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MSP shares joys and challenges of first year at Holyrood

By Alan Beresford

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MAY 6, 2021 was to signal a tidal wave of changes for then Aberdeenshire SNP Councillor Karen Adam as the country went to the polls in the Scottish Parliament elections.

Karen Adam has just completed her first year as an MSP.
Karen Adam has just completed her first year as an MSP.

At the subsequent count she was returned as the MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast, taking over the reins from the previous SNP incumbent Stewart Stevenson. The victory has unleashed a whirlwind of change for one of Scotland's new intake of MSPs.

Ms Adam said: "I've found that being an MSP is not a job, it's more of a lifestyle, it’s completely changed how I live day to day.

"There're no set hours, it's not 9 to 5, and both myself and my family have had to adapt. It's been a big change but it's been really positive.

"My eldest son has really stepped up to help in the house and he's enjoying his new role.

"One thing I've had to do is be very strict with my family downtime. Things can easily crop up and if you're not careful it can just sweep your personal time aside completely. It's important from a mental health point of view to be able to spend time with your friends and family."

Making sure she sets time aside for family is important for Karen Adam, pictured here going for a stroll on the beach with son Isaac.
Making sure she sets time aside for family is important for Karen Adam, pictured here going for a stroll on the beach with son Isaac.

The increasing use of virtual meetings due to the Covid pandemic has, overall, been a positive development, she said, although face-to-face meetings are nevertheless extremely important.

"If you're ill or have family commitments it means you can still participate in debates or committee meetings without actually being at Holyrood. It's really important if you're a single parent.

"I serve on the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee and I'll be recommending that we use virtual working as much as possible. There is a balance to be struck, though between the two ways of working."

Ms Adam's commitment to LGBTQI+ rights soon won her national recognition, claiming the

Political Leadership category trophy at the LGBTQI+ Proud Scotland Awards and was nominated for the same honour in this year's awards.

It was a very personal triumph, having grown up in the 1980s in a same sex coupled household.

Karen Adam with her Proud Scotland Award for Political Leadership.
Karen Adam with her Proud Scotland Award for Political Leadership.

"I was blown away by the Pride award, winning it in my first year as an MSP was a mammoth personal achievement," she continued.

"I was incredibly proud to be shortlisted again this year. When I reflect back on life in the 80s, it was very hush hush situation and you didn't talk about your family circumstances. It was seen as something to be ashamed of but I came to realise that it's nothing to be ashamed of and it's those who thought that who should be ashamed.

"I'm a very outspoken and progressive person and I think it's massive achievement to come here [Holyrood] and not lose my moral compass. In the beginning when I first arrived, as a working class person I thought 'Am I really meant to be here?' but since then I've realised that I'm making a contribution and I feel that I'm making a difference.

"One of the regular things I hear people say is that I'm a breath of fresh air although it all feels a bit strange sometimes."

Ms Adam went on to hail the parliament elected last May as being one of the most representative and diverse ever elected although she warned that there was still a "long way to go" in terms of a chamber which was a true reflection of modern Scotland.

Victory is sweet for Karen Adam as she celebrates after the count last May.
Victory is sweet for Karen Adam as she celebrates after the count last May.

She said: "I think the last year has been a very progressive one in parliament, starting with the co-operation agreement with the Greens and legislation such as the Good Food Nation Bill, new human rights legislation, the banning of LGBT conversion therapy and reforming the Gender Recognition Act.

"It's a more constitutionally polarised parliament than before, the battle for the union is very apparent."

With positives come the flip side of challenges and a life very much in the glare of publicity has brought its own demands for Ms Adam.

She said: "One of the big challenges for me has been always having to be aware and switched on as you're under scrutiny all the time.

"Being a public figure you have to be aware how you carry yourself and what you say and do. Being scrutinised is right, though as MSPs are paid by the public.

"Diary planning is a major challenge and can be quite difficult at times as you're so busy. There's an enormous amount of reading to do as part of the job, hours and hours a week.

"Being an MSP is a bit of a double life – I do all this stuff at Holyrood during the week then bump, I'm back home and down to earth. My kids are completely unfazed by what I do!"

Ms Adam said that there are still times when she gets lost in the complex of buildings that is the Scottish Parliament, and suggested that there may be scope to examine how the induction process for new MSPs is conducted. In particular, she pointed to the informal support she was given by her party colleagues on the realities of becoming a parliamentarian and a public figure and suggested that perhaps formalising this type of support for all new MSPs would be a positive step.

One of the areas over the next 12 months she said she was hoping to make a contribution on was the Miners' Strike Pardons Bill, which aims to pardon miners convicted of certain offences during the bitter year-long dispute over 1984-85.

"I remember watching the strike on TV as a little girl so it's fantastic I can play a small part on the committee working on this bill."

Looking ahead, Ms Adam said that she was aiming to expand on her constituency-focused approach.

"I want to continue to be as accessible as possible and to get out and speak to constituents.

"My constituency office is due to open in the next few weeks having been delayed by Covid previously. While I have to be careful security wise after the death of Tory MP Sir David Amess I want the office to be a place where constituents can feel they pop in and have a coffee and an informal chat. Another thing I'm looking at is pop up surgeries in Buckie and other places.

"The aftermath of Storm Arwen really brought it home to me how important the constituency role is, that feeling of being able to help was incredible. When the storm hit I told the team to drop everything and help constituents in need.

"That to me is what being an MSP is all about."

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