What women want #2

The second in this series of guest posts from women musing about what they want from politicians and this election is from Shelagh McKinlay.  And it’s a stoater.

After several lifetimes in media relations and public administration, including ten years as a parliamentary clerk, Shelagh is now a freelance writer.  She has her own, wonderful blog, The Absurdist and tweets as @Shequeen.

What do I want from Scottish politicians and political parties this election?  

Well, humility is high on my list. Stop sniggering at the back! This is not a joke. Of course politicians need self-confidence and self belief; what they don’t need is overweening ego. They need to listen; they need to be willing to accept when they have got it wrong, to recognise when a consensual solution is the right one. They need to really believe that they are there to serve.

Being a parliamentarian is about being more than a politician. Parliamentarians are there to serve not just the interests of their party, but the interests of their constituents and the country as a whole.  Nowadays when the phrase “for the good of the country” is uttered by a politician it is interpreted as, at best, a platitude, at worst, cynical justification for actions with no popular support.

I refuse to accept that an emphasis on principled politics is naïve or pointless. Firstly, because I have met many politicians who really did enter politics for the right reasons and who continue to be motivated by a desire to make things better. Secondly, because allowing cynicism to take hold is simply throwing in the towel.  Selflessness; Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability; Openness; Honesty; Leadership.   The seven principles of public life as initially set out by the Nolan Committee in the mid 90’s are arguably, post the expenses scandal, more relevant than ever.

But enough of the high-minded stuff. What else am I looking for in those seeking my vote come May?  Competence for starters. I am not being facetious. Contrary to popular opinion running the country is no easy task. The issues are complex, the work schedule punishing. It’s all very well having a big vision, but it doesn’t count for much if you can’t manage and motivate the machinery of Government to make it happen.

In any event, big vision might be a luxury that none of the parties can afford given the tightening noose of public sector spending set by Westminster. While Scottish parties may be keen to emphasise that they should be judged on their record in Scotland, we really cannot ignore this particular elephant in the room, particularly since it has gone round turning off the lights and unplugged the telly.

On that note, I may be in a minority of one here, but I’m afraid that the policy of freezing council tax, now the official stance for Labour, the Tories and the SNP (who still have a long-term goal to introduce a local income tax) leaves me pretty cold.

Isn’t it rather perverse to limit an accepted traditional source of revenue at a time when services are being hit?  The freeze is being sold as a boost to hard pressed families. But how much of a boost is it if you are a carer who loses essential services? Or a temporary worker within the public sector whose contract is terminated? Or a voluntary service whose funding is not renewed? An inflation level increase to an annual council tax Bill of around £2,000, almost the top of the scale in Edinburgh, would mean an additional £100 a year. The truth is there are many who can afford to pay such an increase. In fact, the council tax freeze benefits the better off the most, since they avoid paying the biggest increase.

I have a suspicion of this “loss-leader” politics.  Like supermarket two-for-one bargains, we pay the price in other ways. It also makes it more difficult to have an honest debate about the tax system and the fact that, ultimately, you get what you pay for.

I know this all sounds a bit beer and skittles. I’m not advocating old school tax and spend. I am suggesting that discussion around the council tax freeze has not been fully honest about the downsides. Neither has its benefits been explained in policy terms beyond general blandishments that the money saved can be used to boost the economy folks! Where is the analysis? What is the impact on the economy and how does that compare to the economic effect of raising, and spending the equivalent amount through tax?

Which brings me to my last general point. I would like to see policies and politics that are truly evidence based. I would like to see less legislating for the sake of it. I’d rather not see lots more tinkering with structures, and more emphasis on outcomes.  In the NHS for example, there is already a wealth of evidence about what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to see Government concentrate on improving practice, in business and clinical terms.

What else would I like to see? I’d like to see a system that gives carers better support and respite. I’d like better co-operation between the NHS and social work. I’d like to see a public transport system that meets the needs of rural communities and makes it easier to travel across cities. I’d like to see a network of safe cycle routes to school. I’d like to see the welcome emphasis on inclusion in schools backed by the resources to make it work. I’d like to see a minimum pricing policy for alcohol. I’d like to see a strategy which recognises the links between childhood obesity, the distances travelled to school, access to green spaces, and out of hours child-care. I’d like to see planning regulations that emphasise the quality of the built environment. I’d like to see recognition of the importance of the arts in our society, in terms of both access and excellence. I’d like to see red tape for small business streamlined, with regulation focused on protecting really important employee rights. I’d like to see a party political selection system which encourages a wider range of individuals to stand.

I know that’s a tall order and so to those standing on May 5, I wish you well.

Oh, and finally, one or two lookers wouldn’t go amiss.








10 thoughts on “What women want #2

  1. I think the What Women Want series is a great idea, precisely because it’s reflecting that women might conceivably want things that are not related to schools and education and childcare. I was delighted when the SNP announced they were doing an all-women party political broadcast to mark International Women’s Day. I was all excited about watching it (why yes, I do own an anorak, why do you ask?), and then was thoroughly deflated when it turned out to be a load of women MSPs clutching babies and discussing education.

    That’s not to say that “traditional women’s issues” aren’t absolutely fundamental. It’s just nice to see an acknowledgement that women are interested in other things, too.

    • Thanks Shoogly Peg! That was the point really – to see what, if any difference, exists amongst a smattering of women in what matters to them politically, compared to men. And really just to offer a space to women’s voices in the election. Campaigns are always so male dominated, it’s depressing!

      Yes I was mildly disappointed with the SNP all women broadcast but on the whole, thought it worked. And while I bang on about children, and childcare etc I do think parties are a little one dimensional in terms of how they pitch to women voters. Women are most likely to be worst affected by the cuts and reforms at Westminster and from Holyrood. But the way they are discussed is not how women would want to hear the narrative, often.

  2. Shelagh, you’ve prompted me to blog on the freeze, I’ve quoted you, hope that’s OK. Good post!

  3. Pingback: Council Tax freeze is an unfair waste of money « taxing scotland

  4. On local tax, the council tax freeze does nothing to help those on the lowest incomes, since they get council tax benefit (CTB) anyway.

    Also, because of CTB the 4 year freeze has cost 700 million, but only benefited households by less than £600 million. It has cost more than £100 million to give out a tax cut that doesn’t help the poorest, but does help the richest.

  5. Humility in leadership is vital; no-one is ever going to get it right all the time or know all the answers, so open-ness as well as willingness to listen is vital. True leaders serve – and there can be no greater honour than serving your country so this shouldn’t be a responsibility taken lightly. I’m standing on principled politics; that’s what is missing at the moment as we see promises made and broken, that is what is driving cyncisim especially among young voters, many of whom are refusing to vote “on principle” – a situation I find immensely sad given what the right to vote has cost us and that countries in the Middle East are fighting for that very right just now.

    I wrote a blog post recently on the four words that underpin Holyrood – wisdom, integrity, compassion,justice, as I think these perfectly sum up how our politicians should act. There isn’t much compassion there for those in our society who are vulnerable, burdened with care and/or financial worries, who are fearful about interpersonal violence and anti social behaviour or for those who are victims of crime.

    There are too many career politians now – and while I agree that may give competence in the process of being a politican it doesn’t necessarily lead to competence in being a politician. Nor does the “gift” or oratory – if you are a competent speaker, it’s easy to run rings round someone else but that doesn’t make you a competent politician, and nor does the ability to promise and then not deliver.

    Bravo. You’ve talked about the ELEPHANT. The fact that we ARE in a financial crisis still – despite such massive promises being made in manifestos. AND you’ve brought the Council Tax freeze into the debate. Labour have made themselves look too similar to the SNP in taking a similar stance and all are ignoring the fact that Council’s just don’t cut front line services (or fix our roads); we DO pay the price in other ways as they then start charging for things they never charged for before, like cutting pensioners grass! I’ve YET to meet one person who supports this, free eye test or prescriptions, where they have normal jobs with normal commitments. In fact, staff I’ve talked to in the NHS have said that people now just tick everything on their repeat prescription list whether or not they need it, now they don’t have to pay for it, which is a terrible waste of money. And why are none of the other parties picking up the fact that the SNP have gone to great lengths (and cost to the taxpayer) to prevent information coming out on the plans for this local income tax? I’m glad it was leaked – honesty, honesty for goodness sake!

    We are very good at tinkering; I have called it fiddling while Scotland burns. Outcome based legislation that is evaluated properly is vital. My particular interest is the justice system – which surely has the ability to provide us with key data like how many criminals breach community service orders – yet this question can’t be answered as there’s no data collected on it. You said what? If we don’t collect data, how can we know it’s working – or not.

    It’s not just in the NHS where there’s a wealth of evidence about what works; community groups can tell you what is working. Groups like Fare Glasgow and Working on Wheels and Liber8 (and even uniformed groups like the BB and Scouts) can show that what they do is making a difference in reducing crime & violence – yet we have three National Youth agencies (where one would suffice, thank you very much) that can’t demonstrate this – but get the funding, probably because they have more people placed to influence and fill out forms in the “way they need to be filled out.” More important to get that form filled out right than get results, clearly.

    I assume you will vote AV then if you want a wider range of people standing? It’s very hard to stand as an independent without the structure and funding of a party behind you. I’m fortunate in that I’ve got the support of family and friends and now strangers too who have offered to do so much to help me in my own campaign, but it’s still an uphill struggle as nearly all the air time goes to parties, not people alas, so it’s not just the voting system that would need to change. That’s not going to stop me from trying though, and I’m off out for another full day on the doors.

    • Thanks Caroline for your contribution. Extremely heartfelt and I’m sure will strike a chord with many readers here! I wish you well in your campaign and hope that even though the odds are stacked against you, you make it into Holyrood. Based on this thoughtfulness and knowledge, you’d make a great contribution. Two feisty, intelligent, independent minded women would be great for the Parliament and more importantly, for Scotland!

  6. What is interesting in this guest post compared to the first post in the series of What Women Want is that there is nothing here about gender. What you want is articulated by many voters in Scotland. There are few standout performers in the Scottish Parliament and only a handful in each party. But, to be honest, there are only ever a handful of performers in any parliament/elected body. Most elected people are come from the same stock as everyone else. And how many of us can say we are the standout performers in our nation?

    The problem is attracting more standout performers. If we got rid of the cynicism surrounding politics perhaps we would get more people involved in politics as activists and getting elected. The problem is that the cynicism stems not from the elected people at the tops of parties but the activists, the media and the public at large. My grandfather had a saying that he told my dad when quite young – politicians are hooks, crooks and comic singers. If there was that feeling about politics and politicians in the 1950s (and my grandfather had held this belief for most of his life so we are talking from the 1920s) how can we be any different. How can we make tribal activists change their behaviour?

    You seek a parliamentarian that can say they are doing something “for the good of the country”. I genuinely believe that the Coalition spending plans are indeed for the good of the country but that is because I believe in a certain type of economics. Many disagree but if I were in parliament I would still believe that.

    I dont want a politician that does things because of “popular support”. I would hate to live in a country where that is seen as a good thing. That is because “popular support” is really removed from the concept of doing something that is right. The last survey Channel Four did on the matter, the death penalty has far more support than any political party. Doesn’t make it right though.

    If you find a politician that can always do both the right thing and always be popular then you will be the first voter to do so.

    As for your list of tall order items then I can agree with most of them and know that some are in hand (joining up of Health & Social care). I dont agree with minimum pricing as the idea that pricing is the cause of over drinking is laughable. Most people will have already spent over the new minimum price prior to getting drunk and causing violence. The minimum price will have no impact. Just look at the ISD stats for the costs of treating the over consumption of alcohol. Then look at the age brackets and see which age group costs the most. Almost none of the real problem drinkers are out on the streets.

    It is a good and well thought-out post. Just not sure why it needs to be under the title What Women Want.

    • The point of the What Women Want series is not that it set out deliberately to expose gender differences, though there may be some, but simply to give space to non-aligned women voters’ views and voices during the election. Not something they get frankly! So if there are gender differences then all to the good – and I have to say the list that Shelagh has at the end are not the usual kinds of issues that would top political want-lists though appreciate men as well as women might share them – but if not, then the series will still have fulfilled its purpose. To hear from women what they want, and now what politicians think they want, politically and in this election.

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