This is the first of what we hope will be a series of blog posts from women who have stood for council. Our aim is to help women to feel better informed about what is involved and to encourage more women to stand for whatever political party they support. Here Emma Knox explains what encouraged her to stand as a council by-election candidate in Highland.
Stretched out on the sofa with a black coffee and toast just settling in for Sunday Politics (yes, really) and the doorbell rings. Dave shouts through, “It’s two of your SNP friends.”
That’s how it started.
Well, I suppose it really started a couple of years before that. I’d been the Procurator Fiscal at Inverness and as such was not allowed to join a political party nor publicly express political views lest it interfere with my prosecutorial discretion. Following a serious car accident, a spell in hospital and life-changing injuries, I found myself taking a completely new direction. Leaving the Fiscal Service freed me to indulge in some political exploration. Freeeeeeeedom!
I had wanted Scotland to be an independent nation for as long as I remember, and I’m socialist through and through. I had been a union member throughout my career – even taking a year’s sabbatical to work as a full time Office Bearer for the FDA (the union for senior civil servants). I decided to join the SNP and before long I was the IT Officer on the local (Loch Ness) branch committee.
I loved every minute of the Yes campaign (well, every minute up to about 2am on 19 September 2014). I campaigned energetically with Women for Independence, SNP, Yes Highland, and I was one of the original signatories to Lawyers for Yes. I loved the creativity and artistry of the National Collective, the humour of Farmers for Yes, the intelligence of the Common Weal, the camaraderie and passion of Women for Independence, the music, the community debates, the speakers, the dancing, the optimism…
So, back to the sofa. It was 7 months post IndyRef. It was Mags and Mairi at the door. They had a plan. They were there to persuade me to stand as the SNP candidate in the upcoming Council by-election.
What made me decide to go for it?
I did extensive research. I wanted to know exactly what a Councillor does and what skills and characteristics might be required. I read reports, surveys, Council minutes, papers, articles. I spoke to people about what they expect of their Councillors. I spoke to Councillors about what they do.
What did I find out? I found out that three quarters of Scottish Councillors are men, only 14% are under 50, and a paltry 3.2% self-identify as disabled. Wait a minute, only a quarter of Councillors are women? That seemed crazy. I couldn’t let that lie.
Apart from being over 50, able-bodied and male, I found that Councillors come from a broad range of backgrounds, with a wide variety of skills and attributes: business, charities, public sector, education, health, retired, single, married, straight, gay, religious, atheist… What they have in common is a genuine wish to do something for their local communities (no matter what their political persuasion).
It’s certainly not for the money.
I found out that the basic Councillor’s salary is around £16k. This might explain why so many are over 50 (and retired). Many people’s first question when considering whether to stand for Council is “can I afford to?”
How much work? The job involves as much work as you want to put in. On average, Councillors work 35 hours a week – ie some work less than that and many work more. (So, that’s £16k for pretty much a full time job). But, as I say, no-one is in it for the money…
I found out that if you are a passionate, articulate, imaginative, altruistic, determined woman who is good at listening and making things happen then you’re just the kind of person your Council and your local community needs.
Mags and Mairi persuaded me - I stood as an SNP candidate and I don’t regret it for a second.