On meeting some politicians

Recently I went to an event organised by the Women’s Cycle Forum and a group called “We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote“, which describes itself as an umbrella organisation, formed to campaign on Active Travel issues in the run up to forthcoming elections in Scotland. They described the form of the event as “speed dating” – which was actually a pretty good description. There were five tables, and five politicians, and each table got ten minutes with each politician. It did feel slightly manic… I understand that they only had a limited amount of time so had to keep everyone moving, and they did do that successfully.

The five politicians were: Joan McAlpine MSP (SNP), Alison Johnstone MSP (Greens), Lesley Hinds and Maureen Child (Labour), and Joanna Mowat (Conservatives). The last three are all Edinburgh City Councillors and Lesley Hinds is also Convenor of the Transport and Environment Committee.

I’m struggling to work out exactly what I got from or brought to the event. I had two questions which I wrote on cards when I came in, as we were asked to, but someone then moved my better question off onto another table so I felt I could not ask it! That question was “How do we give our politicians the confidence to take measures that will be unpopular in the short term, in order for there to be a long term benefit?” We talked a bit about campaigning with Maureen Child and one of her suggestions was that you go to hustings and ask about active travel, because apparently this does not come up. I think I could do that. I just need to find out where our nearest hustings is, and how they work… Kim on my table said something about the process the Dutch went through to get their cycle paths, and something about riots on the streets of Amsterdam, and Maureen Child said maybe we need some riots… I am not sure what direct action would look like, and of course we are talking about breaking the law here, so…

The Women’s Cycle Forum describes itself as running “Women led, not women only” events. “Kim” is a male Kim, not a Kimberly. There were a few men in the room – more than there were at the last W.C.F. event I went to – and it did feel like the two at my table dominated the conversation somewhat. I am not sure that there are easy solutions to this – I like the “women-led, not women only ” idea, but if you don’t have a women-only space, how do you stop the men from dominating it? Or, to put it another way, how do you encourage the women to make our voices heard? I read somewhere that men are more likely to interrupt than women, and that a woman, when interrupted, is more likely to stop talking than a man is. (I use this information at work, where I have one colleague who is particularly bad at interrupting – these days I carry on talking and make him wait till I have finished…) The organisers were trying to get the men to talk less… one of them said they should have got the men to tweet what was being said, which is a good idea because it is quite hard to tweet and talk at the same time. On the other hand, Kim had lots of good things to say to Joan McAlpine who was going on about there being no money for infrastructure but would not take Kim’s questions about why we’re spending lots of money dualling the A9 when it isn’t at capacity for an answer.

I didn’t warm to Lesley Hinds – she seemed too inclined to talk and not so much to listen. I felt a bit steamrollered by her, which is a shame as she was the person in the room with the most influence over cycling infrastructure in Edinburgh.

Anyway, all in all I am glad I went along and I hope that at least some of the things that were said will make a difference.