1 My parents

I WAS a late child. My mum and dad, quite unusually for the 70s really, didn’t have me until my dad was 40 and my mum was 37. And I’m an only child, so they didn’t have other kids.

I think they always kind of spoke to me as though I was one of them. I don’t think they were used to how you would normally treat wee kids.

I’ve got a very close relationship with my parents, and I would say that they’ve given me a lot of my values. My dad was a train driver and my mum did various part-time jobs. She’s worked behind a bar, been a cleaner, been a sales rep, but they also ran a stall at the Barras.

So they gave me a lot of my communication skills.

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My mum was a real feminist. She learned to drive at a really young age in the 1960s when not a lot of women did. She was always on at me, saying “make sure you’ve got your own freedom” and “you can do anything a man can do”.

My mum has been a huge role model to me, but my dad as well has probably given me a lot of my class awareness and my politics, and I think they both gave me a really strong work ethic.

All you can really ask from parents is that they support you and give you that safety net and self-belief and understand you when you’re going wrong.

2 Education

NOBODY really in my family had been to university or anything like that, and actually neither did I. In the normal route, anyway

I left school very young. I lost interest in school in my fourth or fifth year, but I still got a lot out of my education. I learned a lot of things both formally and informally.

I can remember getting involved in my first classroom debate in primary seven about nuclear weapons and whether

we should have them or not. I was on the side of not. But school gave things like that, debating skills and a bit of self-confidence.

I can remember particular teachers encouraging me. I got to write a play and make a pantomime when I was in about third year and my modern studies teacher took home all my script and typed it all up for me.

Pretty much the whole time I was at school, the teachers were on a work to rule. It was the 80s. It was Thatcher time. I remember going out and doing my first collective action against the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) and all the kids from all the schools going out on strike and marching into George Square against the YTS.

I had a brilliant opportunity to go back to education when I was a bit older and I did higher education through the Open Universities.

For me, that was really life-changing. I did a diploma in gender and development. I learned about economics, I learned about product development and I learned about gender politics. I was a young trade union activist by that time and I was really interested in these issues.

So education came to me at a point where I found it of practical interest. And I think that really worked well for me after my misspent youth.

3 Joining a union

I PROBABLY worked from a very young age. I mean, from really young, I was helping my parents at their stall in the Barras.

My first proper job was at the shoe shop on the corner of Gordon Street across from Central Station in Glasgow. I think I was only 13, my first Saturday job. I worked in a chippy all through my teenage years when I was at secondary school. I worked in a baker’s. I worked in all sorts of pubs and bars and clubs, you name it.

The first time I joined a union, I was about 18 or 19 and I’d already been in full-time work in the civil service.

I’d had a really bad experience. I had been sexually harassed in the workplace. I hadn’t felt really that empowered to do anything about it.

Sadly, rather than taking a complaint out against my boss, my only option I felt was to leave the job and move on.

So I moved to a different job in a different government department, and I joined the benefits agency. On my first day, I was asked to sign up and join the union. It was part of my induction. I was made to feel welcome as part of the union.

I very quickly started asking them all sorts of questions because

I was quite concerned to make sure that if ever there was something that happened to a young woman worker that happened to me in my old job that there’d be people there to support them.

So, very quickly, the branch said, “well, we don’t have enough young women reps, would you like to become a shop steward, we’ll get you the training, and you can come and get active in the union and start representing people?”.

So I’ve got so much to thank those people for. They made me feel welcome and part of something.

And they also spotted that I had skills and the right fire in my belly that could help.

4 House music

I WAS a child of the late 80s. The 90s were when I was turning 18 and going out – and there was a fantastic club scene. It was like a real change in culture. It was really liberating because people danced by themselves. You didn’t have to wait for a boy to ask you and you didn’t have to dance with anyone. You just completely expressed yourself.

The music was fresh and new. And there was a sense of real collectiveness when everybody was on the dance floor and all chanting together. I felt like I had found my tribe.

The National: Glasgow - March 3: General view of The Arches Nightclub March 3, 2014 in Glasgow.  (Photo by Mark Mainz).

I met lots of people and had some fantastic times throughout my late teens and early 20s. That was really important to me. I think probably I’ve not felt that collective power until I was part of big demonstrations and big actions to do with the union movement but it felt very similar in some ways.

So for me, my tribe was The Arches. That was my clubhouse if you like and going to see the Slam DJs at the weekend. That was a very, very important part of my formative years and has definitely made me who I am.

5 Being elected to STUC’s youth committee

IN my early 20s, I got elected into the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) youth committee. It gave me a lot of my politics and it started off a lifetime of involvement with the STUC.

I met people from all trade unions. I got to understand their issues and how we share so many things as workers. It showed me the bigger picture politically and not just what was happening in my workplace.

The National:

I also met my husband on that committee. We started a relationship way back then and that’s obviously been a huge influence on my life.

6 Meeting my husband

I CAN honestly say that I’ve got a soulmate in life. I met someone when I was very young, who I think saw all of me. It wasn’t anything about just one part of me, about my looks or my personality or my beliefs, it was everything – and I feel the same about him.

I think that’s probably why, through thick and thin, we’re still together and I still very much feel that he’s my soulmate and my life partner and I’m very much in love. I think that’s a very precious thing. We’ve always worked as a team. I think I’m really lucky.

7 My first full-time job in a union

I GOT selected in 1998 to go and join the TUC’s organising academy. It was this new initiative that the TUC was starting in London to find young people who were active in the trade union movement and give them training on organising and mobilising from some of the best trade union organisations from all over the world.

It was all about a model of trade unionism that was bottom-up and about empowering workers and really building a sense of activism. It was a huge opportunity. I’m really glad about that training, and I’m glad that I met those people and was able to work with them.

8 Sisterhood

I MIGHT be an only child but I have so many sisters. I’ve met so many inspiring women who have been really lucky to call my friends. People that have kept me grounded, mentored me, people that really inspired me. People that have just given me a bit of fun. And those who gave me the confidence to put myself forward.

Sometimes women don’t like to put themselves forward and I can absolutely guarantee you I wouldn’t be doing the job I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for some of my sisters coming to me and saying, “we think you should go for this”.

I’ve learned some really hard lessons in life. I lost a friend. She died at a much younger age than she should have, and I had fallen out with her. I never got a chance to tell her how proud I was of her, but that taught me a really important life lesson. Don’t fall out with people that are close to you and take for granted that they’ll still be there for you to make up with them.

9 Parenthood

I BECAME a mum as a birth parent but I also became an adoptive mum. In very different ways, they’ve both been the scariest things I’ve ever had to do and the hardest challenge to feel you’re doing it right and well enough.

What’s been remarkable for me has been the level of absolute visceral love that you feel for your kids. And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve given birth to them by yourself or you’ve gone through an adoption process – that level of visceral love is just as constant and just as strong.

I’d do anything for my kids. I’ve got two girls, and I’m so proud of them. I lose the rag with them all the time and everything else but they’re both teenage girls, and they’re going to be amazing women when they grow up. I just hope I can be as good a mum to them as my mum was to me.

10 Leading the STUC

IT’S been a bit of a baptism of fire. I started the job on March 16, 2020, right at the beginning of lockdown.

On my first day at work, I had to send all my team home and cancel all our physical events and move to a model of home working. So it’s been a really challenging time.

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We’ve watched workers put themselves and their families at risk, people who’ve been on the front line. I’ve seen a lot of human tragedy. I’ve seen the impact it’s had on people – right in the deepest, darkest times. That fear of going to work and knowing you may bring home the virus to your family.

Now we’re seeing the anger that people are feeling beyond that as we go into a complete economic meltdown and a cost of living crisis where people just feel that they’ve not been valued at all and perhaps feel really angry that they’ve been patronised.

For all that is happening that is really, really terrible, I’m so proud of what our members are doing, standing up and fighting back and saying enough is enough. Work should pay, we shouldn’t have to be poor – we do valuable roles in society.

And if people at the top of our economy need to pay more tax to make sure that we have a civilised society, then so be it. Let’s get on with it and let’s make things better.