By Gillian Martin @misssym – part of our #newvoices series for the General Election 2015.
I think it was around 4am on 19th September that I decided to join the SNP. Little did I know I was one of thousands making the same decision. I am the Executive for Women for Independence in Aberdeen City and was leading a team of women whose effort of a year of campaigning was culminating in watching the count as election and counting agents. I needed some fresh air and stood outside with my friend Mark McDonald, a local SNP MSP and we were contemplating the impending disappointing result. I think my words were, “Well that’s it then. I’m a nat. Better sign me up” . There was a URL to the join up page in a text message to my phone by the time I got home a couple of hours later.
I’ve voted SNP my entire adult life but I never felt the need to join the party, unlike my parents who are lifelong members. I had no political aspirations, I didn’t feel the need to nail my colours to any particular mast. Plus I liked to argue with my SNP father on occasion at the dinner table to hear how high pitched he’d go. But I’ve always been “a nat”, and by that word I mean simply, I’ve always thought Scotland should be an independent country, but now that I was a campaigner it was time to make it official. And for me the morning of the end of the yes campaign somehow seemed the perfect time, because in my head it was only the start of my campaigning life.
During the referendum campaign I did things as a member of Women for Independence that a year before I couldn’t have ever imagined doing. This is a story that is mirrored across Scotland for so many of our activists. We were just ordinary folk getting up to speak to halls jammed packed full of members of the public, debating against seasoned MPs, being interviewed by journalists, chapping on hundreds of strangers doors to talk about independence and having a new-found respect for post office workers as you applied germolene to your scraped knuckles from leafleting a thousand households with aggressive letterboxes. The referendum thrust us all forward to a domain previously only inhabited by elected representatives, in fact it seemed to prefer to put us “ordinary folks” up to speak on behalf of the movement. It really was great, wasn’t it?
What I wasn’t expecting at all was that in the days after the referendum was that people started assuming that I was going to stand as an MP. Genuinely the thought hadn’t entered my head. It was happening a lot and from people that I hugely respect and admire, not least Christian Allard MSP who stood up in parliament and made a declaration that “Gillian Martin is absolutely the right type of person to stand for this parliament or to sit on the green benches”. I wasn’t watching live, as I was teaching at my college but I could see my phone going daft out of the corner of my eye on the desk as people sent me messages telling me what Christian had said. This was starting to get hard to ignore.
The decision to stand has been hugely difficult, though. I work in education and I love it. I teach students how to make television, and when I’m not doing that I make videos for education, the oil industry and anyone that’ll have me. I also write and make art. I have two kids and a pretty chock full family life full of people who are used to seeing a lot of me. These are all things that will be hugely impacted upon by my decision to become that politician. I’ll have to give up many of the things that make up me. But I keep on coming back to this: be the change you want to see.
I have spent a good deal of my time in the campaign arguing that more women should get involved in politics. I’ve got a gang of women in Aberdeen who had never campaigned before. We are quite famous actually, they call us “The Indy Quines” and we are growing in number by the day. The logical conclusion is that many of those women should now seek to get involved politically and be the change we argued that we wanted to see in an independent Scotland. We don’t have the independence, but let’s not let that stand in the way of us making the changes to the political landscape we want to see. Personally I am tired of seeing a good deal politicians coming from only a few streams of activity. I guess the old Billy Connolly quote applies here. ““The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever becoming one.” I’d change that slightly to “If all you ever wanted to be is a politician, you should be banned from being one”. Politics needs people from a wide range of backgrounds. Because if the corridors of power are stuffed only full of lawyers and former student politicians how can we ever claim that the populace is truly represented?
So it became apparent to me that I should cease being a hypocrite and put my money where my mouth is. I want change. I want it badly. I want a situation where my city can be protected by an oil fund so that the whims of OPEC and American energy markets don’t mean people live in fear of losing their jobs. I want public sector workers to feel that they can afford to live in my city where property prices are so high many teachers, doctors and nurses elect to move to more affordable cities. I want the economic powers to reside fully in Scotland so that we can sort out our own specific local problems, because we know best how to do that. And if we have elected MPs who come from different walks of life, we’ll be closer to the true meaning of representation. After all isn’t representation what being an MP is really about?