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EMMA RODDICK: I want to reach out to the people who 'aren’t political'

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland MSP Emma Roddick pictured at Inverness Foodstuff in July. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Highland MSP Emma Roddick pictured at Inverness Foodstuff in July. Picture: James Mackenzie.

This Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick discusses the balancing act between public demands and being normal. She says that the people she wants to reach are those who are not overtly political, and in particular those who feel politics is something that happens to them – not something that they take an active role in affecting.

I’m going to talk for a bit about political engagement this week, for two main reasons. Firstly, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the expectations we place on politicians. It often seems like folks’ demands are contradictory; we’re supposed to be real, normal people, but also never appear in comfy clothes or socialise casually.

There is a balance to be struck, though, in how a politician should behave. We absolutely should be held to higher standards. But there is a danger that pretending to be perfect builds a barrier between you and constituents – I want to engage in normal life in the Highlands: keeping an ear to the ground, having casual conversation in the shop, generally living outwith the Holyrood bubble so that I’m not separate from the people I represent. That’s a tough balance to strike, and I am always keen to know if I’m leaning too far either way.

Secondly, I’ve been out campaigning recently, and speaking with folk across Scotland in my ministerial role, and there’s something I hear too often that upsets me – and no, it’s not “I vote Tory,” – it’s “I don’t vote”. It usually comes alongside “you’re all the same” and “I’m not really political”. I often end up chatting with these folk about council services, national policies, or whatever they care about: politics affects everything, and it bothers me that many people have been told it’s something that happens to them, that they can’t affect.

When I was first elected, I ran a survey to ask people what they wanted from politicians. The results were surprising: I knew from experience that people don’t really come to surgeries anymore, but I also know that folk really, really want me to hold them. The thing people wanted most was for me to write letters, ask questions, and speak to the media about policy – represent their interests in Parliament. Surgeries were ranked with lower importance than posting on Facebook.

I have tried to respond to that information: posting my monthly newsletter, sharing what I’m up to on social media, and speaking – a lot – in Parliament about Highland issues. But I want to reach out to some more of the people who “aren’t political” – but definitely have some opinions on what the most important issues are.

I'm now running another survey asking for your views, available on my social media or via email. Following this, I’ll be holding roundtables which will be open to respondents, so we can chat about some common themes. I hope that people will join in on this conversation so I can make sure I’m doing all I can to serve you best as a local representative.

Finally, I wanted to let you all know first off that I have been engaging very heavily recently around depopulation. From improving housing, transport, and public services to tailoring migration policy to better serve the Highlands, it’s been incredibly interesting to have conversations about what more Government can do to sustain Highland and island communities.

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