In which I want to give Isla a cape so she can just go and be a superhero already!
Isla is made of strong stuff – boundlessly political but without the ‘politics’. She cut her teeth working in the notoriously male dominated STEM industry and is now determined to make politics more accessible for women.
MR: Being H&I second on the list – what was it like to be part of such an intensive campaign? How do you think we could better support candidates in the future?
IO: It was all encompassing. I’ve been involved in campaigns before but never with a chance of actually winning! You have to be able to let other things in life take a back seat and for me that was only possible with my supportive family. It is an expensive business campaigning and travelling around an area bigger than Belgium takes some time. I think candidates in massive regions like ours need more financial support I had to step back from my business and delay project managing the construction of my new house in order to campaign. It’s tricky to ask for expenses you have incurred when you know we are limited by the donations we receive.
MR: How does campaigning differ across the region? How well did our national campaign connect with H&I voters?
IO: I can get to Edinburgh quicker than I can get to the farthest reaches of the H&I region. The issues voters were raising with me in Skye or Wick are very different from those faced in the central belt. Our infrastructure is suffering from a severe lack of investment. People are living in fuel poverty as they have to spend large proportions of their income on travel this is particularly true on Islands like Orkney where fuel poverty is 64%. Decent broadband is rarer than a hen’s tooth – communities like Applecross have had to start their own broadband schemes! Lots of our national campaign was relevant to us up here in the Highlands but not enough and that’s why we need to keep being visible and getting involved.
MR: You come from a business background – do you find this helps you navigate politics?
Also – the greens are perceived as being ‘anti-business’ – how do we change this?
IO: I think it makes my outlook a bit different. I like to get things done. My first foray into politics was going along to a community council meeting when I was 21. I only went to a few meetings and it nearly put me off for life. I felt it was a moaning shop and nothing positive or proactive was being suggested. In business if you have a problem you look for ways to fix it.
Greens are pro creativity, enterprise, workers rights – the list goes on and on – to call us anti business is to assume that all businesses operate like multinational corporations. We have no problem with people owning their houses or earning money or being successful. What we do have a problem with is the pitting of our economy against our society and environment. We cannot have a profit at all costs mentality. These pillars can and must go hand in hand. We are anti free market, rampant capitalism that destroys our people and our environment. It’s fine to earn money, just make sure you pay your fair share of taxes. It’s fine to own land, just make sure you look after it and use it productively. It’s good to create jobs just pay staff a fair wage. Etc etc.
In my experience of our family organic farm I can see how green policies like promoting local businesses and keeping money in the local economy, would benefit our company. We need to work with more businesses and this perception will change.
In ideological discussion with those on the right of the political spectrum I tell them, ‘don’t worry, my belief in equality extends to you too.’
MR: You have a Biomedical science degree from Napier and used to work in the industry – how was it being a woman in a male dominated field? How do we encourage young girls into STEM?
IO: I’ve never had a problem being a woman in a male dominated environment. Nobody puts baby in a corner! It makes you work harder. When someone patronises you or underestimates you then they get a shock when you come back confident and more than capable. I’ll never forget a work social night when two men who were my peers said in front of me ‘let’s introduce the wives so they can talk shopping while we talk about business.’ Our solution for gender equality should not be about how are women behave but how our men do. We need to educate our sons (I have two and I do!). Pay was and still is a big problem. Women are still getting paid less than men. It makes me very very mad. Girls will get more involved in STEM subjects when they know that they can. At a very early age we must show them the possibilities. There are some fantastic organisations doing just that. Women pilots, surgeons and engineers visiting schools to break down preconceptions. The sad truth of the matter is that women who rise to the top often are more competitive towards other women. As successful women we need to takes others with us.
MR: How do we become more equal within the party? Out of 6 MSP’s Alison is the only woman – how do we ensure the local elections next year see more equal representation?
IO: It’s a really tricky one. I’m really angry that despite putting forward equal lists we have ended up with such inequality in our parliamentary group. I want to make sure we work with the representative groups and the EDI taskforce to analyse this fully and make sure we have done our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I have always considered myself to be a feminist but one that cares about men just as much. I naturally rally against the type of feminism that discriminates against men. However, the rate of change we are seeing regarding gender equality is painfully slow so I think we need to be doing more, much more. All female lists would be a start. Training and support for candidates enabling women to realise their potential was agreed at the last council and I will be using my position as vice convenor to ensure this is delivered. Making being a candidate and politician more family friendly. You don’t see many young women with children in politics because it is really really hard to do it. You cannot have it all. Something has to give. Therefore we need to come up with some novel ideas to get our voices heard.
MR: With the structural review coming up – do you see your role as vice convenor changing? How will you be supporting the review?
IO: I’ve yet to spend some time getting my head around this – like most members I’m still trying to work out how our current structure works! I’m not going to second guess the outcome of the review but I totally support it happening. With the elections over I have more time to give to helping get our house in order internally.
MR: What advice would you give other women thinking of standing for election? Do you plan on standing again?
IO: Go for it! So many women think that they are not qualified for politics. They believe themselves to be unworthy. I feel like that some of the time. ‘I don’t know! I’m not clever enough to come up with the right answers.’ The fact of the matter is that there are no ‘right’ answers. There are only opinions, priorities and principles and yours are as valid and worthy as the next persons. You don’t need ANY qualifications to stand for election.
I am still feeling fairly traumatised from the last campaign but just like childbirth you quite quickly forget how bad it was and plan for the next one.
MR: How do you keep centred and take care of yourself when campaigning?
IO: I am getting better at saying no and delegating where need be. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Pick your battles and know where your efforts are going to have the most affect. My three kids keep me centred as always come first.
MR: How do you think parenthood influences your politics?
IO: In lots of different ways. There is the twee but very real desire to leave the world in a better condition for them. There is no feeling better than inspiring them and being told ‘we are proud of you mum’. My political inspiration came from my Dad and his from his Grandpa who was one of the Raasay raiders. My kids think it’s totally normal to stand up for what you believe in and to call out injustice wherever you see it. And so it should be!
MR: Finally – you seem to have jumped straight out the frying pan and into the fire with the #handsoffardersier campaign – you’ve had a lot of press coverage with Dame Helen Mirren supporting you – do you see Scottish Water backing down?
IO: I was enjoying having a wee break but then an issue cropped up in our village that I couldn’t just ignore. It’s a classic story of big developers running roughshod over a small community. Moray estates have plans to build a new town near us and Scottish water have decided to make Ardersier the main waste plant for the expanding area. The situation is compounded by a defunct planning system whereby the council can only make judgement on the planning regulations around the building they are proposing rather than questioning their logic for placing it there in the first place despite other viable alternatives. There is nothing as effective as a campaign to bring a community together. In the last week we have had a huge response and support. Over 2000 people and organisations have backed our request to make Scottish Water halt their plans to build a sewage treatment plant on our beach. For a publicly owned organisation to show such little consideration or consultation for a community is appalling. Dame Helen Mirren has been amazing. She responded straight away and has provided me with a cracking quote which I will be releasing in the next few days. As soon as you have a big name like that on board the press will sit up and take notice. Scottish water very much have the attitude that they can do what they like in order to fulfill their obligations in providing a working water and waste system. But we are here to tell them they can’t.
I’m pretty sure there is no one in the world who could tell Isla she can’t do something (and live to tell the tale!) – enemies of people and planet beware Isla O’Reilly is coming for you!
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