenced. Hardie was, like so many other women, recent political ‘firsts’. Even now, in 2019, ‘firsts’ are still being made with women’s (recognised, formal) participation in the political realm. We need to re-write, currently document, and provide platforms for future political activists to be remembered, honoured, and inspired.

Unfortunately, her legend is minimally documented. Women in history have invested equally and yet their contribution in whatever way, be it domestic, economic, emotional, political or physical has been erased so much from records. After hours searching, her husband’s career, her children’s choices were considerably more evidenced. Hardie was, like so many other women, recent political ‘firsts’. Even now, in 2019, ‘firsts’ are still being made with women’s (recognised, formal) participation in the political realm. We need to re-write, currently document, and provide platforms for future political activists to be remembered, honoured, and inspired.


 
beth-ywca-scotland

Written by Beth Cloughton, Young Women Lead Programme Inter, with YWCA Scotland - The Young Women’s Movement. You can follow Beth, and more of her writing on Twitter @Bacloughton, and on the Young Women’s Movement blog!

Jenny Marr - #ScotWomenStand Role Model & Supporter

Empowered and mobilised through her life in the Scottish Borders, and work as member of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Jenny Marr sees the full potential of women in politics, making significant positive change for all a reality.

Jenny addresses us all as members of the #ScotWomenStand campaign, and movement, with mighty words of encouragement to register and use our votes!

jenny-marr-scotwomenstand

Using your vote… It’s another thing to add to the to-do list, isn’t it?

And of course first you have to register to do it.

Then there’s the wading through of manifestos, trying to understand policies, which are not exactly the work of Shakespeare. Then there's the appeal of Love Island, or similar, which are just too all-consuming to consider anything else.

Been there, got the t-shirt. Trust me, I understand.


But what is the alternative? Be left out? Let your voice go unheard?

I know its certainly true that many politicians need to be better at keeping in touch. But don’t allow the laziness of some to block your participation.

Your voice is worth so much more than that.

Women have the right to tell their story, and have fought for that right - some are still fighting. And part of that is through putting a cross on a ballot paper in the privacy of the polling booth.

It’s your school, it’s your health centre, it’s your money. And it goes deeper than that. It’s your grandma who can’t get her flu jab this year, it’s your child whose classroom is too small, or their resources too few. It’s your hard-earned taxes.

Don’t exclude yourself from the narrative. Don’t overthink it. Don’t leave it to someone else.



Sometimes someone in your life is a bigger influence than they were ever able to know. My Grandad, who died when I was just eight, was a Cllr in the North of England.  He was an advocate for, and passionate defender of, local democracy and local government.

He believed in “parish pump politics”, of chewing the fat in the Market Square and fixing problems as a community. Before local government was reorganised, and Councils became much bigger, he said “We have our grumbles and grouses, but at least the system had a soul.”

More than that, the community had a voice, and used it.

They used it by voting.

Politicians are like everyone else. They have their strengths and weaknesses and certainly none of them are perfect.  And if you want to make sure the right ones are hired and fired coming polling day, you can.

By voting you can turn round to them and say I voted for you, I put my trust in you. You really can hold them to account.

The best thing is – apart from how quick and easy the process is – you don’t even have to pick any of them! Leave your ballot blank, spoil it, write a message. All ballots have to be verified, so it will be seen! My favourite was a drawing of a cat, and believe me, that’s not the strangest thing I’ve seen!

Voting plays its part in determining who we are - as a person and as a nation. What we stand for.

If you’re disillusioned, you have every right to be. But disengagement won’t fix it. Don’t make it easier to be ignored.

Play your part.  Because progress is often achieved by small, but not insignificant acts. Like clicking on this link. Or by registering for a postal vote and walking the 2 minutes to the post box. It matters, because you matter.

You can follow Jenny, and all of her community empowering work, over on Twitter @BordersJen.

Read more about Jenny’s recent selection by her party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, to stand as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency.  It’s an extra dose of inspiration, to raise your voice and be heard in the forums of political decision making!




#TBTMightyWomen - Maria Fyfe MP

Born in The Gorbals, in 1938, Maria Fyfe grew up in Pollok, Glasgow. After gaining her degree in Economic History as mature student, she went on to lecture in Further Education in Falkirk, soon going on to become a senior lecturer on TUC courses for union reps at Central College, Glasgow.

From 1980 to 1987, Maria stood as a Councillor in Glasgow, including roles as convener of Personnel Committee, and deputy treasurer for the city council. It was in 1987 that she went on to be elected as Labour MP for Glasgow Maryhill. At the time, she was the only female Labour MP from Scotland, going on to hold her seat in UK Parliament until 2001.

In her biographical profile, provided by the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, her list of titles, experience, and accolades is extensive - and inspiring! Including:

MariaFyfe_MP
  • Appointed deputy shadow minister for women, later Scottish front bench spokesperson on Health, Education and Arts.

  • Chaired Scottish Group of Labour MPs.

  • Chaired Scottish Constitutional Convention working party on equal representation of women in planned Scottish Parliament.

  • Other parliamentary work included international development, making preparations for the Good Friday Agreement, and membership of the Council of Europe, advancing human rights issues.


Throughout Maria’s career, she has been an incredible force for Human Rights advocacy in policy making - both nationally, and internationally. A major passion being her involvement in equal rights for women campaigns, which earned her an Honorary Doctorate from Glasgow University.

When asked about her first days in UK Parliament, in a 2014 interview with The Evening Times, she recalls a scene of incredible lacking with regards to women’s representation:

"When I actually got to the House of Commons there were around 23 women, and only three from Scotland… I was thinking, this has got to change, we've got to have more women in parliament, and I was determined to be part of achieving that."

It was a time when the voices of women were close to excluded in policy making, even on topics which may normatively and/or reasonably be seen as requiring women at the forefront of discussions. Maria, however, never accepted doors being closed on these discussions, nor the gender-biased ways in which women were portrayed - from Parliament and media, to workplaces, education, the home, and even prisons.

DjQ1sLZWsAEyPZX.jpg

Maria Fyfe campaigned tirelessly throughout her career, well up to the present day - through her writing, public speaking, and activism. Including spearheading the recent campaign which saw the famous Mary Barbour - one of the first female Councillors in Glasgow’s City Chambers - finally being honoured, with a statue in Govan.

A significant figure in Scottish politics, Maria Fyfe’s hard work and support of others is a fantastic inspiration - “Rebel Maria” indeed!


You can find out more about Maria’s life and career in her book, “A Problem Like Maria”. As well as in some of the truly insightful interviews she has given:

'Rebel' Maria Fyfe tells of her time as an MP, the barriers she faced and the highlights of her career - by Caroline Wilson of the Evening Times

Just met a rebel named Maria As she prepares to retire from Westminster at the next election - By Jennifer Cunningham of The Herald


Listen to the official British Library recording of Maria Fyfe’s interview for The History of Parliament Oral History Project,
available here.






#TBTMightyWomen - Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz, the first woman elected to the British House of Commons.

 

Constance Markievicz was a socialist suffragette, revolutionary and served as Minister for Labour in the early 20th century, as well as a Member of Parliament for Dublin St Patrick, and served as a Teachta Dála (an assembly delegate- similar to a Member of Parliament).

Not only was she a founding member of Fianna Éireann, and the Irish Citizen Army, she was also the first woman elected to the British House of Commons in 1918 [1]. Although she rejected her seat at Parliament in Britain, she continued to be incredibly influential through less formal routes, grassroots campaigns, and sustained intellectual critique of political structures.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz, gun in hand.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz, gun in hand.

 "I would never take an oath of allegiance to the power I meant to overthrow"

[Quoted in Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p241]

It was in 1908 when Markievicz became politically active, first by joining a revolutionary feminist movement named Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland)[2]. Her political activism was also performatively genius- during a campaign against Churchill’s election (who opposed women voting), Markievicz rode into the constituency in a carriage drawn by four white (one of the suffrage’s colours) horses to promote her political ideology, only to be heckled (classic) by a man asking whether she could cook dinner. Markievicz responded this hilarious and well-thought out (see:sarcasm) comment with ‘…yes. Can you drive a coach and four?’ – personally, I doubt he could do either.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz.

“The Rebel Countess”, Constance Markievicz.

The rebel Countess endured repeated bouts in prison for working towards an alternative reality, one that went against the norm. Although time incarcerated didn’t stop her from being elected into the House of Commons, Markievicz preferred to be at rallies, working in slums, providing food for protesting union workers, and arming herself to fight for suffragist ideals and anti-imperialist agenda[3].

 

Markievicz lived her life by the rules she set herself and not within the confines of society at the time- she was a proficient mechanic, she opted to wear trousers instead of skirts (and was heavily teased for this), she knew how to load and shoot weapons, and was elected to positions of power directing huge groups of people to a more feminist future. And this future was one considering the intersectional nature of identity. This Irish badass recognised that ‘the first step on the road to freedom is to realise ourselves as Irishwomen – not as Irish or merely as women, but as Irishwomen doubly enslaved and with a double battle to fight” (Markievicz, 1909).


[1] Countess Markievicz—'The Rebel Countess'" (PDF). Irish Labour History Society

[2] Countess Markievicz (Constance Markievicz)"Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics.

[3] McKenna, Joseph (2011). Guerrilla Warfare in the Irish War of Independence, 1919-1921. McFarland. p. 112. ISBN 0786485191.