Week 2: Emma Macdonald

Age: 41
Council and ward: Shetland North

How long have you been a councillor?
4 years

What prompted you to stand for election?
I did not feel that the council at the time really represented my friends group or me. The council lacked diversity and had very low numbers of female members.

Describe your average week as a Councillor.
One of the things I love about my role is the fact there is no such thing as an average week! It is a mixture of reading papers for council meetings, and committee meetings, attending meetings around some of the different roles I hold. Attending seminars or workshops on a variety of interesting topics. Helping members of the community with casework. Attending community council meetings in the evening and generally dealing with whatever comes into the email in box.

How does being a Councillor fit in with your other responsibilities and commitments (such as children / caring responsibilities)?
This role has a degree of flexibility so I can plan my diary in a way that allows me to do the other things I need to do in life. This is not 9-5 Monday - Friday, some days it can be 8am-10pm and other days you can arrange things so you have the afternoon free to attend to personal matters. At times, it is not so easy to get the balance right and council work does dominate life so it is vital to be organised and to ensure you keep diaries up to date.

What do you find most rewarding about the role?
You get to shape vital services in your area, we all rely on council services and we get to help ensure they are appropriate for the needs of the community. It can also be very rewarding when you make a difference to someone’s life by helping with a challenging issue.

And the most challenging?
At times, it can be difficult to switch off, you do feel you are always at work and the sense of responsibility never really goes away unless you are actually away on holiday. At times, the diary can be a bit of a juggling act so you cannot be in two places at once so at times you have to make decisions based on what are the most important things to attend.

In addition, other people’s behaviour, you can only be responsible for how you behave and what you bring to the table. I am very much for having a positive and proactive approach and for working collectively with others, some people have a different approach and that can be challenging.

What has been your greatest achievement as Councillor?
I do not see anyone thing as my great achievement, I think collectively my council has achieved many things that I have been part of. Personally, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many different areas of the council and additional groups such as the SIG Barriers to Elected Office. This has allowed me to get to know colleagues across other councils and to work with them collectively to help create change for the future.

Tell us one aspect about the job that people might not know / find surprising?
You do not need to have any specific qualifications to be a councillor, everyone has life experience and that is what you need to be able to bring to the table. Nobody expects you to be an expert on all things local government. You get a good induction and you can then focus on the areas you would like more information.

What support is available to possible candidates?
There are many different ways to get support; our council is producing a booklet to help inform perspective candidates of what to expect. The improvement service have a lot of information available on their website. The best way would be to speak to someone who is a current councillor and see if it sounds like something you would like to do. Also important to speak with family and friends, as it will be those people who will ultimately be the closest support for candidates.

Why is greater representation in local government important?
Our council chambers should represent our communities and they currently do not. We need more diversity and we need people to see that as the norm. Council chambers should reflect our communities so that when decisions are being made we have a broad range of views and ideas.

What advice would you give to someone considering standing for elected office in their local area?
If you are doing it for the right reasons and you think you can make a positive difference then go for it! It is important to recognise though that you need to work with people, local government needs people who want to make a difference and who can work together for the good of their communities. Relationship building is vital as you cannot do anything alone, you need to take people with you and you need to put in the work.

It is not an easy role to undertake and you will have days when you wonder why you did it but you will meet some fantastic people, there is support out there and you can make a difference to your community so just do it!

And finally, who is your role model and why?
Oh that is a tricky one, I am not sure I have a role model as such. I take inspiration from a variety of different people in my life. From a council perspective, I have been incredibly lucky to work with some very experienced members and officers who work tirelessly day in and day out who have helped support me in my role and given me much encouragement.

One such colleague said at the beginning of the council that you get out of this role what you put in and that has stuck with me.