I suffer from vertigo, badly! It’s no secret but it surprises folk because, well, as they reason…I’m a six foot woman! Personally, I’ve never quite understood the logic in that, but suffer I do. As the SNP candidate in a constituency full of lofty tenements, I’d be fibbing if I said there hadn’t been the odd wobble in my quest to chap as many doors as possible.
It started in Blackpool! In the fun house to be exact. As a child, a family holiday and an incident involving a high ledge and a vibrating ladder introduced me to a life-long phobia of heights.
From that point, it was the ‘penny pushers’ every time for me. Remember them? Shove in a few 2ps in the hope of a few more being shoved off the sliding shelf…yes, no? Anyway, post Blackpool, the penny pushers fast became the limit to my fairground fun back in the homeland that was Ayrshire. I’d stand there, just begging a few coppers to spill out into my hand, whilst listening to the squeals of delight coming from my brother and sister above on the adrenalin ride of the roller coaster.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately…those contrasting experiences.
This week, I return to the madness of full time teaching (There’s a family to feed!) and evening/weekend campaigning, determined to graft and retain this wonderful seat of Edinburgh Central for the SNP on 5th May. As I wipe what is hopefully the last trace of chocolate from my mouth and consider the campaign ahead, my thoughts turn to the different daily experiences lived out by the folks of our diverse constituency. Walk its length and breadth and you’ll find many affluent areas and households, but many real pockets of poverty too – a snapshot of the austerity led inequality that ravishes wider Scotland today.
Christmas, if anything shines a light better on inequality, it’s Christmas. For lots of folk, the memory of it now lives on as a photographic explosion across social media, fun filled scenes of family, friends, dinners and presents…and New Year resolutions now trending as ‘#detox’, ‘#gym’ and ‘#diet’. Even as I sit here in my wee café tapping away on the laptop, I can overhear the couple next to me talking about weighing themselves in the morning.
For too many, it’s been about pushing pennies, struggling to just survive, and now in this New Year, being anxious about what it may not again bring. Whether one of the 7,000 Scots who needed emergency support from a food bank in the week before Christmas; those fighting to heat their homes or feed kids without the support of free school meals during the holidays; or simply the ongoing stress of low pay, squeezed benefits, rising debts, and unaffordable rents, or no home at all…the contrast in life experience is stark.
All around our constituency, there are those squealing with delight on the roller coasters, whilst too many are stuck waiting on coppers at the side shows. Why does it have to be so?
Portraits, 49 of them, and all street vendors. Before Christmas, I met with the lovely staff at The Big Issue in the West End, and was struck (not literally) by the painting that hung in their reception area. One of the staff members had won a portrait competition and asked the local artist to paint the street vendors instead, all 49 faces in one painting. Gazing across at it from my chair, this piece of art sought to honour these men and women and value them as citizens.
In my meetings with different charities, I’ve been reminded of the immense difference they all make, but more so, the beautiful dignity shown in the delivery of those services. It’s a lesson for many in the haste to stigmatise and write off poverty as a life choice.
Life is not straightforward…I will say it time and time again. Maybe if I hadn’t had my wee incident with the high ledge and wobbly ladder, I’d now be abseiling down the side of a mountain by now! Take that onto the serious stage of the real world and if it wasn’t for that job loss, that illness…or the full force of Tory cuts that hit folk when they are already down?
One in five living in poverty. As teachers who seek to empower all children within our classrooms, we’re only too familiar with these statistics, and more so, the real life impact of austerity policies on our schools and our families…and not always where you’d expect. As modern day educators, we wear many hats but the most recent addition of ‘poverty proofers’ is the saddest one of all.
Through it all though, I’ve been proud of the compassionate delivery of our Scottish Government…the millions spent mitigating the Tory cuts; protecting our public services; educational maintenance allowances, attainment funds, the living wage, extended childcare; affordable housing targets; and free education, school meals and prescriptions…stigma free for all! And now, I fully trust the SNP to build on this delivery in any third term, and to make good decisions with the new tax and social security powers to come.
So here’s where I struggle, and naive I may be…why should roller coaster riders just care about roller coaster riders? Why can’t they reach out in an understanding of those trapped at the penny pushers and overcome together, the vertigo that holds them there? Why can’t our vision for our society be wider than our own little worlds? Why can’t we find ways to grow a fairer society so that all have an equal opportunity on the showground of life?
As your SNP candidate, I will do my utmost to work hard and build a fairer and more equal constituency. My own family have known struggles with homes, jobs, or having just enough at times over the years and although those troubles are a drop in the ocean compared to the experience of others, I want that empathy to be in the driving seat of all that I do.
It’s why in a constituency renowned for high rents, I will argue passionately for rent controls and affordable housing because all of our people deserve somewhere to call home…and we all need sustainable communities. It’s why my other priorities will be closing the attainment gaps across our schools, ensuring fairer work for all, empowering women and families through extended childcare, and contributing to the ongoing policies of a socially just and compassionate government.
In May, we voted in 56 SNP MPs, speaking out against the Tory ethos of attacking the vulnerable in our society, and supporting a fairer society for all. Trying my utmost to switch from candidate head to the impartial one of my previous civil service career, I can see no other well considered and compassionate strategy from the opposition that will keep moving this constituency, this nation, forward. That’s the very least the people deserve, the rest is just noise. So, roller coasters, penny pushers…even the dodgems…let’s get on with building a different type of fairground experience here in Edinburgh Central!