On the campaign trail with Labour’s Glasgow candidate Pam Duncan-Glancy

Sienna Rodgers
© Sienna Rodgers

“My mum, she was incredible,” Labour Glasgow candidate Pam Duncan-Glancy tells me as we pause for a chat mid-canvassing. The rest of the group are now going up the tenements, which are not accessible for wheelchair-using campaigners. Duncan-Glancy’s mum, who features in her campaign video as someone who taught the candidate how to be a fighter, died some years ago. “I’d have loved her to see this. I really would have loved her to see it. Everything that I’ve done, I’ve done because of what she made me and how she pushed me. And she never, ever for a second let me believe that I couldn’t do something.”

She gives an example from her childhood, when her mum did not let Duncan-Glancy be treated worse than her sister Jen, who is on the canvassing session with us. “Jen went on a school trip to Paris. The school said I couldn’t go because they couldn’t provide care for me. So my mum was like, ‘well, that’s not fair, like she needs to get a holiday as well’. She spoke to social work, and ended up sending me on a pilgrimage. We didn’t grow up with any religion whatsoever. But there was a group that took disabled people away to Lourdes, and my mum was like, ‘that’ll do her nice, she can go there’. I was like, ‘right, no bother’. So off I went. And it was actually a brilliant week, really good.

“I mean it’s a different experience to Jen going to Disney World in Paris, I went to Lourdes. But we’d never had a holiday abroad because we didn’t really have the money. That was [mum’s] way of making sure that whilst it was a different experience, she’s like, ‘no, you’ll get the same’. So I’ve always had that: yes, you need to make adjustments, and yes, to treat disabled people equally, you have to do things differently. To say that it means everybody’s treated the same is nonsense. If you treat me the same as everybody else, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. You’ve got to make different adjustments and take positive action. And that’s my mum entirely that taught me that.”

Duncan-Glancy is standing for Glasgow Kelvin as a constituency candidate, after replacing Hollie Cameron, who was controversially removed over her views on an independence referendum. (Duncan-Glancy says members have felt “bruised” but the local party is “coming together now”.) She is also fourth on Labour’s list for the Glasgow region. Scottish Labour currently has four MSPs here in Glasgow, so activists are expecting to have four again – unless it wins one of the constituencies, which would likely see Labour lose a list seat (regional votes cast for a party are divided by the number of constituencies won by that party, plus one). Basically, she has a good chance of becoming the first permanent wheelchair user elected to Holyrood. Has the candidate already identified the practical changes needed in the Scottish parliament?

“It’s funny you say that,” she replies. “Obviously, you have conversations about what’s expected of you in the first week if you were to be successful in getting elected. I’ve got a personal assistant that comes with me at work every day. And they are literally there all day. So when I was in the office, back in the day when we had offices, they would sit at a desk next to me. They would help me to do everything I need to do. But you’re not allowed to have anyone on the chamber floor, other than MSPs or parliamentary clerks. It may be one of the first things I’ll need to do is change that.”

Having diverse representation in parliament is “so important” precisely because the practicalities are not identified by those without the relevant lived experience, she tells me. Councillors realise just how bad the pavements are when they go out and about with her, for example. No wheelchair user so far being sent to Holyrood “doesn’t surprise” her, however, “because with the state of social care, if you can’t get out of bed in the morning to do anything and to participate in anything at all, then you’re hardly likely to be able to get active in your local, whatever party you’re a member of, and then end up in parliament”. Duncan-Glancy says she was lucky to have got involved with Labour activism at university when living in disabled spokesperson Anne McGuire’s seat. “It was a good CLP to cut your teeth in.”

Aside from the practical stuff, Duncan-Glancy can also apply her lived experiences to great effect when it comes to policy. She has been appointed by Anas Sarwar as Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on social security, a key part of its national recovery plan. The party has committed to a system that is more automated and easier to access, as well as a ‘minimum income guarantee’, one of its most bold proposals, to restore “dignity” to everyone. The Glasgow candidate is passionate about this subject and clearly excited by the possibilities for reform.

“The benefits system, as it stands, accepts that people are living in destitution,” she says. “As soon as Anas offered me the brief, I said, if I’m not elected in May, this is the most influential I think I could ever be. So I’m going to kick the arse out of it for the next six weeks.” While working full-time, Duncan-Glancy met experts over Zoom in the mornings and evenings to explore options. She had been “attracted to universal basic income for a long time”, which she thought was “the right thing to do”, but settled on a minimum income guarantee. This is not lacking in ambition, as it means: secure jobs, no zero-hour contracts and the living wage for workers; a cap on rent rises and rents capped on student accommodation; energy bills cut via upgrading homes; and a social security system that allows everyone to “not just live but thrive”.

As we meet voters on the doorstep in Glasgow Kelvin’s Firhill, the modified D’Hondt electoral system means Duncan-Glancy takes different approaches depending on the voter’s preferences. There are several solid Labour voters, who receive the instruction to cast “both votes Labour” (list and constituency). But a young SNP voter who says she could be persuaded to give Labour a hearing is advised that, if necessary, she could go Labour for list (the peach ballot) and SNP for constituency (the lilac ballot). 

While Duncan-Glancy is hopeful that the Tories and Greens could take votes off each other, the risk is that the Greens – here, co-leader Patrick Harvie – will pick up support from disaffected SNP voters and green-minded young people. This constituency is student-heavy, and the only Glasgow one in which Labour came third, not second, at the last Holyrood election. The Labour candidate is nonetheless optimistic. “The SNP have managed to, through their communication machine, hide a lot of what’s gone on in the last 14 years and made it all about Westminster. But the pandemic has shone a lot of light on some dark corners.”

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