YWCA Scotland

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!

Lauren Bennie - #ScotWomenStand Role Model & Supporter

Empowered and mobilised through her extensive work in Scottish communities and organisations, Lauren Bennie sees the full potential of women to take up space, and make real positive change for all a reality. Lauren addresses us all as members of the #ScotWomenStand campaign and movement, with encouraging and supportive words.

Lauren Bennie - Inspiring woman of Scottish & UK politics.

Lauren Bennie - Inspiring woman of Scottish & UK politics.

We need more EVERYONE in politics. We need elected members who have lived experiences like knowing what it means to rent homes on insecure tenancy agreements for decades while saving for a home deposit, or those of us who have been made redundant and had to return to the job centre week in week out to face a different work coach on every occasion, or those of us who understand the pressures of travelling to work on delayed trains and infrequent rural bus services to be faced by an unforgiving employer. Very often it is our experienced care-givers and our home-based family project managers who live closest to the everyday politics, and are best placed to represent us at every tier of our country’s government - from the school PTA, to the village’s Community Council, to a city’s Area Partnership and local authority, or the chambers of our Scottish and UK Parliaments.

We especially need more women in politics. #ScotWomenStand together.

We support one another, we work across party divides. In my Community Council we work on consensus and if we don’t get that, we move to respectful compromise. We don’t need to be bogged down by overtly bureaucratic and archaic voting systems or secret ballots when we can listen to one another and find our own ways forward in the interest of the communities we serve.

#ScotWomenStand up for our rights to be recognised and equal.

I’m a Girlguiding volunteer working with girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 18. As young women, our focus is often steeped in compassion, with care and enveloped in a fairness for all. Every week I see the power of girl-led campaigning and community action. From addressing period poverty in our local village, meeting volunteers from Scottish Women’s Aid or challenging the idea of “women’s jobs” by meeting female vets, entrepreneurs and formula 4 racing drivers, political discourse will always be more vibrant and all-encompassing when we engage with it through our own diverse lived experiences in Scotland.

#ScotWomenStand in line to file important paperwork!

An early step in all of our political journeys is to register to vote. This isn’t just about being able to mark your ballot paper. Being on the electoral register could be your first step towards elected office. To become a Community Council (the most local form of representation), you, your proposer and seconder must all be on the electoral register. The Parliament Project helps you to #GetReadyToStand and part of that journey is being ready at a moment’s notice for a by-, general or even snap election! So get yourself on the electoral register pronto. That’s an easy first step.



Why I want to be a #ScotWomenStand / Hopes for my political career.

Laura rockin’ the #GetReadyToStand tote around the world!

Laura rockin’ the #GetReadyToStand tote around the world!

I knew I wanted to explore how to become more politically engaged long before I attended a Parliament Project workshop in Edinburgh in 2017. I’ve always had the itch to speak up in meetings to represent those with quieter voices, to share an alternative view or play devil’s advocate when a discussion was overtly one-sided. I was often labelled opinionated, feisty, a busy-body…all the usual adjectives used to devalue women. I used them as positive reflection and my own personal power up.

I was the first student (and female) to Chair the Student Representative Council at Dundee Uni, after graduation I went on to work in Westminster as a civil servant and followed that up with a stint working with the national body for local government in England & Wales. When I moved to Glasgow, after attending a couple of community councils I put myself forward for election and have worked my way up over the last few years to become the Chairperson. I’m the third female in succession as Chairperson of my community council. It is a well-known fact that there are more women in these community-led volunteering roles than men. And yet, we are few in numbers in elected capacities, held back by numerous barriers which our male-counterparts are privileged enough not to face. We must not forget that we are phenomenal multi-taskers in our personal, professional and community lives. A perfect quality for future elected members.

What I didn’t know back in December 2017 at the close of the Edinburgh workshop was how the Parliament Project would accelerate the pace of my political journey. As a member of their 2018 Peer Circle Cohort, the team would go on to help me articulate my strengths, commit to my personal pledges, push me towards completing weekly goals and supported my political ambitions by helping me map out my political pathway towards becoming an approved parliamentary candidate for my party. This journey took less than six months.

I love helping people. I fill my month running Guide and Ranger unit meetings, chairing my local Community Council, running several community-based social media channels, volunteering at Parliament Project events and working for a member-led organisation in a professional capacity. My hopes for my political career is simply an extension of this. To help more people in my community have a voice, to act with integrity and strip away all the negative, defensive and unnecessary political posturing I witness day in and day out locally and nationally. If we want to get anything meaningful done, we need to listen to one another, we need to use our lived experiences to work together through consensus and respectful compromise. And…we need more wummin in every tier of Scottish politics!

If I was brave enough I’d keep the Parliament Project’s mantra close to my heart and get, A women’s place is in… parliament, politics, power tattooed across my chest. The Scot in me wants to be a tad more crude in my encouragement of #ScotWomenStand... A woman’s place is wherever the f*** she wants it to be. I’ll see you there.

Kairin Van Sweeden - #ScotWomenRise Role Model & Supporter

Empowered and mobilised by the supportive community created through the 100 for the 100th events of June 2018, Kairin Van Sweeden has gone on to take serious steps towards standing for political office, expanding on her role as Leith SNP Women & Equalities Officer.

Kairin van Sweeden - Leith SNP Women and Equalities Officer

Kairin van Sweeden - Leith SNP Women and Equalities Officer

It was actually due to some bad luck with work in June 2017 that my working timetable changed and I was finally able to get along the branch meetings of Leith SNP. I immediately enjoyed being in the company of political, independence-seeking people.  Coming from a political family, I immediately felt comfortable and mentally stimulated - with a sense of purpose, which I hadn't felt since leaving university in 2015.

I am horrified by the injustices visited upon people by 10 years of austerity and this is on top of many others including the blatant tax evasion of the wealthy, the war in Iraq and the poll tax. There are way too many injustices in the UK actually. In January 2018, I also became involved in the 'Save Leith Walk' campaign and have been aghast at some of the injustices within our planning system. For example, how can several small, local businesses be destroyed at the whim of one larger business? How can a attractive and functional building be destroyed for no good reason apart from profit? There is so much that needs to change here.

After some meetings and campaigning, a few of my co-campaigners suggested that I should think about becoming a councillor but it wasn't until I attended the '100 for a 100' event that I started to think more seriously about standing for political office.

I know that many of my fears are the same as many other women, that is; "I am smart enough?", "Will I let the side down?" However, I realise now that politics is a Geekdom that many people don't inhabit and more women are needed to at least represent our society as it is. So, it is fundamentally for this reason that I think I should put my head above the parapet although I do so with a fair degree of trepidation.

#TBTMightyWomen - Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl

Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl - the first woman elected to represent a Scottish seat at Westminster.

The ‘Red Duchess’, Katherine Stewart-Murray MP.

The ‘Red Duchess’, Katherine Stewart-Murray MP.

Yesterday we celebrated centenary of The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act which allowed some women to stand for election to Parliament in the UK. It took five more years for the first Scottish woman to be elected. Katharine “Kitty” Murray, the Duchess of Atholl, joined the House of Commons in 1923 after winning the seat of Kinross and West Perthshire for the Conservatives. Her story is quite extraordinary and what we know of her and her political journey seems so full of contradictions that I would love to have her over for a tea and a natter!

 She maintained that a woman’s place was at home with her family, and she was one of the key speakers at an anti-suffrage meeting in Glasgow arguing that suffrage movement became too militant, and yet she managed to gain a seat at Westminster as one of only eight women there – far away from the comfort of her own home.  She was not afraid to voice her opinions even if they were at odds with her party, and she embraced change too – later in life meeting with prominent suffragettes on a sisterly basis, and even gaining support from Sylvia Pankhurst in her electoral campaign of 1938.  

 She became known for her humanitarian work in 1930s and after a visit to war torn Spain she started her campaign to bring 4,000 children to the safety of Britain. She succeeded, and her efforts were applauded on the international stage, but at home she was accused of being an anarchist and communist and she earned a title she despised – The Red Duchess. Undeterred by all that, a year later she published The Conscription of a People in which she protested the abuse of human rights in the Soviet Union. Her mistrust of Adolf Hitler and his bestselling Mein Kampf led her to commission a more accurate translation of it, which she felt spelled the terrifying message in it more clearly. Not everyone agreed with her.

 Kitty resigned her whip in 1938 as a protest against Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler and prompted a by-election by applying for the Chiltern Hundreds. Her campaign received support from Winston Churchill and Sylvia Pankhurst, but it was dealt a deadly blow by no other than Stalin himself who also publicly endorsed her. Despite Chamberlain’s efforts who mobilised all of the resources of the Conservative Research Department and the Whips office against her she lost by just 1305 votes.

 After losing her seat she still remained an active campaigner for human rights and against totalitarian regimes and as the chairman of the League for European Freedom in Britain she spoke against the Soviet control of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  She also became one of the first British campaigners against female circumcision in Africa.

 “To Socrates they gave hemlock. Gracoleus they killed with sticks and stones. The greatest and best they crucified. Katherine Atholl can hold up her head in good company. Let the victors when they come, when the forts of folly fall, find the body by the wall.”

- Josiah Wedgwood on the result of the 1938 by-election.

 

#TBTMightyWomen feature, selected and written by YWCA Scotland - The Young Women’s Movement Director, Patrycja Kupiec. Follow Patrycja on Twitter @PMKupiec, and @YoungWomenScot.

 

References: 

 Baxter, Kenneth (2011). "Chapter Nine: Identity, Scottish Women and Parliament 1918-1979". In Campbell, Jodi A.; Ewan, Elizabeth; Parker, Heather. The Shaping of Scottish Identities: Family, Nation and the Worlds Beyond. Guelph, Ontario: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph. 

Campsie, Alison (20 June 2017). "The "Red Duchess" – Scotland's first female MP"The Scotsman. Retrieved 19 November 2018.

 Quigley, Elizabeth (2 March 2010). “From political maverick to historical footnote”. BBC Scotland.  Retrieved 19 November 2018.

 (No author). Katherine Marjory Murray (Kitty) later Duchess of Atholl ~ Politician and Scotland’s First Woman MP. Made in Perth. Retrieved 19 November 2018.

100 for the 100th: the day in June that sparked the #ScotWomenStand campaign

The #ScotWomenStand campaign builds on the success of the ‘100 for the 100th’ events, jointly organised by YWCA Scotland - The Young Women’s Movement and The Parliament Project. Held in June 2018, these events saw 100 women come together to discuss what was needed for a gender equal politics. Learn more about this fantastic event, and all of the action-focused initiatives that continue to result!

By Hannah, Parliament Project Programme Manager

Inspired and inspiring women at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

Inspired and inspiring women at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

On 30th June 2018, 100 women gathered together at the Grassmarket Community Centre in Edinburgh for a vision-building event to celebrate Scottish Suffragettes.  The room was bustling with a glorious group of women with a rich variety of life experiences and different political perspectives, but the key thing we had in common was that we were all women with a passion for gender equality in politics who wanted to make an audacious plan!

YWCA Scotland - Young Women’s Movement and The Parliament Project organised the day with a grant from the Scottish Government Vote Centenary fund. In my role as Programme Manager for The Parliament Project, one of my jobs was to ensure that we had a wide range of women’s voices in the room contributing to the discussion.  It was important that we made access requirements for any woman that needed it – be that BSL interpretation, financial support for travel or childcare, quiet space, PAs (personal assistants).  By ensuring these needs were met, women who don’t always have the opportunity to attend events such as this were at the heart of the conversation.

Collaborative action planning and Zine-making at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

Collaborative action planning and Zine-making at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

Together, those 100 women set about making the first steps of a plan of action to raise the numbers of women of all ages to take their place in our Parliaments and local and community councils across the country, to bring about gender equality in politics in the next 5 years.  This was an ambitiously short period of time (2018-2022) because we don’t want to wait another 100 years to see the reality of gender equality in politics and the difference that will make to our society. 

We heard from a glorious range of females: an artist, a girl, a comedian & a suffragette. We made zines. together, we ate together, we muraled together and we made an audacious plan! It was a hot, hot day and the room was heavy with the heat, but we smiled, sweated and supported our sisters.  During the afternoon 2 women in the room, Kairin & Mary each stated their ambitions to stand for elected office. 

100forthe100th-8543.jpg

The optimistic, encouraging and hopeful energy in the room was palpable. We all knew that if different spheres of Government were represented by the gloriously diverse group of women we saw in that room, that our democracy could function effectively.  We can’t wait another 100 years until that happens - we need momentum and action sooner than that.  We hope we can have another day following on from 100th, bringing together more women to join the conversation and engaging senior representatives from relevant public bodies in Scotland to join us. This is a movement and the more people – women and men – who can jump on board, the quicker we’ll reach our goal!


Hannah, Parliament Project Programme Manager