Out of the shadows into the political arena

We are delighted that Marion Donaldson has become our first ‘shadow’ to stand for election. Marion is the Labour candidate for the Leith Walk by-election on 10 September, and it promises to be an unusually energetic campaign with not just one but two seats to fill.

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I have witnessed first hand the issues that affect our community, I know what has made a difference and what still needs to be done. Marion Donaldson

When we launched our shadow scheme, Opening Doors to Democracy, in 2006 one of our aims was to encourage people to get actively involved in local politics. Our shadows invariably show an inspiring commitment to local community work but Marion is the first to take the plunge and put her beliefs to the test of the ballot box.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise. Marion applied for the shadow scheme in 2014 because she wanted to find out what it takes to be a politician either at local or national level. As she put it:

This shadowing opportunity would be a great way for me to explore and “test the waters” before making a possible political career commitment.

Her involvement in community activism began on the island of Skye where she was a founder member of a community based organisation promoting health and wellbeing through dance.

Arriving in Edinburgh she became a member of Leith Central Community Council, in her spare time working as a volunteer at a city centre foodbank where she is now a team leader. It has provided insight, she says: “People with very little money are having their dignity removed by the so-called ‘sanctions’ brought in by the Tory government. These have a severe and personal impact on the poorest families and the poorest children. It’s these families local food banks try to help.”

Marion joined the shadow scheme at an extraordinary time. “The nation was exhibiting a high level of political awareness and civic participation,” she wrote in our blog earlier this year,  “remarkable, as it appeared to be bucking the long-term trend of falling interest in politics.” During the run-up to the referendum in 2014 and the general election in 2015, she followed the work of Leith Walk Councillor, Nick Gardner, Malcolm Chisholm MSP and Mark Lazarowicz, then MP for Edinburgh North and Leith.

Undaunted by what she observed, Marion discovered she enjoyed meeting people on the doorstep and engaging with the concerns of real people in real life. Now she has entered the arena herself in what is likely to be a highly competitive contest.

In the four seat Leith Walk ward, two city councillors are resigning. Deirdre Brock, SNP councillor since 2007, was elected Westminster MP replacing the long-serving Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz in the SNP landslide of May 2015. Maggie Chapman, who became Green councillor for the ward in 2007, will be standing for election to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016.

The Greens have now nominated local resident Susan Rae as their candidate and there is speculation that the SNP might stand two candidates. ‘The SNP may not only try to replace Deirdre Brock,” reports the Spurtle, “but ride the party’s current wave of popularity by fielding a second candidate.” Another interesting question remains: will this be an all-woman contest?

Voters will choose using the single transferable vote system (STV) – ranking as many candidates as they wish in order of preference – for the first time in a Scottish by-election.

Opening Doors to Democracy was launched by Leith Open Space in October 2006 with Malcolm Chisholm MSP, then Minister for Communities, in response to requests from members of ethnic minority communities who saw a need for greater participation in local and national democracy.

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