Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Changing minds: mental health campaigner Ben Lawrie on a mission to make politics more polite

Ben Lawrie.

Within just a few years, Ben Lawrie went from being his school’s “trouble-maker” to now being celebrated as an “inspiration”.

It was a dramatic transformation for someone who had shown little interest in politics while growing up in Monifieth, but who would soon become his region’s youngest councillor.

“I was always a bit of a trouble-maker at school. My grades were pretty average,” he said.

“I was never really interested in politics all the way through school, I always thought it was a bit boring.

Councillor Ben Lawrie.

“But I was always interested in psychology and mental health, and I went to Dundee and Angus College to do social sciences because that was a course that involved psychology modules.

“And one of the modules I had to do as part of that was politics, and I was pretty bummed out about it at first, thinking it was going to be pretty dry.

“And it was pretty much through my lecturer and through doing that politics module at college I realised just how much of our lives and our quality of life is affected by politics.”

It was also during his time at the college that Mr Lawrie first became drawn to the Liberal Democrats, despite the party going through a turbulent time as a junior partner in a Westminster coalition with the Conservatives.

“I learned about all the different ideologies – liberalism, conservatism, socialism – and liberalism just sounded like it made sense to me,” he said.

Raising awareness on mental health

“So I just went and found the Liberal Party in 2013, at a time when no-one else probably was joining, mid-coalition.”

His involvement in politics coincided with a difficult period for Mr Lawrie, who has spoken publicly about his struggles with depression and anxiety in the past.

“It was around this time in 2013 that I had a lot of struggles and had a suicide attempt, and I saw a lot of issues with mental health then, very long waiting times and it was very difficult to get support,” he said.

“And I saw politics as a way of addressing that, getting that funding for mental health services, and to sort of raise awareness.”

Since then, Mr Lawrie has campaigned on mental health issues, impressing senior figures in Scottish politics in the process.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie attending a 2018 screening of a short film featuring student and Angus councillor Ben Lawrie and his battle with depression.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “Ben Lawrie is an excellent young councillor for whom I have great hopes for the future.

“His work on mental health and his sterling work in his local community is an inspiration to me and so many others.”

Student and local councillor

While studying for a degree in international relations at St Andrews University, Mr Lawrie successfully stood for the council in 2017, aged just 22.

The Liberal Democrat member for Monifieth and Sidlaw hoped to be able to enact almost instant change through collaboration with colleagues.

But he has learnt over the last three years that the process is often more complicated in reality.

“It has been an absolute honour, and I love it and I don’t regret it one bit, but it has been stressful at times. It has been frustrating at times,” he said.

Ben Lawrie of Angus Council trying the Report It System app.

“I think you don’t really know how these things work before you get involved.
“You have an idea, ‘I want to make all these changes and these are the levers of power’.

“But actually councils are a lot more like a big cargo ship. It takes a very long time to change direction and turn them around.

“I also did believe I could just go in, be kind and non-confrontational, and just work together with people on the things we agree on, and put our differences aside on the things we don’t agree on.

“But I think politics is a lot more cut-throat than that. I was certainly very naive before I got elected.”

SNP MSP Mairi Gudgeon, left, with Labour’s Monique Miller and Liberal Democrat Ben Lawrie at the General Election count for Angus at the Saltire Sports Centre, Arbroath.

At home at hustings

Last year Mr Lawrie was the Lib Dem candidate in Angus at the Westminster election, where he nearly doubled the party’s vote at the contest compared to 2017, while leap-frogging Labour into third.

He now hopes to stand again at next year’s Holyrood election in the Angus South seat, and on the north-east list.

“It was never a seat that we were going to win but I also wouldn’t want to run in a seat which I didn’t have a link to, because I really do believe in localism and people from communities are the best-placed people to make decisions in communities,” he said of the December poll.

“It was quite enjoyable. I really enjoyed the debates and hustings. I definitely would go again.”