So last Thursday evening was the Holyrood 2021 hustings for Lothian. I was extremely nervous after a bad experience the week before at the Westminster hustings (let's just say it's probably for the best that the Skype kept cutting out on me) but I managed to scrape through this one not too badly at all.
All the candidates were brilliant, so it's fair to say the Lothian list will be super-strong for 2021, whichever order we end up in.
For anybody who missed it, here is the list of the questions that we were asked, and how I would *actually* answer them outside of an incredibly high-stress environment. Plus one or two comedy GIFs, obviously - because this is me after all.
1 - If you were elected as a Green MSP, which topic would you like to be our spokesperson on and why?
I picked Health, because I feel quite strongly that we need to see a shift in the culture of the NHS from being driven by the needs of the service provider to being centred around the needs of service users. As a mum of three young children I have intensive, recent experience of the baby-making process and how that interacts with the Health Service (that's a bit of a roundabout way of saying I am a birth geek). This is an area where I feel we have A LOT of work to do, as the process of entering into parenthood has massive social implications given that the mental and physical health of parents directly affects the health of the next generation.
Also, the part that I was kicking myself for omitting from this answer after I sat down was; I spent 18 months in contract with NHS Education for Scotland between babies 2 and 3, as the business project manager for the design and build of a database to manage details of all the trainee doctors in Scotland. This gave me loads of insight into NHS culture and challenges, as well as a decent working knowledge of the organisational structure, infrastructure and processes involved - so yes I'm personally drawn to it as an area of particular interest, but I do also have substantial skills and experience to back that up.
2 - How are you/the Scottish Green Party going to move us away from the current obsession with economic growth as the best measure of a successful society, especially as we already consume about 3 planets worth of resources every year?
This one is going to take a LONG time to chip away at - economic growth as an indicator of success is so very ingrained in social attitudes that we are going to have to be pragmatic and extremely patient in our approach to tackling it.
I suspect the best way of approaching this one will be to really focus on improving the overall quality of life for the people of Scotland; this means bringing an end to austerity as soon as possible, seriously investing in health and education, and to my mind introducing a universal basic income. Folk who feel safe, comfortable and supported in their environment will be 100 times more open to attitude and culture shift - if we can focus on meeting peoples' survival needs as a first step, we are much more likely to bring them with us when we start talking less about economic growth and more about overall wellbeing. Once everybody feels safe enough to move out of the have/have not mindset that perpetual growth economics creates, we might even begin to think about *whispers* bringing down capitalism altogether.
3 - You’re canvassing during the election campaign, and a voter says “I support your policies, but I don’t support Scottish Independence.” How do you respond?
I loved this question so much that I used my wildcard to answer it even though I wasn't on the list of folk to respond!
My thoughts are that we don't necessarily need to get drawn into much debate on the constitutional front; anybody who's thinking clearly now can see that public opinion is almost exclusively moving towards independence and away from the Union. We can see from polling that young people are overwhelmingly supportive, and to me it's only a matter of time (and unfortunately for us, patience) before it comes.
So I wouldn't necessarily spend too much time on the matter. We can use the Green New Deal as evidence that the SGP is more than ready to plan for Scotland's future under the current constitution, and we can talk about how we have been holding the SNP to account on local government spending in the last 2 budgets, which will probably go down pretty well.
Above all, we need to practice showing empathy for their situation; acknowledge how hard it must be for them to be at risk of losing the Union - it can't be easy being pro-Union at the moment, and we need to be able to show that we understand that.
Lastly, the point I made in person at the hustings - if arguing about the facts was going to work and secure us independence, that would have worked by now. We need to get better at respecting folks' emotional attachment to the Union, and just be a bit kind to them during this difficult, transitionary period.
4 - What should the party do, and what have you done/will do, to improve our appeal to BAME individuals and communities?
I wasn't called to answer this question, but my instinctive reaction was that a good start would be to vote Nadia Kanyange right up there on the Glasgow list!
There's no denying that we are an extremely white party, so we definitely need to get better at engaging with other groups. I really liked the answer that Kate gave, about getting ourselves out into under-represented communities rather than expecting folk to come to us. I also absolutely love Lorna's re-framing of under-representation as a problem of *over* representation of white men, and this might be a handy technique for us to use, to drum into ourselves that this really is a problem that needs to be addressed.
5 - Young people have activated the climate movement across the world. What are your thoughts on the future of young people shaping politics and how you would enable young people as an MSP?
This was the moment where I found myself absolutely gutted I'd used up my wildcard on question 3 and wasn't called to answer this one!
Ok, so I have a lot of theories on children and young people - mostly informed by the screeds of reading I've done on attachment theory and childhood trauma since I became a parent.
My approach to young people is primarily informed by coming to terms with my own experiences as a young person, and as a parent to three children, who are currently 9, 8 and 6. I struggled a lot with my mental health and self esteem as I was growing up, and have been working really hard to deal with my issues so that I don't end up passing on unhealthy patterns to the next generation. With the shift in our culture towards a better awareness of the rights of children (see recent changes to the law on spanking for a tangible example of this), we are starting to see a generation of children emerge who have grown up probably feeling a good deal safer than generations before them. And we know that people learn best when they feel safe.
Young folk are overwhelmingly pro-EU and pro-independence; what I think we're seeing is here is their ability to see through misinformation and emotional attachment, and make decisions based on actual evidence. How many older voters do you know that actually seriously challenged their views one way or another on the independence referendum? I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it because my gut tells me it's true - we need to find the courage to believe that our kids might know better than us on many things, simply because they haven't had the chance yet to pick up all the social filters that colour our decision making as grownups.
So I'll be making it my business to actively listen to and promote younger candidates, because frankly I think their instincts are probably better than ours.
6 - In recent years sectarianism has got worse in Scotland, how do we deal with this?
I started off on this question by talking a bit about how I'm not sure sectarianism has actually "got worse". I know it looks like that, post-Brexit, but Brexit didn't create these tensions, it just uncovered them - sectarianism was always there bubbling away beneath the surface, I suspect it's just more visible now, that's all. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, because the longer it flew beneath the radar, the longer we might be tempted to mistakenly assume it wasn't an issue any more...
In terms of addressing it, I feel personally quite drawn to Jack McConnell's proposals about getting leaders from both communities sat down together to discuss the problem in person. This would have to be facilitated extremely sensitively though, by folk who have the capacity to see both sides of the issue rationally, and who have the ability to feel (and importantly, show) empathy for others, even where they may profoundly disagree with them. I would also be tempted to have a quiet word with Mr McConnell about his use of language - saying stuff like "the cancer of sectarianism" in the context of mediation and reconciliation is likely to be counterproductive.
I'll also go back to the point that I will probably keep making again and again - get people's survival needs met, and they will almost certainly be less likely to engage in "othering" and violence. How much of sectarianism can be put down to deprivation and alienation in communities? I don't honestly know, and would have to do some more in-depth reading to answer that confidently; but human nature being what it is, I'd be extremely surprised to find that those engaging in violence against others don't have serious social problems of their own that need to be addressed. It's not often people who feel safe, secure and happy that get violent...
7 - What is your view of the parties policy on trans rights?
Well, the short answer here is that I am supportive of it. I'm not going to pretend that I fully understand all the ins and outs of the topic, because I've lived life in a very binary context up until now, so I'm just learning. I don't fully understand astrophysics either; that doesn't mean I'm not prepared to believe it's a real thing!
I strongly believe that if somebody tells you "this is who I am", the only kind response is to believe and support them in that, and if nothing else I am committed to being a kind person. It may take a bit of time for those of us with extremely binary mindsets to overcome some feelings of discomfort and confusion, but as long as we can own and manage those feelings with a view to letting them go (as opposed to projecting them onto other people where they don't belong) we will get there - it just takes a willingness to learn and grow, and some practice.
Apart from anything else, some of the most insightful commentary on human nature that I've heard in my time has come from folk who were brave enough to step outside the tidy wee boxes that binary gender culture would have us inhabit - Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, David Bowie*. My guess is that trans and non-binary people probably understand the concept of gender in a much more sophisticated and nuanced way than I do, so it makes sense for me to listen carefully and learn from them.
8- Should we stand candidates for Holyrood in all the constituencies?
YESSSS! Give everybody the opportunity to vote Green. :-)
...but in a more measured response, of course this will depend on research done into winnable seats and party resources available closer to the time, all of which will become clearer in due course.
I have a feeling that we are approaching a tipping point where folk are starting to realise that we cannot continue allowing unresolved constitutional issues to prevent us from addressing the far more fundamental issue of climate emergency. It may be that we find people are ready to vote Green in considerable numbers a lot sooner than we expect - and we will need to be ready for that.
9 - What demographics do you believe are the most open for increasing the green vote?
A few candidates went for young people here, but I suspect they are pretty ready to come with us already. In terms of actually increasing the green vote, I reckon there's a lot of talking to be done with early middle-aged parents. We are seeing literally thousands of folk taking their toddlers and young children to climate marches because they're genuinely afraid for their future. This is a group that we might find to be willing to prioritise the planet over shorter-term policies and the constitution.
I also think Lorna was spot-on in her identification of disappointed Labour and SNP voters as folk we might want to start listening to.
10 - What are your views on the legal status of sex work?
I would like to see people well enough taken care of by the government, that they don't need to sell sex for a living. BUT please bear in mind that I come from quite a traditional background, so this might be me making faulty assumptions about why people engage in sex work based on my own cultural biases.
If anybody is going to work in any field, my thoughts are that we should be doing whatever's necessary to keep those people safe. If the research tells us that legalising sex work is a way to keep sex workers safe, then I am supportive of that. However, again this is not an issue on which I've done huge amounts of reading, so I would very much be looking to experts and research to bring me up to speed on what exactly the evidence says.
As one of the other candidates quite rightly pointed out, speaking to actual sex workers to find out about their needs and thoughts is probably the best place to start!
11 - A major ticking time bomb for Edinburgh is the state of older buildings, especially tenements. The council has no money to intervene, so what can MSPs do, by way of law or other tools, to make a real difference?
This was where I (in political terms) thoroughly disgraced myself at the live hustings by admitting that I was unprepared for this question and therefore stumped.
However, I don't really feel the need to apologise for not knowing something on the hoof, because at the end of the day I'm probably only about 3% human encyclopedia, at most. Something I learned from years as a project manager in financial services, small business, and the NHS, is that you don't need to know everything to get stuff done. I have *absolutely no clue* how to go about coding you a database in SQL, but I can communicate really well with the people who do - and then I can "translate" all the resulting tech-speak into ordinary business language for everybody else.
I'm guessing this question may have been inspired by the recent tragic fire in a tenement building near Tollcross, and I agree that we need to seriously look at safety standards in Edinburgh buildings. Andy and Chas both gave brilliant, detailed answers to this one, so they would probably be my first port of call when deciding where to go for advice and information to take it forward.
12 - If you were selected in the lower half of the list, what do you think you’d be best set to do to support higher candidates?
Ok, so as well as project management, my professional background is in communications - most recently digital comms - so I would be very happy to lend those skills to the higher candidates. See the #SGPWNHeroes campaign if you would like an example of my marketing / comms work.
But also, as a mum of three and someone who has done a LOT of work on her personal filters, I can offer emotional support and confidence-building tricks that could really help folk project the image of success and security that we will need in order to attract voters who want "strong leaders".
In more practical terms, I can fill in at hustings and help with canvassing. If anybody is feeling anxious and wants a wee blast of reiki, I can do that too. :-)
13 - How can we reach out and win over voters who have never voted Green at Holyrood before?
Based on my observation, Green politics have always seemed a bit like the "odd one out" - certainly non-mainstream, and subject to a lot of negative projection from more conventional/traditional parties and voters. What I've recently realised is that Greens were just YEARS ahead of their time!
We have members who have spent literally decades living sustainably and working in areas relevant to climate - I imagine many of them understood the full implications of climate change years ago and felt horribly Cassandra-like. That's a massive bank of entirely relevant skills and expertise, that no other political party in Scotland can possibly hope to match.
Our challenge now, is how to package that information up and get it past the social filters of folk who have mistakenly written the Greens off as disorganised hippies. But that's where having folk like me in the mix is going to help. I know coming from an apolitical background in banking might make me sound pretty hopeless in a Green context, but it's due to that background that I know how to operate in hyper-rational environments - what's expected, what works, what sets you back, how to get often small c conservative people to engage with the changes you want to make. These are skills that I can use to make green messages really accessible to folk who may never have considered voting for us before.
14 - What are your views on referenda? Do we need more direct democracy, and if so, how can we help people make well informed decisions?
Personally I loved the Scottish Independence Referendum (well, right up until the early hours of 19th September 2014 anyway), it forced me to take a long, hard look at myself, and kick-started my interest in politics - having been completely apolitical and apathetic until then. I look back on it as a transformative life event, and I will always be grateful for the lessons I learned from the experience.
However I know that a lot of people really didn't share my enthusiasm for it, and it felt hard, confrontational and even traumatic to some. There is a grain of truth in the "divisiveness" chat that we hear from the pro-union side (which is probably why Yessers find that so very infuriating to hear) because by their very nature, referenda force us to examine our beliefs and form decisive, binary opinions on stuff that we maybe haven't considered in any great depth before.
But even though they can lead us to places that feel uncomfortable, I can't quite bring myself to believe that asking people to examine and challenge their beliefs is a bad thing; in fact we could probably all do with more of that. The trick will be learning how to deal with the fallout of referenda, both in government and interpersonally - particularly where the results are close.
For one last time, I'm going to go back to the whole "meet survival needs" thing and suggest that society would be a lot better equipped to deal with referendum fallout if folk weren't living in poverty and distress in disgraceful numbers.
That's all the questions, phew! If anybody has anything they would like to ask me, please feel free to leave a comment below. The hustings honestly was a great experience, and I was SO impressed with the quality of the candidates. We are on to a good thing here, bring on Holyrood 2021.
* It probably speaks to a few remaining dregs of internalised misogyny that I can't immediately come up with any women eschewing gender norms who have provided similarly insightful social commentary! I did think about including James Barry, the first British surgeon to carry out a successful caesarean section in the early 1820s. Barry was in fact a woman called Margaret Ann Bulkley who lived as a man in order to study medicine, but it's not clear if she was *actually* non-binary, or just happy to get one over on gender norms for the sake of following her passion for medicine. I suspect the post-mortem description of her as "an imperfectly developed man" was likely the patriarchy trying to save face via the (presumably embarrassed) Victorian doctor who had considered her a male colleague for years! Told you I was a birth geek...