Interview : Scott Barclay, Diversity Champion
Photo : Scott Barclay, an awesome role model
SCOTT BARCLAY IS THE CHAIR OF SCOTLAND’S BIGGEST DIVERSITY AWARDS, THE ICON AWARDS. HE IS A CANCER SURVIVOR AND LIVES WITH EPILEPSY, A CONDITION THAT HAS HAD A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON HIS LIFE OVER THE YEARS. HE USES HIS OWN EXPERIENCES TO HELP OTHERS AND IS A REGULAR SPEAKER AT EVENTS ALL OVER EUROPE. IN RECOGNITION OF HIS AWESOME WORK, EARLIER THIS YEAR SCOTT WAS PRESENTED WITH THE ‘INSPIRATIONAL COMMUNITY CHAMPION’ AWARD BY CHARITY YOUNG EPILEPSY.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Passionate, loyal, decisive, stubborn and independent.
You’re involved in so many different things, including Chairing the Icon Awards. Why are the awards needed and how important do you think celebrating the achievements of inspiring people and inclusive organisations is?
When I was first asked to Chair the 2015 Icon Awards, which was half way through the process, I was sceptical. I wasn’t sure the awards were needed, but as I spoke to those in the community I realised they were needed now more than ever. When I took over as Chair I wanted the Icon Awards to celebrate and reward the unsung hero’s of the LGBT+ community and I was so proud to stand there as those unsung hero’s were rewarded.
I remember being so moved when the comedian Karen Dunbar stood on stage to collect the role model award and was visibly in tears saying it was the most special and important award she has ever received. Take away her obvious success in comedy, this is a woman who has spoken on TV about being bullied growing up gay in Ayrshire and for her story to resonate with the youth of today and be voted a role model was inspiring. I know I, and so many other friends were absolutely bursting with pride that the first person one billion people saw when they tuned into the Commonwealth Games in 2014 was an out gay woman – the message that gave to the rest of the world was amazing. The Icon Awards are so relevant and needed because whilst it is important we celebrate how far we have come, we have to remember how far we have yet to go…as a global community.
You’ve done lots of your own celebrating in recent years. You and your husband David were the first same-sex couple to be married in Scotland – how amazing is that, forever in the record books.
Wow, that was a day in a half! Being the very first same-sex couple to be married is one of, if not the biggest honour of our lives. I don’t consider my husband and I to be particularly naive people, however we still can’t believe we never really thought it would get as much attention as it did. We were very lucky that the guys at Equality Network, the fantastic LGBT+ and human rights charity, liaised with all the press for us to enable David (my husband) and I to actually enjoy our wedding day.
The press interest was surreal, and if you were not there you wouldn’t believe it happened. We had five TV crews, satellite vans, 15 photographers shouting our names, they shut off a busy street in Glasgow City Centre for us, we were literally in every single newspaper and on every news channel that evening. I remember doing a live TV interview in our house with CNN in the USA a few days later as they were doing a piece on Scotland and we had to ask the anchors to hold on whilst we answered the door as the dog was barking – certainly one of the most surreal times in our lives.
I would say 95% of the media we got was positive which was lovely. We did do a few radio interviews on the run-up and on the day of our wedding with people who were not so positive, one I remember was a Catholic priest who said we were an abomination, however as I say the vast majority was positive. One of the Sunday papers did a piece on our anniversary earlier this year, we thought that was lovely.
One question that was always asked of us was, “Do we think that equality is now reached?” We still have the same answer as we did then…equality will be reached when there isn’t the need for all the press, when we will be just a normal couple getting married, our genders are irrelevant.
It has afforded us some amazing opportunities. For example we were featured in an exhibition in the National Gallery, we feature in a new book about Scotland and I regularly appear in the press talking about LGBT+ issues which David and I are both very passionate about. It is strange that maybe in 20/30 years time when school children are doing history our names may well come up.
However, the best part of all of this was an incident that happened to both of us in a shopping centre not long after our wedding. A man, maybe in his 50’s, came up to us and shook our hands and said thank you. We made it easier for him to accept his son. He was visibly upset and just walked away. We had never met him before and have never seen him since so we don’t know the back story, however if by our wedding having the profile that it did made a difference to just one person then we know it was worth it.
“I could be here all day just speaking about the knock-backs I have taken, but what’s the point? Sometimes you just need to move on and work your back-side off and show that you are every bit as capable as the next person and I’d like to think that’s what I’ve done.”
You’ve had a successful career. When you were growing up did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do when you ‘were older’?
I have spent most of my life in finance, whether that be as a bank manager or a financial advisor specialising in emerging markets and pensions. As someone with a disability, it has been hard climbing the career ladder I won’t lie. I could be here all day just speaking about the knock-backs I have taken, but what’s the point? Sometimes you just need to move on and work your back-side off and show that you are every bit as capable as the next person and I’d like to think that’s what I’ve done.
When I was younger I can’t really say I wanted to be a bank manager – I’m sure not many boys or girls do, however I always knew I wanted to do something with numbers. Numbers are amazing things because they are universal, they are the same in any language and that’s what I love about them. I love speaking to people, finding out about them and their families and that is a very handy trait when you’re a financial advisor.
I remember when I was at school, a long time ago now, and we all had a session with our careers advisor and he once said to me I should consider medicine – why on earth he said that I have no idea as I hated the sight of blood so I’m glad I went on my own path. I hope the careers guidance given to young people now is a lot more accurate than it was then.
My proudest moment in my career is probably that I was one of the youngest bank managers in the whole of Scotland at just 21 – which took a lot of hard work and even more late nights but I was very proud when I got my very first branch. Another was when I was named the UK’s Best Boss by Santander in London. I was still in my 20’s at the time and the competition was very tough. I like to think I have a good management style that people respond to. I was awarded that award by Sir Steve Redgrave and I was incredibly proud.
Photo : Scott (right) and his husband David – the first same-sex couple to get married in Scotland
Did you have any role models growing up?
Role models are incredibly important and not just professionally, but personally too. For example, one of my role models was my Gran. I was incredibly close to my Gran and I remember being terrified of coming out to her and of course I needn’t be as her exact words were, “Scott, we have seen our fair share of heart ache and divorce in our family so if you find someone who you love, I could’t care less whether it was a boy, girl or alien – if they make you happy that’s enough for me”. I always found that typical of the older generation, I know my husband David had a similar situation with his Gran as she said when he told her we would be entering into a civil partnership in 2007, “You mean like Elton John? Oh that’s lovely son!”. Sometimes our role-models are the ones closest to us.
Another role model I have is Kier Hardie, who was the first Labour politician in the House of Commons in 1892. As someone who was brought up in a council estate in a proud working class family, his story always resonated with me. His is a story of it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s where you’re going that is the important thing. He was also fiercely proud of his roots and I respect him for that. For example the first time he entered the House of Commons he entered the chamber in his working clothes, whilst all the other MP’s were in suits. He refused to forget where he came from and I think that’s a marvellous thing.
Having a role-model can help shape who you are but it’s important to not make it who you are – you have to shape your own path in life. We will all make mistakes, and we learn from them. One of my first managers always told me to never be afraid to fail – as fail stands for First Attempt In Learning. Bette Davis once said, “It’s better to be a first rate version of yourself rather than a second rate version of someone else”, and I couldn’t agree more.
Do you ever have self-doubts professionally and personally?
I have doubted myself since I was 10 years old and still do – however I just run with it and if I make a mistake, I learn from it. At 36 I’m still making my fair share of mistakes so that shows you there are a lot of mistakes to be made but don’t be scared of making them, be scared of not learning from them.
When I became a bank manager at such a young age I was constantly having doubts about whether I was doing this right, should I change this, what will this person think. As I’ve got older I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks…the only person you answer to is yourself. Well yourself and your mother!
I’ve always found the best way for me to overcome doubts is to have a sounding board. I’m lucky I have an extremely supportive husband who I practice with before I go out and make a big speech, or get his opinion on new ideas you have, which is invaluable. Sometimes we may argue, however we only ever argue until he realises I’m right.
“Having a role-model can help shape who you are but it’s important to not make it who you are – you have to shape your own path in life. We will all make mistakes, and we learn from them.”
If you could be teleported back to spend ten minutes with your 16 year-old self, are there any words of advice you’d give yourself?
Stop worrying and put it into perspective.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my stubbornness and tenacity to be honest with you. As a cancer survivor who lives with epilepsy and was told I’d never walk again, if I wasn’t so stubborn I wouldn’t be able to go out and walk unaided through the other side of chemotherapy whilst taking a dozen tablets a day. Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something as I will make it my life’s ambition to prove you wrong – and I’m so proud I proved the doctors wrong.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice I was ever given was not to be scared of making mistakes. It sounds so simple however you will be surprised what that fear can stop you doing. Very few mistakes can’t be fixed so take a leap of faith…who knows where you might land.
What makes Scotland such a great place to live?
Where do I start? What I love about Scotland is we don’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it. We now have more LGBT+ party leaders than we do straight ones – that makes us world leaders. For someone who has dedicated my life to promoting diversity, that makes me burst with pride. When my husband and I got married, we had big ‘burly’ men beeping their horns, getting out their cars to give us a cuddle and a kiss – I’m not sure that would happen to such a degree anywhere else.
One of the things I love most about Scotland is that our politics is so diverse, however we try not to make it personal. One time when Andy Murray was playing in Wimbledon, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted Ruth Davidson, the Conservative party leader to join her in the office for some Pimms, then they tweeted Kezia Dugdale the Labour Leader to bring the crisps. Now I know it was all banter, but would that happen anywhere else? I think not! I love Scotland and I am proud down to my bones to call myself Scottish.