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'With the powers of independence we could change everything for the better'

Susan Thomson | Supplied

'With the powers of independence we could change everything for the better'

Susan Thomson, the SNP’s Westminster candidate for the Western Isles, tells Holyrood how she came to represent the Uibhist a Deas, Eirisgeigh agus Beinn na Faoghla ward on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Describe the area you represent in one sentence

Big.

How long have you lived there?

Just over six years. We’re a bit nomadic as a family – my mum and dad’s first house was in Dumbarton then they moved to Alexandria. When I got married we moved to Stirlingshire then we moved from there to the Western Isles. We’d been coming here for holidays for a while and had a bit of a love affair with the place. We were living for the three weeks in the year when we could come to South Uist, and thought ‘why not just move here?’.

Tell us something we won’t know about your local area

Flora MacDonald was born here, at Kildonan. All there is to mark that is a cairn and a sign at the side of the road. Skye is famously associated with her [MacDonald helped transport Bonnie Prince Charlie to Skye to evade government troops following the Battle of Culloden] but South Uist deserves praise for actually producing the woman.

Who is the best-known person from your area?

Linda Norgrove, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 during an operation to rescue her and other aid workers who had been kidnapped by the Taliban. She was from Lewis, where the Linda Norgrove Foundation is now based.

What challenges are unique to your particular part of the country?

The fact we are a chain of small islands makes all sorts of service delivery very challenging. I’m embarrassed to say that when I worked in Barra in my youth that didn’t register with me. I popped into a shop after work to get some milk but there wasn’t any. The woman working there said “the ferry didn’t come in today” but I didn’t make the connection. That can be challenging sometimes. Also, if you’re expecting a baby you have to go away two weeks before your due date, either to Stornoway or Glasgow. A lot of people have connections and can stay with family or friends, and in Stornoway there’s a nurses’ house they can use, but otherwise they have to stay in a B&B or a hotel. 

What made you stand for election?

I’ve always been interested in politics. My dad was in the Labour movement and we were always aware of politics but more in the sense of justice and injustice. That morphed into being political as I got older and, when we moved here, there were no women on the council – it was the first thing I noticed when we arrived. That’s why I stood.

Thomson (second from left) along with former SNP leader Humza Yousaf and Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan during Yousaf's Easter tour of the country

What brought you to the SNP?

I voted Labour when I was younger but both my parents went on to join the SNP and I became a member when my children were small. I’ve always supported independence. I can vividly remember my gran saying she would never see independence in her lifetime but I would see it in mine and that felt like an instruction rather than an observation. 

You’re standing for the Westminster seat Angus MacNeill held for the SNP until he was expelled from the party last year – what made you want to stand?

Independence is the driver for me. With the powers of independence we could change everything for the better. There’s also never been a woman elected in this seat and that’s always on my mind. We need diverse representation.

What’s the one thing Holyrood politicians could do that would be of greatest benefit to the area you represent?

They’re doing lots of really good stuff already, but childcare is still a big issue. It’s interesting how we always look to politicians in Scotland to fix everything when some of it is outwith the remit of the politicians in Edinburgh. It would be great if we could do something around diversity in childcare or making it so it doesn’t have to be as formal. I know there are risks around informal childcare but if you need two parents to work – and you generally do – then childcare needs to get looked at.

What’s the best bit about living where you do?

It’s that sense of community. People look out for people. I came here without family connections but I’ve never felt unsupported.

Is there a particular word you love using that only people in your part of the country would recognise?

Bourach. If you had a Gaelic granny she’d come into your bedroom and say “this place is a bourach”. It means messy, untidy, unfit for human habitation.

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

Spain. I’d be incredibly homesick but it’s the heat, I just love it. Sitting on a beach in 

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