A few weeks ago I was invited by Christine Jardine MP to visit Westminster as her #AskHerToStand delegate. The event was to commemorate the centenary of the Qualification of Women Act, a defining moment in British politics when women were allowed to stand for parliament for the first time.
As Christine’s delegate, I think I won the Golden Ticket. Where some guests were only able to spend five minutes with their MP, I was welcomed for the entire day. Christine and her assistant, David Evans, were generous with their time and insight despite having to navigate an ever-changing diary. Filing copy for the Corstorphine Grapevine was sandwiched between an emergency debate on Yemen and PMQ’s. Christine joined me in the audience at an #AskHerToStand event, but quickly realised that there wasn’t a Lib Dem MP on the panel. She nipped out to get us a drink and when I looked up she’d joined the stage! She never misses a beat in representing her constituents or the Lib Dems.
My trip to London was exactly one year after I made the decision to join the party. It was something that I had wanted to do for a very long time, but for many people joining a political party is a scary thing and I was one of them.
In 2016, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP had asked me to consider standing as a parliamentarian during a meeting in his office. I declined, but went home and wrote a list of the things I would want to change if I ever did run. I thought about it every day for a year, and when I finally did join, I realised that I had no idea what I should do as a new member.
Logging onto the members’ section of the website, I found a list of ten things to do in my first year. A selfie with Vince didn’t quite cut it so I asked Alex what I should do. He told me to take my first year at my own pace. So I did.
I’ve spoken at conference three times, attended Future Women MP training and joined my local Executive Committee. I opened Scottish conference in Autumn and wrote the motion on investing in Myalgic Encephalomyelitis which secured our place as the first political party in the world to have a policy on M.E. I’m the prospective council candidate for Drumbrae Gyle and I am pursuing my ambitions to run for parliament. I’m working up plans for my #AskThemToJoin campaign and have recruited new members to the party. And then there’s my happy place. The doors. Canvassing has been a revelation for me. I value the privilege that is knocking on a stranger’s door and having a chat about politics, and I am so grateful that I get to do it every week.
I confess that I cringed when members told me that the party was like a big family. I now take back my cynical eye-rolls. None of my achievements this year would have been possible without the support of other members. There are some who remind me to take a breath and others who nudge me along when I need it. Having been involved in two cross-party support groups for women who want to run for parliament, I can tell you that other parties are not offering this level of support to new members. Some of my closest friendships are with members that I’ve met this year. Some of my oldest friends are now the newest members of the Lib Dems.
Since I got back from London, lots of women have told me that being a female in politics takes a lot of courage, and that they would be too scared to pursue it. With just a third of our politicians being female in both Westminster and Holyrood we must continue to dispel this myth, to reach out to women and share our stories at every level of politics. Ask them to help, ask them to join, ask them to stand.
* Emma Walker lives in Edinburgh and joined the party at the end of 2017.