Scottish trade unionist Christina McAnea was triumphant yesterday as she was named the first woman head of Unison.

With 1.3 million members, the body is the biggest in the UK and 80% of the public sector workers it represents are female and in low-paying positions.

But McAnea, the daughter of a Glasgow dinner lady, is the first woman to become its general secretary.

From the city’s Drumchapel district, she counts firebrand Clydeside leader Jimmy Reid as an inspiration.

She left school at 16, entered university at 22 and later became a housing officer.

She said she was surprised to be the only woman running when she entered the race to replace outgoing Dave Prentis last year, and has now beaten her four male rivals after securing almost half of the vote.

Prentis exits Unison after 20 years at the helm and McAnea’s victory is seen as a boost to the Labour leadership, with McAnea its favoured candidate.

As Unison’s assistant general secretary, McAnea has been responsible in recent years for collective bargaining, negotiations and equalities strategy, including health and safety, pensions and procurement.

Congratulating McAnea, Keir Starmer tweeted: “I know you will be a brilliant representative for Unison members.

“And it’s a significant moment for the union to elect its first woman general secretary. I look forward to working with you.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Congratulations <a href="https://twitter.com/cmcanea?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cmcanea</a> on being elected as <a href="https://twitter.com/unisontheunion?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@unisontheunion</a>'s General Secretary.<br><br>I know you will be a brilliant representative for Unison members. And it's a significant moment for the union to elect its first woman General Secretary.<br><br>I look forward to working with you.</p>— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) <a href="https://twitter.com/Keir_Starmer/status/1348578295663763457?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 11, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Other high-profile Labour figures to welcome the win include Scottish leader Richard Leonard, who wished her good luck in “challenging times”, and UK party deputy leader Angela Rayner, who shared a picture of the women together.

Anas Sarwar was amongst those to welcome her win as “a great day for the movement”.

Before stepping down, Prentis endorsed Starmer as the successor to Jeremy Corbyn.

The votes from Unison representatives on the party’s ruling national executive committee have also helped Starmer gain control after years of internal turbulence.

McAnea will take up the role from January 22.

Meanwhile, the GMB union will meet within days to set out its plans to elect a new leader after Tim Roache stood down last year, citing ill-health but facing allegations of improper conduct.

It’s thought that Gary Smith, who has been the GMB’s Scotland secretary for five years, will be a frontrunner.

McAnea’s election comes as more women enter top positions in the trade union movement.

Frances O’Grady heads the Trades Union Congress (TUC), with Roz Foyer leading the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

McAnea has said there remains a­“1970s view of what a leader should look like”, but yesterday tweeted: “We made history!”

She told her followers: “Thanks so much for all the support. I may be the first woman GS in Unison but I won’t be the last.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">We made history ! Thanks so much for all the support . I may be the first woman GS in UNISON but I won’t be the last . <a href="https://twitter.com/unisontheunion?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@unisontheunion</a></p>— Christina McAnea (@cmcanea) <a href="https://twitter.com/cmcanea/status/1348571888298164224?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 11, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>