Thoughts on a year in Parliament
Over the summer, I spoke to the Motherwell Times about my first year in Parliament, from the shock of my election and delivering my first speech parliament, to learning to cope with people’s response to my disability, and visiting Malawi.
Here’s to another four years:
SIOBHAN McMahon is amazed her disability has been such an issue during her maiden year in the Scottish Parliament and vowed to fight for equality.
Elected first on the Labour list for Central Scotland, Siobhan admits while proud to be an MSP, she isn’t happy it came on a night when her party suffered a devastating loss to the SNP.
She said: “I don’t think happiness came into it for a good six months, shock was the primary emotion as none of us saw that result coming.
“Some people might lack sympathy with the MSPs losing seats, but there were plenty of people on much lower salaries who lost their jobs and you would have to be without a heart not to feel for them.”
Siobhan was no stranger to the Parliament having worked for the Labour party, and enjoyed being sworn in as the first father-daughter MSPs with Uddingston and Bellshill MSP Michael McMahon.
She said: “It was incredible being on the floor for the first time. A choir from Falkirk sang one of my favourite songs, the sun was shining and being with my dad to swear in was a nice thing, although I was so nervous giving my first speech.
“But it went really well and I put in a quote from my dad at the end. Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said she’d never seen a man so proud, the only problem was he thought I was quoting Donald Dewer.”
Siobhan has had to overcome several challenges since entering Holyrood, but nothing like the realisation people see her as disabled.
She said: “The biggest thing for many people is my disability, which I’ve had since birth, and I’ve never known that in my 28 years.
“I have spastic hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, which affects my hand.
“I’ve never discussed it as much and the reaction I’ve got from some MSPs is quite appalling. For instance, I’ve been asked if my hand is sore and another said they’d hurt their arm so now had an insight into my life.
“I brought it up when talking about welfare reform but only to say ‘enough about me, let’s talk about the people who are really struggling’.
“No one nudges when a minority walks into a pub, but if someone is with their carer or in a wheelchair people don’t know how to react.”
Siobhan admits she never expected to be a champion of the disabled.
She said: “Equality for the disabled doesn’t exist. I can’t speak for every disabled person, nor would I want to, however it’s about time someone said ‘hold on!’, I just didn’t expect it to be me.
“When I went to Malawi in June I was warned they might bring it up, but it wasn’t mentioned, I was back here three days and it was. That’s the disappointing thing and that’s the frustration.”
Siobhan is making her own name in politics and was named personal private secretary (PPS) to new Labour leader Johann Lamont.
She said: “The leadership contest showed my dad and I are two different people as I was backing Johann Lamont, while he was campaign manager for Ken Macintosh.
“Of course I ask his advice sometimes, but it’s a two way street, and who thinks the same as their parents all the time?
“Johann has great faith in me. While I wasn’t looking for a ’job’ she asked me to be her PPS, I didn’t think it would be a position that would be open and now I’m sitting in shadow cabinet.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to learn and one I’m grasping with both hands.”