'My boss said 'you can go to Aberdeen or' and there was no ‘or’ – we’ve enjoyed it here'
Labour councillor Nurul Hoque Ali, who represents the Bridge of Don ward in Aberdeen, on moving north and focusing on a just transition.
Describe the area you represent in one sentence
I’d say diverse and very interesting.
How long have you lived there?
I live in another part of the city – Bieldside, in the west of Aberdeen – but I’ve been in Aberdeen since 2002. My family – my wife, me and our three daughters – moved up here in 2003. I’m a chemical engineer in the oil and gas business and had been working up here by myself when we decided to move. I’m from London but we’d been living in Norfolk immediately before. The company I was working for said “you can go to Aberdeen or” and there was no ‘or’ so we said “Aberdeen looks fine, let’s go to Aberdeen”. We’ve enjoyed it here.
Tell us something we won’t know about your local area
Bridge of Don has its own nature reserve and is home to Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, the sixth oldest club in the world.
Who is the best-known person from your area?
There are quite a few from Aberdeen but in Bridge of Don it’s Thomas Blake Glover, who was one of the founders of Mitsubishi. Not only that, but he was the first non-Japanese person to be awarded the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government.
Thomas Blake Glover statue, Japan | Alamy
What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?
I won’t pretend that there’s not an issue with the downturn in oil and gas but that’s an opportunity as well in the sense that you can move people on to sustainable jobs. I’m not going to point any political fingers, but we as a nation haven’t quite got there with that transition. We are behind and we need to get on with it. The Labour Party’s energy strategy hasn’t properly thought through the impact on the North East. Just closing down oil and gas is not the answer. Aberdeen is not just about oil and gas though. Aberdeen Royal Infirmary is Aberdeen’s biggest hospital complex and its specialisms are national – many people from all over the country, particularly the islands, come here. It has issues around recruitment and retention, partly because house prices and rental prices in Aberdeen are slightly higher than in other places.
What about in the ward specifically?
Bridge of Don is spoken of as the biggest neighbourhood in Europe but in terms of transport there just isn’t enough good public transport in the area and a lot of people suffer because of that. We’re expanding the city to deal with population growth but it’s not being linked in to amenities and facilities. There are things that we need to try to help the ward overcome. Infrastructure issues can’t be dealt with at a ward level. They have to be worked out at a city level and with companies like First Bus.
What made you stand for election?
I first stood in the London Borough of Newham, where I was a councillor from 1998 to 2002. I was involved in a lot of community activism around youth services and non-formal education. From there I developed an interest in policy and joined the Labour Party. In Aberdeen, as I was a community activist and a member of the Labour Party, I thought standing for election was the right thing to do. I want to try to improve the lives of local people in some way. I thought I could make a contribution – I think I’ve made a small contribution.
What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?
If we could get a handle on how we’re going to manage the just transition it would have a massive impact. It’s not the only economic driver in town but it’s probably the biggest one.
Aberdeen beach | Alamy
What’s the best bit about living where you do?
I really like the diversity of it and the geographic diversity too. At one end of the city there’s Aberdeen beach and then you can go inland a bit and see some salmon. We loved it straight away when we moved here. We came from Norfolk so were used to a bit of the rural life. Aberdeen is a big town but also a big town you can get out of easily. The countryside here is really good – there’s a huge variety within driving distance of Aberdeen.
Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?
I didn’t know what ‘fit like?’ – ‘how are you?’ – was when I moved here but it’s so typical of the people round here.
If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?
I was brought up in the east end of London – Bow then Forest Gate – so if I was to move it would be somewhere there, but I think I’m going to be here for quite a while.