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MSP ‘belittled by fellow politicians for being a young, disabled woman’

Emma Roddick.

Holyrood’s youngest active MSP says she has been belittled as a young, disabled woman by fellow politicians and fears she “overestimated” how accepting the Scottish Parliament would be.

The SNP’s Emma Roddick was sworn in at Holyrood at 23-years-old after being elected on the regional list for the Highlands and Islands last year.

But despite her elevation to the national stage, Ms Roddick, now 24, believes major barriers still stand in the way of young people getting into politics.

Speaking exclusively to The Stooshie – the Scottish politics podcast from DC Thomson – she said progress has been “really slow” and some peers do not take her seriously because of her age.

“There’s definitely differences I notice in how people react to me, and that’s other politicians as well as the public,” Ms Roddick said.

“My age tends to be brought up quite a lot in terms of people looking for a way to dismiss what I’m saying, even if what I’m saying has absolutely nothing to do with how old I am.”

The Highland MSP is speaking out after several younger candidates announcing their intention to seek selection ahead of May’s local council elections faced a backlash on social media.

‘You need to include everybody’

Angus SNP activist Lloyd Melville was met with mixed responses after saying he hopes to stand in the nationwide vote.

Among messages of congratulations from fellow campaigners were naysayers claiming the 21-year-old does not have enough life experience to serve his community.

But for Mr Melville, youth shouldn’t be regarded as a detriment. Instead he believes it works in his favour.

Lloyd Melville.

“Young people have a lot of energy and passion to bring to the table,” he said.

“People are keen to count young people’s votes at elections, but they seem to be very keen to discount their voices when they want to make a difference to their communities.

“I would make the case that we live in a modern democracy and to build a modern democracy you need to include everybody.

“What people seem to be saying is you need to have worked one job for 40-odd years before you even get a chance to make a contribution to local democracy.”

Emma Roddick agrees with that sentiment.

She said: “People talk to me about not having enough life experience and I’m not ever really sure what they mean by that.

“I know I have experiences that 70-year-old politicians in the Highlands do not have, and will never have.”

Slow progress

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016 aged just 21, while SNP finance secretary Kate Forbes holds one of the most senior posts in the Scottish Government at the age of 31.

Last year’s Holyrood vote saw the first two women of colour ever elected to the chamber, along with a record number of women becoming MSPs.

But Ms Roddick admits she “overestimated” how accepting the parliament would be after enduring some difficult experiences in her role as a councillor.

She said: “I’m a young MSP. I’m also a female MSP, and a disabled MSP. All those together and you’re going to be in for a hard time.

I think I had overestimated how liberal the parliament had become.

“But I see elements of each of them in the way people speak to me and in the arguments they use to talk down what it is that I’m saying.”

Ms Roddick added: “I was the youngest councillor in the Highland Council.

“I experienced how things were there and I don’t know why I had this expectation but I thought that it was going to be better in the Scottish Parliament.

“I think I had overestimated how liberal the parliament had become. There is still a very long way to go and I think that is the case everywhere.”

Barriers for young politicians

Ms Roddick also said she has struggled to cope financially in the past while serving her local community.

The Highland MSP was mocked by Tory rival Annie Wells when she spoke out about her money troubles after first entering Holyrood.

She said: “The councillor’s salary then was well below average and I wanted to do it full-time. I don’t think it’s a particularly attractive job for young people.”

Xander McDade.

That view is backed up by independent Highland Perthshire councillor Xander McDade, who is one of a number of Perth and Kinross Council members expected to stand down after struggling to make things more accessible for working-age people.

He said: “In terms of the remuneration, depending on the hours you put in, you can be quite lucky to be earning half the minimum wage if you put in a lot of hours.

“It’s certainly not realistic to be expecting younger people who are perhaps trying to buy their first home to be able to buy that on the councillor allowances that are currently set.

“I think we need to be realistic. Either it is a part-time role, in which case we need to reduce the work expected of councillors, or we need to increase remuneration to reflect the level of involvement.”