Equality and Human Rights

Achieving Diversity in Elected Office – Cllr Shona Haslam, Leader, Scottish Borders Council

In the second of our blog posts exploring diversity in elected office we hear from Cllr Shona Haslam, Leader, Scottish Boarders Council, on the challenges of being a Councillor and managing the ‘mum stuff’…

‘I couldn’t do your job’ has to be one of the most common phrases I hear on a daily basis.  I often ask myself why I do it and why I enjoy it as much as I do.  The abuse on social media, the lies that appear about you in the local papers, the people that stop you on the street to shout at you are still outweighed by that email you receive from a grateful constituent who has been battling for years to get the support she needs for her son/daughter who has been struggling at school.  It is the little triumphs that make the job worthwhile and the stuff that no one ever sees or ever reads about.

But it is hard.  For me it isn’t being a woman that makes it hard.  I have never suffered discrimination or felt that my career has been held back because I am a woman.  I have felt those things because I am a mum.

When I was elected the local paper article began “Shona Haslam, 42 mother of 2…..”. Seriously, that is what it said. Not “Shona Haslam, former director of Asthma UK Scotland and Peeblesshire Youth Trust”. Or “Shona Haslam, local community councillor and activist”.  But “Shona Haslam, 42 mother of 2.”

I have two gorgeous boys, 14 and 10, who I adore, I love spending time with them and I love being mum too.  I am a typical mum of boys, spoiled rotten on Mother’s Day, spend most of my life at weekends on a muddy playing field or up a hill freezing.  Being a mum does bring challenges that I think are very different to men who have kids, and a wife who is mum.

Let me explain, mums and dads are different.  I don’t know why, I don’t know what the answer is, it is just true.  My husband does all the cleaning, all the washing, he is at home when the kids go to school and he picks them up after school.  But for some reason I am still Mum.  It is still me that the kids need when they are feeling unwell, or when they have a question about girlfriends, it is me that they come to when they are upset or hurt and I wouldn’t change that for the world.  Balancing that with being leader of a council is tough though.

Councillors often have more than 5 community councils to attend in a month, council meetings in some areas are still in the evenings.  We can’t claim child care expenses (my first job where this is the case), if a child is ill and it is budget time then forget it.  It is not a family friendly lifestyle that is for sure.

 I look on twitter on a Saturday and see all of my colleagues out delivering leaflets, having surgeries and I think that I am failing somehow because I am doing the football/rugby/swimming/biking shimmy.  Am I failing?  Should I be out doing all of that stuff?  If I was out doing that would I be failing at the Mum stuff?

How do you find that magic balance, where you can be the councillor you want to be, be the mum you want to be, be the wife you want to be, be the person you want to be? Or are we just destined to do all of them at 80% capacity and accept that we are never going to succeed at doing all of them at the same time?  (And 80% is not a bad tally) Answers on a postcard.

What would you put on a postcard to Cllr Haslam? Has your Council employed, or does it intend to employ family friendly policies for elected members? If so why not share your good practice.

Comment below, join us on the knowledge hub Women in Local Government to share your views or contact Hannah.Axon@cosla.gov.uk.

Equality and Human Rights

Diversity in Elected Office- Celebrating International Women’s Day

One of COSLA’s priorities is to develop the diversity of local elected representatives, addressing barriers and encouraging and supporting a wider range of people to come forward as candidates in local government elections.  Over the coming months we will be sharing stories from elected members, celebrating and encouraging increased diversity. We will hear why people choose to stand for elected office, what they gain from doing so as well as the  barriers and challenges they  face  and how these are overcome. Join us as we hear these inspirational stories……

I’m Barbara Foulkes, I’m from Kirkwall on Orkney and I’m the councillor for Kirkwall West and Orphir. I’m married with two grown up children and when off duty I am usually found walking the dog or on the golf course! I was elected in 2017 and to celebrate International Women’s Day I’m reflecting on why I decided to stand for election and how I am getting on two years later…..

Why stand to be a local councillor?

The above is a great question – and particularly so if you are a woman. Personally, I stood because:

I love the place I live in. It is the people that make Orkney, they are warm, friendly and welcoming and I stood for elected office because I wanted to work for them, to make a difference to the quality of life for people here.

I wanted to get involved in local decision making. I’ve always been involved in local groups; I am by nature interested in how things are done, why and for who. It is part of my DNA. I have always been political – I’m a card-carrying Liberal Democrat. These interests drew me towards elected office.

You cannot be it if you cannot see it- and we don’t see enough women in local politics. We need more women in local politics. We are more than 50% of the population but make up only 30% of elected members in Local Government. Women are underrepresented! I also believe women often bring an open mindedness and a resolution and solution focused approach that is sometimes missing in local politics. Women can make a massive difference in political life. I wanted to be one of those women and I wanted to encourage other women into the role too.

And how am I doing – two years on from being elected?

It’s pretty much full time and very rewarding. The day to day meetings at which meaningful decisions are made take up a lot of time – but to be at the heart of the discussions on the strategic future for Orkney is so important to me.

The contact with the people who live in the ward is critical. The best part of the job (and yes, it is a job) is helping someone with a problem. Meeting the members of the electorate one to one means you build up real relationships; it is humbling to be trusted to take the issues they raise forward on their behalf. There is not always a solution and that is hard to accept but most of time we can so something; when we can’t it often helps people just to be a listening ear.

I am a better talker than a writer. I am writing this in the hope that more women will stand for local election. Join the conversation and give more women a voice.

If you would like to get in touch directly my contact details are barbara.foulkes@council.orkney.gov.uk and I’m on Facebook as ‘Barbara Foulkes Councillor’

Refugee Integration, Refugee Resettlement

Young Syrians’ New Lives on the Isle of Bute

Our next guest blogger is Rowan Watkins who made regular day trips to Bute where she met and befriended young New Scots living on the island.  In this abridged extract from Rowan’s final year Baccalaureate report the young Syrians she made friends with open up to her about making new friends and how their education in Scotland has given them new hope for the future.

Argyll and Bute Council were one of the first to receive refugees in December 2015 resettling families on the Isle of Bute. 

On the 22nd February 2018 I went to Bute and interviewed the young Syrian refugees, aged between fourteen and nineteen who had been resettled there.  I wanted to ask them about their experiences of resettlement and what impact the war had had on their own hopes and dreams for their future, the experiences of fleeing their homes and being in and out of school for many key years in their education. 

These young people had lots to say about their experiences and as much of the research into the impacts of refugee resettlement has been on adults, this gave me a chance to give them a voice and let them talk about their opportunities in Scotland.

All the young people above the age of 3 that were resettled on the Isle of Bute attend Rothesay Joint Campus, a 3-18 school.  This has enabled them to make friends, learn English and become active in the community as well as gain an education which will allow them to sit exams and gain Scottish qualifications. 

Rothesay Joint Campus has provided the young people with many opportunities over the past two years as well as support in learning English and help with making friends.  These opportunities include courses and volunteer opportunities to get the young people playing a part in the community, meeting people and putting their English lessons into practice. 

All of the young people are apprehensive about future exams.   Language is still an issue for all but one of them.   They are beginning to make future plans once again.  One young person is hoping to go to university.  He has applied to study immunology.

 “There a few things I’ve been thinking of [for the future] but I have decided that I want to finish my studies and either go to university or go back to Syria, the most important thing is that I want to finish studying. Whether that’s here or in in Syria I want to finish.”

Unlike the rest of the UK, refugees in Scotland are entitled to access further and higher education on the same basis as anyone legally resident in Scotland and can apply to have their tuition fees paid by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland if they are studying for a full time first degree or equivalent. 

Being resettled in the UK has been seen as positive by all of the young people I interviewed.   However, it was obvious from speaking with them that they had a desire to make friends and find their place in the community but due to the language barrier and impact of what they had been through this was extremely challenging. 

I asked the young people if they felt like it had been up to them to make friends or if young locals had tried to initiate friendships, I got a variety of answers due to different levels of English and family circumstances, but all felt that making friends was mostly their responsibility.

“Support from my teachers for my subjects is good…”

“People tried to be friends with me, but it was hard talking”

“When I first came here I couldn’t really make friends until S2 because I didn’t understand the language, but I tried to make friends, I had three support teachers for helping with English [to help make friends]”

For the young people understanding English is the biggest barrier to making friends.  The Scottish Government’s recently published New Scot Refugee Integration Strategy 2018 – 2022 also confirms this.  Being able to communicate confidently with people, including neighbours, shop workers or members of a local community group, help people to feel settled, build social connections and be involved in their local area.

The opportunities for young Syrians in the UK now are much better than when they were living as refugees in the Middle East.  

I have been very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to research a topic which is very widely discussed in the media however little is reported on the experiences, hopes and aspirations of the young people and I hope through this report I am able to give them a voice. 

I wish them all the best for the future and sincerely hope that they will be able to achieve all their dreams.