Experience outside politics.
During these internal selections there is always lots of discussion on what political experience is expected of someone running for office. I have that political experience but feel sometimes we overlook work and life experience, outside the political bubble, the real world, real life experiences - after all its people in the real world we are aiming to serve. I believe having that additional background gives me an understanding and compassion for others circumstances.
My working life started at the age of 13 in Renaults (now Renaldos) and I have very found memories of my time there and my 50p an hourly rate! I thought I was minted and remember spending most of my wages in Pamon buying 1/4 jar sweeties for myself and my siblings.
On leaving school I moved on to my first real job and one that I would stay in for the next 20 years and work my way up through the ranks. At the age of 17, I started as an administrative assistant in the Job Centre. In the many roles I held within the Job Centre saw me working in offices across Ayrshire with my final post within the organisation was a trouble shooting role as a New Deal Area Advisor that saw me cover Ayrshire from Kilbirnie to Girvan.
My time within the Job Centre gave me first hand experience on how the UK benefit system worked and where it failed, sadly with more failings appeared through the 80s and 90s on what was a clear attack from the Westminster on those that were most vulnerable.
Ultimately it was all the new guidelines, rules, policy and red tape that made me leave the job centre as I felt that the balance had changed and the systems were now more about making life harder for clients and targets than helping and supporting those that needed. I'd had enough! I left much to the horror of most of my colleagues.....how could I leave when I was at the top of the salary tree and a good pension? For me though waking up every day knowing I was part of a system that was inflicting serious misery on people was quite simply something I could live with despite the good salary.
Years later as an MP in Westminster my knowledge and insight was invaluable in fighting against the horrific universal credit policy. The only real way to change this is an independent Scotland.
Being a single mum of 2 kids I often found my self working 2 or 3 jobs at a time in order to provide for my family - something I’m very proud of - yes at time it was hard with its dark moments. Fortunately for me I have always been pretty resilient and I think my own journey has enabled me to understand and have empathy for the plight of many. Life can often be a struggle but its definitely a better place with help and support around you.
Being part of my community and giving back have always been something I believe in - you cant sit back, moan and expected everyone else to make the changes. On top of my full time job I was a part time youth worker for 10 years working on the streets supporting and helping the most disengaged young people. While this job was at times tough and in some cases harrowing it was also very rewarding - you see, humans deep down are all pretty similar, we want to connect, be liked, be part of something and be comfortable and confident in who we are. I am proud of the work I did over the years with all of these young people, some of whom I still see occasionally and it gives me great pride that they have achieved their goals and happiness in life all because the team and I listened and helped keep them on the right path.
I spent a period of time volunteering with the Strathclyde Joint Police Board checking on the welfare of prisoners in police cells across Ayrshire.
My next role was with a project, based in Kilwinning covering the whole of North Ayrshire. The wage for this job was less than before but I absolutely loved the job the contrast of waking up every morning and looking forward to each day was amazing - money definitely is not everything! Here I supported families that were at the risk of becoming homeless, dealing with issues such as unemployment, addictions, children protection, debt, social work - similar to the barriers to employment I'd seen in the jobcentre. I was a voice and advocate for those who needed help, guide me and a voice when they needed it most.
Unfortunately in 2010 I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer so I left my job to concentrate on my health and the surgeries I was about to face. Thankfully the outcome was positive but as you can imagine this period provided much time to reflect on my future.
After recovery I decided to start my own business and it was around the same time I became involved in local politics. I had always thought Scotland should be independent, even from a young age, but my time in the civil service made being part of political party problematic but now I was free to join and get actively involved and the rest they say is history ... ...