Roseanna Cunningham, MSP
Profession/ Current priorities
Political Aims/ Priorities/Assessments
© Jan 2001
Roseanna Cunningham MSP
I was fascinated by politics as a teenager growing up in Australia. I wrote to the Scottish National Party when I was 15. I had a relative, an uncle of my mother, who was a Labour politician in Australia, so I did not exclude politics from what I wanted to do.
2. Do/did you have a role model?
Not really, though I have always admired those who fought for civil rights.
3. Is there a tradition of political involvement/policy - making in your family?
Not at all, apart from the relative I mentioned. I have since found out that there was a trade union involvement in my extended family, but I did not know it when I was starting in politics.
4. Were you involved in grassroots activities etc.?
No, I went straight into party politics. I had been an overseas member of the SNP, and when I returned to Scotland in my mid 20s, I became a researcher for the Party so I was a full-time worker for the Party. I was active in the Branch and constituency - I became Branch Secretary at my 2nd meeting.
My most important experiences were at Party Headquarters - it had an enormous effect on my lifestyle as I was living and breathing politics, It happened because I applied for a job above my capacity - I think that was a product of my Australian upbringing where there is an expression 'Go for it' so I did.
I was given a lot of encouragement by the local Branch members who said 'You can do it' and told me that they thought I could be an MP.
5. Were there disruptions in your political career?
Yes. I was the founder member of the 79 Group which was a faction within the SNP and which was proscribed in 1983. I was completely burned out so I let my membership lapse in 1984. I just stopped being active in politics. I re - joined in 1987.
6. Were there disruptions in your biography that have had an impact on your political career? Have your objectives changed during your political career?
7. How and why did your political objectives change during your political career?
They haven't. When I was 17 I didn't think of becoming an MP, but by the time I was 19 and 20 I thought it might be possible, even though I didn't see how I could do it.
Especially since I was in Australia. It has really been a progression and so far I have done what I wanted to do in being an MP and a member of the SNP. I haven't completed all my objectives yet as I want to be on the negotiating committee when Scotland gains independence. Of course I was not so young when these things happened, I was 30 when I made my first speech at the Party Conference and today many people who are much younger than that are in politics.
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Belief in Scottish Independence which coincided with knowledge of the Scottish National Party, when I was in my early teens.
2. Which party and when?
The Scottish National Party. Forever.
3. Does your party have equal opportunity regulations?
4. Which office/function did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after joining? How did you get into running for office?
I was Branch Secretary instantly. It happened in 1989 when I went for my first vetting to be an MP. I was Vice - Convenor in charge of local government and there was an unexpected need for a candidate in our most winnable seat. So despite never having stood as a candidate, and with the support of members in that constituency, I was selected.
5. Did you have mentors within your party?
Not in the formal sense, but I benefited greatly from the advice of Mairi Stewart who was very encouraging and influenced me a great deal. She joined the Party in about 1930 but is still active in the Party. Her support was very important at the time, as I had just arrived from Australia.
6. Have you ever changed party affiliation?
No, but in Australia I was also a member of the Australian Labour Party.
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I became a lawyer as I thought it would fit into politics. It was a very conscious decision - I used my redundancy money to pay for my law degree and training.
2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
BA Hons in Politics.
LLB. Diploma of Legal Practice. Advocate.
3. In what kinds of jobs did you work?
In the University Library in Australia where I did a part- time Politics degree.
As a solicitor, I worked for the Local Authority and in private practice in civil and matrimonial courts. Then I was called to the Bar and did whatever I was asked to do.
4. Do you link your professional and political career?
Yes, though that is usually done for me, as there is a view, mistaken, that you need to be a lawyer to have the justice portfolio. However this suits me. My first portfolio was in Environment.
5. In what areas do you see your special competencies?
Justice (especially Land Reform) and Environment. In a personal sense, I can speak,, and grasp ideas and complex issues quickly. Others tell me that I have the capacity to be who I am in any forum.
6. What are your political priorities?
Independence for Scotland. To persuade the people of Scotland that I should be the Justice Minister.
7. Main fields of action?
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2. How and why have your political objectives changed during your political career?
They haven't. I am less black and white as I have got older, I realise that things are not always clear cut or always as they seem. I still feel the same as when I was 13. I must have been a difficult child!
3. Do equal opportunities strategies in your opinion have an impact in your country in the promotion of women in decision-making- please specify?
Yes in the Labour Party, the 'twinning ' system for women and the women only shortlists which were then deemed to be illegal. The SNP did not want a gender balancing mechanism, but in the event, selected a gender balanced list of candidates.
I don't think that strategies have impact, I think that social change is more relevant.
4. Did you benefit from these strategies?
No. Possibly because of my Australian background, I was very single- minded about what I wanted to do and I just went ahead and did what I wanted to do.
Unfortunately it should not just be possible for women like me who have no children but it should be possible for women with children and other responsibilities.
5. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in conventional policy-making?
Not direct discrimination, but there is a great deal of indirect discrimination. The drafting of legislation is done by men, although the women have their say after that.
Time is a big factor that puts women off politics. It is difficult for personal relationships.
Society does not value assertiveness in women, and women are not raised to be assertive in this country.
6. What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome?
They have to be more assertive, to go for it, and not be put off by being patronised. They have to learn to say 'Don't speak to me like that.' They have to overcome their feelings of being put off.
7. What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
I was 12000 miles away from where I wanted to do my politics. I was very poor at one time and had to struggle to keep going. There is no key to success, but those who succeed have been very determined and have not been easily deflected from what they wanted to do.
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