Karen Adam never sought to pursue a career in elected politics but a marriage breakdown and the Scottish independence referendum would prove to be a “turning point” in her life.
The 45-year-old SNP candidate for Banff and Buchan Coast, who is an unpaid carer to her deaf father and mum to six children, had always been active as a volunteer but it was in 2014 that she joined the party and just three years later that she was elected as an Aberdeenshire councillor.
“I came from a long line of SNP voters within the family. We did discuss political issues but I was never really deeply involved at an activist level so when the independence referendum came around, it was a turning point in my life as well; I’d had a marriage breakdown at that point,” she tells me.
“I finally found a purpose, I found my place. It was something that I really enjoyed and the message from the Yes campaign was really uplifting to me and I could see that there was a bright future.”
Growing up with a deaf father, and interpreting for him, highlighted to Ms Adam the challenges often faced by the deaf community.
She has also been shaped by her experiences helping her own children, some of whom have additional support needs, including autism.
Her personal experiences meant that when she was first elected as a councillor for Mid-Formartine, in 2017, one of the first actions she took was to work on updating the local authority’s autism strategy to ensure it was fit for purpose.
The parliamentary candidate also shares that she was in a position to tweak the council’s British Sign Language plan when it came before committee, through knowledge gained while advocating for her dad.
“Within the home it’s so hard having a child with autism and there’s an extra layer to that and you often feel that anything you need is a battle,” she tells me.
“Nothing is ever handed to you and over the years I just found that I wish I could change this or I wish that could be changed, and I could see these things that needed changed and implemented.
“From a carer point of view, it was really important to me to have that voice at the actual table where the decision making was taking place.
“I feel that lived experience is extremely important within policy making.
“I also find that constituents generally are drawn to me because of that.
“On occasions where that is publicised, I get an influx of emails and people feel validated knowing that there is somebody there that actually understands what’s going on.”
‘Women bearing brunt of unpaid care’
The SNP candidate had her first child, her only daughter, just one week shy of her 16th birthday and being a mum to six has helped her to learn how to multi-task and care for others, she thinks.
Encouraging more women into politics is also something she feels passionately about, and she is aware of the barriers that can often stand in their way.
Ms Adam, who received a death threat online last year, says: “Women are still bearing the brunt of the majority of unpaid care in the world.
“If I speak to any women, the reasons for women not coming forward in politics is that they don’t have the time because a lot of the burden of responsibility of care is on them to care for children, disabled or elderly family members.
“Another barrier is putting themselves out into the public forum can be off-putting because they see a lot of abuse on social media and that is really concerning to them.
“I still face a lot of misogyny and you sometimes feel you aren’t taken seriously enough.”
It was last year that Ms Adam started considering standing in next month’s Holyrood election, after feeling like “everything just fell into place” in her life.
She says: “My children have got a lot older now. I’m in a good position co-parenting with their father, I’m 45 and I feel that I’m at a point where I wanted to up my political involvement nationally, particularly with regards to independence, and I knew that I wasn’t getting any younger.
“If I waited another five years then I’d be 50 and I just feel like I’m in my prime and I feel like my life is allowing me the time to do this at this moment.
“I think everything just fell into place and I was approached a few times.”
‘People need humanitarian support’
The Covid-19 pandemic has left the country in need of a “period of recovery” and one that requires “compassionate and humanitarian-based leadership,” the SNP candidate believes.
She said: “I feel really strongly about social justice issues and I think the bold, radical policies that we’re seeing coming forward from the SNP that have been announced over the last couple of weeks is really something I would like to get behind.
“If we look at the north-east coast, we’ve been hit by an austerity agenda, by a Brexit deal that the people really feel didn’t deliver for the area and then it’s all been compounded by the Covid crisis as well.
“People need humanitarian support. We need to work on how we move things forward but not how do we get back to how we used to be; we really need to focus on taking the lessons we’ve learnt this past year.
“There’s a really bright, positive future that we can have but we need to harness what we have learned and take that forward.
“I’m always someone that thinks when you go through something really difficult in your life that you have to look back on it and think, ‘what have I learned from it’ and try to take something positive from it and use that going forward.”
Other candidates standing in Banffshire and Buchan Coast are Jason Duncan (Freedom Alliance), David Philip McHutchon (Restore Scotland), Mark Findlater (Scottish Conservative and Unionist), Alison Simpson (Scottish Liberal Democrats) and Georgia Strachan (Scottish Labour).