Part 1 of 3: A job in politics
I was ushered into Ash Denham’s office five minutes after our arranged appointment time. Thanks to my intense paranoia about being late, I’d shown up to Parliament twenty minutes early, but Ash’s enthusiastic PA, Abi, had insisted on showing me around. Walking past all the MSPs’ offices with her, I was very interested in seeing the floors where two parties shared a corridor, although apparently the MSPs get along well outside of the chamber. (They were certainly very friendly, and a lot of them introduced themselves.)
In her office, Ash got up from her large desk to greet me with a firm handshake and a closed-mouth smile. I couldn’t help feeling slightly intrusive as I picked a soft chair to sit on (Ash then came and sat at the round table too); I needed Ash to start speaking so I could adjust my recording device to pick up her voice, but unfortunately, my attempts at starting a light-hearted conversation were falling flat. In desperation, I ended up asking her what her favourite thing about being an MSP was, subtly adjusting the microphone during her answer.
Thankfully, Ash talked to me in great depth about a specific incident where her constituency office intervened in making sure a primary school got its lights fixed after an electrical malfunction.
“Sometimes, it sounds small, but things don’t get progressed, and an MSP’s office getting involved gives things a little bit of an extra push to get things done,” Ash said, still in the exact same position she’d first sat down in. “It makes you feel good to think, you know, we’ve had an impact there and now teachers and children won’t be falling down the stairs trying to get down.”
“That’s lovely!” Right on cue, Ash’s telephone rang, but she ignored it so we could continue the interview uninterrupted. I smiled at her and carried on. “Would you say it was difficult to get into politics?”
Ash told me all about her journey to becoming an MSP. One of her relations had been an MSP, and she’d studied the subject at university, but hadn’t really been sure of how to pursue it. “So I shelved it, got a normal job, and forgot about it.” And it wasn’t until the Scottish independence referendum that she got involved in politics again. “I thought, this is a really historically-interesting, political thing that’s happening, right where I am, I really want to get involved in this.”
Ash became involved in the group ‘Women for Independence’ – first as a speaker, then on the board. She talked passionately about the subconscious gender discrimination she encountered during her career, drawing a comparison with orchestra auditions, and about how she wanted to see more women in important jobs. At this point in her life, she finally decided to move on from campaigning for women in politics to becoming a woman in politics, joining the SNP and putting herself forward. I asked her whether she’d always supported the SNP – interestingly, the answer was no.
“I would probably have aligned myself with another party prior to that, a long time ago…” (turns out she’d lived in England for twenty years) “…but at the time [of wanting to get into politics] I just had to join a party.” Despite this rushed choice, Ash says that the SNP did, and still does, represent her views.
She was especially happy with the new gender-balancing measures the SNP introduced to ensure more female representation – the same ones that led to her finally getting a seat – although she was very careful to acknowledge that they “have their bad points” and “can be a bit clunky”. However – here, her smile was quickly replaced by a frown – the gender balance in Parliament hasn’t improved “because the Conservatives don’t have any gender balancing measures, and their group is very male-dominated,” which cancelled out the SNP’s improvements.