Week 7: Martin Lennon

Age: 31
Council and ward: Rutherglen Central & North, South Lanarkshire

How long have you been a councillor? 
Four years - I was elected in a by-election in November 2017.

What prompted you to stand for election? 
I think there are things that could be a lot better in my community. I was always active in community groups and I got quite involved in politics when I was at university. I actually put my name forward kind of on a whim, not thinking I would be elected. I absolutely loved the experience of standing for election and meeting neighbours and seeing parts of my area in a whole new light. I lost the first election pretty comfortably, but a few months later there was a by-election in my ward. I put myself forward again and won.

Describe your average week as a Councillor.
There really isn’t an average week, which is the most challenging part, but also the most interesting part. Some weeks I am in and out of committee meetings and calls with other councillors and trying to negotiate decisions. Other weeks I am meeting constituents and trying to work out how I can solve a problem where they think they have run out of options. Every once in a while I’m doing something very strange like getting pelted with wet sponges at a schools fair!

How does being a Councillor fit in with your other responsibilities and commitments (such as children / caring responsibilities)? 
It can be a challenge. I have a full-time job in addition to being a councillor and I am trying to finish qualifying as a lawyer. It can be pretty full-on at times, but my employer is very understanding.

I think a lot of people can see the value of public service and I’ve been able to get some special dispensations to accommodate meetings.

I am expecting my first child in the next few months and it’ll be interesting to see how I can fit all of my responsibilities together.

The remote working and remote meetings have certainly helped a lot with this.

What do you find most rewarding about the role?
Getting a positive result for a constituent is definitely the most rewarding thing. I have a had a few cases where someone has really slipped through the net and come to me with a difficult situation. When you can get a situation like that resolved it really stays with you.

And the most challenging? 
I definitely think that most challenging part is the time management and fitting other commitments around the council schedule. If you can stay organised and plan things out it can be pretty straightforward - almost all of the meetings are planned well in advance. The challenge is that they don’t follow a pattern that anyone would recognise - Tuesday morning here, Wednesday afternoon there, two Mondays in a row and then no meetings for six weeks. Sometimes the meetings are over in 15 mins because the applications have been delayed and other times you can be there for 2 or 3 hours.

What has been your greatest achievement as Councillor?To be honest I think being a councillor for the area that I grew up in is the achievement I am most proud of. When I was elected my gran, my sister, my niece and nephew were all constituents (my parents missed the boundary by 50 yards). It means a lot to be elected to represent an area that I’ve grown up in.

As a councillor I think I am most proud of how we reacted to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the days before the first lockdown there was a big outpouring of people offering help to self-isolate. I worked with the other local councillors, some community groups and volunteers to set-up a group that coordinated support for people in Rutherglen and Cambuslang - CamGlen Covid Support. I think that group did a lot of good and I was really proud to help set it up.

Tell us one aspect about the job that people might not know / find surprising?One thing I really did find surprising was just how much Local Government does. This might sound daft, but until you are going through a process like the council budget, it really is hard to imagine how many groups, how many projects and how many services are directly or indirectly funded or supported by local government. It really does touch every area of life and if we can get things right, it can do a huge amount good.

What support is available to possible candidates? 
It will vary quite a bit between parties and especially if you are standing as an independent. What I would say is the best support and really the only support you need is that of some decent friends and family. It can be a really emotional process standing as a candidate and it’s easy to get carried away either with excitement or nerves or once in a while embarrassment. Having some people to stop you getting carried away is a big help.

Why is greater representation in local government important? 
When you’re actually in the meetings where decisions are taken, you can see the difference that a diverse group can make. The experiences that you take with you into a decision-making process make a huge impact in terms of what you think is the obvious solution. Often times other people just won’t see that.

What advice would you give to someone considering standing for elected office in their local area? 
Do it. I would recommend that anyone with even the slightest interest or inkling put themselves forward. So often it’s the people who aren’t sure if they have anything to contribute that make the biggest difference. On top of that, getting involved in politics at any level has just an incredible impact on how you see the world. You realise how much could change with enough will power and the right decisions. You realise big a positive impact that you can have as an ordinary member of the public and you see how much better the world can be if we make the effort to improve it.

And finally, who is your role model and why? 
My role models are certainly my parents. They were both teachers and both professionally and in their personal lives they did everything that they could to help people and build people up. I really see my work as a politician as an extension of that.