It never occurred to me, when I was a child in the 70s, that my mum, Veronica McTernan, was unusual. From my earliest days, she gave me role model of women doing politics. We talked politics around the kitchen table – I remember as a child asking why people should vote Labour, which led to a conversation about the value of free public transport for older people. My mum first stood as a council candidate when I was four – she somehow persuaded us as kids that putting leaflets through letterboxes was a fun game to play! The first time I voted, when I turned 18, was for my mum. What I didn’t realise at the time was how rare it was then for women to stand for election, let alone get elected. When mum was first selected as a candidate, several people told her how great it was that her husband Allen was standing, having seen the name McTernan and just assumed it was him not her.
There are more women in politics now, but there is still an overrepresentation of men at all levels. In parliament, in councils, and even in our CLPs, women are less likely to be elected, and even less likely to hold senior positions. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most persistent is the cost. Isabel Hardman, in her book Why we get the wrong politicians, estimated that the personal cost for candidates standing for Westminster is thousands of pounds. There is also a considerable time cost in becoming a candidate. Parties understandably want their potential candidates to demonstrate their commitment to the party, but as long as this prioritises meetings that take place at children’s bedtimes, or canvassing sessions that mean turning down an overtime shift, it will make it harder for women to stand for election.
In her later years, mum did talk about what if – what if she’d stood for a seat that she could have won? I’d have loved to have seen what Veronica McTernan could have done in Edinburgh City Council, or at the parliament in Holyrood. But she achieved great things outside elected politics – she was one of the first panel members, shaping the Children’s Hearing system and making a real difference in the lives of children and their families all over the Lothians. She was a permanent fixture at our school councils. And in her CLP, mum loved nothing better than to encourage others on their political journey. In her seventies, Veronica chaired her local branch party, was a regular at street stalls in Peebles, and even stood for council again in a by-election (where she proudly beat UKIP into last place!)
That is why I am proud that we are able to launch the Veronica McTernan fund, to support Labour women across Scotland. The fund will support Scottish women who are going through the Fabians Women’s Network mentoring programme, which will build capacity in our Scottish Labour team. We also want to support women in their professional development as they prepare to stand for election. There is great training around, and we want to support women with the costs that go along with this. There are also very practical costs that often go unnoticed, for example child care to attend meetings, or the cost of a waterproof coat or shoes suitable for canvassing. The fund will also offer small grants to women who are involved in local campaigns, both elected women and local campaigners. This could be funding towards organising an event or publicising a campaign.
You can find out more about the fund here