Interview : Alison Dickie, SNP Candidate

Interview : Alison Dickie, SNP Candidate

Teacher, former Scottish Parliament official, active volunteer, SNP activist, wife, mother…and now SNP Candidate for Edinburgh Central. Alison is a local Edinburgh teacher and a Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate in the 2016 Holyrood election. Our Founder Thomas Anderson recently sat down with Alison to discuss her career, early life, role models and her hopes for more inclusion in politics.

When did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?

Coming in to teaching, I’d spent ten years working in Scottish Parliament as a Civil Servant. Being in that role you had to remain politically impartial, and I couldn’t really make my personal opinions known.

I could feel the referendum coming and I was spending lots of time writing speeches in my role at Parliament, I’d written hundreds, and they were starting to feel a little ‘Braveheart’ – a bit dangerous for an impartial official. With the referendum coming, I wanted to be a part of it and I wanted to get fired up about it and show my opinion. I was at a crossroads. I wanted to be a part of it all, politically, but I also needed money to live and I needed a job.

Becoming a teacher was a big jump, and a big financial change too. At this point I’d done about 20 years voluntary youth work and I knew I was good with young people and I enjoyed it. It may sound cheesy, but helping young people really drives me. I thought to myself, “Hey, let’s look at teaching”. So I then applied to go in to teaching, did a years post grad in 2010, a year with no salary, then straight on to a teachers salary. I can tell you that a teacher’s salary is not good. Teachers are not paid enough. From a teacher’s perspective, everyday you’re making a difference. The stories of deprivation and attainment gap are everywhere.

I was now able to be a part of the referendum in a different capacity and it was a fantastic feeling. I supported Marco Biagi get elected and I got actively involved in the Yes campaign. It’s been amazing and I’m so glad I made that jump.

Whatever happens in the election, I will be speaking up about the value of education and the value of teachers. There’s a whole other conversation there.

Gender equality also. I’m a primary school teacher and what concerns me is the lack of male teachers. There’s a feeling that the role of a primary school teacher is where women belong. We need to change this and get more of a balance in the schools and we need more men to come and join in those positions. That profession is fantastic and a more equal balance and diverse workforce can only benefit everyone.

You’ve made lots of sacrifices to get to his point

I think life is about embracing life. I want to get out of bed every morning and feel fired up about what I’m doing. People matter to me, and making a difference for other people and our communities matters. There’s nothing more important than that. My husband is a Minister at a Baptist Church so we’ve been in our community for lots of years doing lots of social justice and community work – and we’re well respected within the community.

Going around different charities as part of my campaign, everyone is saying the same thing, “People matter”. Some of the stories I’m hearing, especially around stigmatisation and poverty, really upset me. Social isolation is a huge issue, we need to bring back that feeling of community and build that back up again. We can do this through a joined up thinking about education and empowering people through it. I was speaking to a local charity recently and they mentioned how alternative educational tours would be of benefit to people. If you haven’t experienced poverty, isolation and stigmatisation it’s often hard to understand what it must be like for those experiencing it. I think it’s a brilliant idea to educate people on the realities of actually experiencing this.

In my classroom, we talk a lot about citizenship and different experiences and understanding our individual experiences, and not judging.

“People matter to me, and making a difference for other people and our communities matters. There’s nothing more important than that.”

Is careers advice in schools up to scratch?

I’m not a secondary school teacher so I’m not as specialised in career advice, but I do think from my own experience that for too long the advice given in schools has been very narrow.

I love the move towards more hands on experience like Modern Apprenticeships and learning life skills. We need to recognise that not everyone will want to go to University.

Career advice in schools and beyond has to reflect the diversity of our people and the diversity of the dreams and ambitions people have. And it needs encouraging. I think any teacher knows that. Unless you create the opportunities and help guide and say, “Here’s a door and you can walk through it if you want to”, then you’re making it more difficult for the kids to get there unless you’re creating that environment. We need to widen our vision on the society we’re trying to build and empower all of our talents.

I think that no matter what stage of your life you’re at, you should be able to access education and empower yourself.

Were you encouraged to follow your dreams?

I did it all back to front. Without going in to too much detail, my childhood wasn’t the easiest. I had low self-esteem. I was a young bride and a young mother and that was me. I needed a family and I needed security at that stage. It took me a long time, even though I’m a strong woman, to believe I could actually do things. I understand how circumstances in life can affect your self-confidence.

When my kids were young I did a HND in Business Management then when we moved to Edinburgh I did a lot of voluntary work. I was sitting one day and I got a call to say George Reid was looking for someone to join his office and work for him and whether or not I fancied it. I had never thought about working in Parliament at that time and had no idea what to expect. I was quite driven though and from the moment I walked through the doors I was blown away and caught the bug and I’ve never looked back.

I love politics and the ability to help people. On top of this job I also did a degree in International Relations, I even sat my Honours Degree whilst coordinating the opening ceremony of Scottish Parliament (Holyrood building’s). I don’t know how I did it.

I’m in a more comfortable place now. I’m being myself, being honest and being natural. It’s been a journey and I’d do it all over again.

“I had never thought about working in Parliament at that time and had no idea what to expect. I was quite driven though and from the moment I walked through the doors I was blown away and caught the bug and I’ve never looked back.”

How important do you think having visible and diverse role models is to young people growing up?

As a teacher, taking a simplistic view on the classroom floor there are differences at every level. But as a teacher you create the space and celebrate who we are and that it’s ok to be different and you hope that them learning’s then transfer in to society.

I think we all need role models and education plays a big part too. We need to put people in touch with, and make diverse role models more visible. There’s still lots to be done in this area.

In my classes we talk about diversity all the time, and I know many others do the same. I’m actually learning Arabic at the moment from one of the kids and in assembly we teach Polish words and other languages too. When there is a religious or cultural festival we encourage the kids to talk about it and share it with the other pupils.

I try not to think too much about labels.

It’s one thing creating an inclusive space where people can be themselves in the classroom, but once you get in to society it’s not always the same unfortunately. There is still so much more work to do. Whoever you are, you should celebrate who you are and be proud.

In the classroom we would never assume that a child has a mum and a dad, as this is not always the case. Some kids have two mums, two dads, no parents at all…We need to ensure we consider this in the language we use. It is an on-going learning process and we need to always try to be as inclusive as possible.

Did you have any role models growing up?

I actually think we need to celebrate ourselves more. In a way we need to be the role models. I’m conscious that we’re in a culture where there is so much celebrity idolisation. I look at Nicola Sturgeon and you see lots of people going “Nicola, Nicola, Nicola” and although I have every admiration for her, I’m not in to this culture of putting people of pedestals. Being around celebrities doesn’t really do anything for me. We’re all at the same level and we’re all role models.

Closer to home, my gran was one of the most-feistiest women I have ever known. She was an ordinary woman but she spoke to me and encouraged me to be myself. We should find the good in the people around us.

I do get concerned about the influence mainstream celebrities in pop culture can have on young people. The over sexualisation of young people and the loss of childhood is concerning, and another story.

“I actually think we need to celebrate ourselves more. In a way we need to be the role models.”

Do you have a successful work-life balance?

Not at the moment. I’m currently having to split my day between being a candidate and a teacher. I don’t need much sleep, about five hours a night. I get up at 5am, prep for school as I work better in the morning than doing it on an evening. Then when I get back home from school I’m working on election work until midnight, involving getting out and canvassing most nights, visits and meetings and meeting lots of people. My family have been so supportive.

What I would say is how can we expect more women to get in to politics? My boys are older but if they were younger it just wouldn’t have been possible for me to do what I’m doing. Even with the nominee campaign in the summer, I phoned the membership twice and visited over 1400 households in a three-week period. I had to use a lot of my own money for leaflets etc, which when you’re not earning a great deal it can be a struggle. If you’re a man or woman with a young family, politics isn’t really a level playing ground. I know of some women who couldn’t afford leaflets and promo material so didn’t put themselves up for nomination – already putting them at a disadvantage with entering politics. There’s lots of work to be done and I’ve nagged about this issue for many years.

We need to create a space that makes politics more accessible to modern day families, real people. I may write about this further as the experience has been really interesting.

I always think in politics there’s a perception that we’re meant to know everything, which we don’t. I think there needs to be a culture where there is more honesty about what we don’t know.

What do you enjoy doing to chill out?

Writing. I love writing; I was half way through writing a historical themed book before the campaign. With the current campaign it’s been put on hold for now. I started a blog too but it’s hard to find the time to keep it all up.

“Being good at networking takes a bit of practice. We all dry up sometimes but just be yourself and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t think you’re any less than the person you’re speaking to, no matter their status. If they have a problem with that then it’s their problem.”

Do you enjoy networking?

I love it. Meeting people really fires me up. That’s been one of the biggest privileges so far in the campaign. There’s such a diversity of networks out there now too which is great. Hearing other people speak and hearing different perspectives is something that is really valuable.

Being good at networking takes a bit of practice. We all dry up sometimes but just be yourself and don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t think you’re any less than the person you’re speaking to, no matter their status. If they have a problem with that then it’s their problem. My mother runs after politicians asking for autographs and I think to myself, “Good grief, get a hold of yourself mother.” At the end of the day people are just people. I’d encourage people to get out there and meet new people.

Edinburgh is such a hub and there is always things happening. Although it’s a small place, there’s a lot of buzz. You feel a sense of pride to live and work here.

You’re up against a well-known name in the election we hear?

I am. Ruth Davidson (leader of the Scottish Conservatives) is coming across to Edinburgh Central. She was possibly going to get wiped out of the Glasgow list (where she is the current MSP). She’ll see Murrayfield and the affluent folks and say to herself, “let’s get a few more of those please”.

The message I’m putting out there is I live here, I’ve been out campaigning for months, supported by the team, and if I dropped dead tomorrow I must be due a memorial outside Hectors. We’ve made a lot of ground here. No matter whether you’re sat in a house in an affluent area or not, surely we’re here to create a society for all and our SNP campaigning isn’t guided by how much money our constituents have in their bank or whether they own their own home. I’m so passionate about that.

I’m proud to be supported by a team of diverse people and we’re all fighting for the same things. A Scotland for all. I hope Ruth hears that message, as that’s what it’s about for us. I will be out every single night and every weekend to ensure the real stories that a Tory gain in Scotland is not good for us. No matter how nice the person is, the Tory policies are acid and they’re hurting our people. I don’t want any more of it. I feel really strong about that.

How important is your campaigning team to you?

I could not do this without the team and our amazing volunteers, especially with having a day job as well. We’re all coming together as one, which is fantastic. The diversity of the team is something I’m proud of. We have experts in everything too. I have an enthusiastic team, I’m really grateful for that.

I’m a grafter and I expect that I’m out every night and at everything, but I don’t expect the same of my team. You have to always absolutely respect that they’re volunteers. It’s important to thank them for their dedication and encourage them too – I have a lot to be thankful for. To be honest, over time I’ve seen too many people being mistreated in the world of politics and I never want to be one of those people.

I’m doing a lot of campaigning but of course you’d always like to do more. I’d like to do more innovative things and I’m trying to get to that point. We’ve started a new Cafe Politics group where I’ll sit with constituents and we’ll talk about politics. Why should this have to be done in cold formal rooms behind the scenes? We need to get politics in to our living rooms, high streets…pubs…This will make things much more accessible. If I was lucky enough to be elected I’d look at much more innovative ways to actually meet with people and get the important messages across.

Why should people vote for you?

Because we have got to keep moving Scotland forward. An SNP vote here is absolutely about moving Scotland forward. It’s about a stronger Scotland. Look around, who else is delivering? who else is speaking up? and who else is voting the right way? I will graft my backside off to make a difference and speak up for our people in Parliament.

ALISON IS ACTIVE ON TWITTER :

The Scottish Parliamentary election takes place on 5th May 2016. We’ve reached out to the other political parties to invite them to be interviewed too.

KEEP CONNECTED WITH ALISON :

alisondickie.com

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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