Eva Murray is a first-term Labour councillor in Glasgow who seems to know all of the names of her 84 colleagues (no small feat!). She discusses the the cycle of partisan blame that emerges in the debates and how that can be frustrating for a new councillor. Plus, she explains why young people appear to take interest in attending the Glasgow meetings.
Q: Am I reading correctly that you are one of 85 city councillors in Glasgow?
A: That’s absolutely correct.
Q: Wow, 85! Be honest with me, madam: do you know everybody’s name?
A: I think I do. I mean, two years on I hope I would. There’s still a few that I struggle with. We’ve got three Councillor Morgans. I still get them confused a little bit!
Q: I noticed something unusual that someone tweeted at you:
Do you need tickets to watch your council meetings? And follow-up: do you ever go on tour?
A: People can tune in online, but there’s a very limited amount of tickets to watch it from the gallery. You have to contact your local councillor and hopefully you can get them. You have to be quick. I think there’s only 12 to 14 spaces in the gallery. As for going on tour, that could be an interesting summer trip but at the moment, no. We could get some merchandise, put all the dates on the back, and just tour Scotland.
Q: Do I take it to mean that you have a full gallery most of the time if the tickets are in such demand?
A: We do most times, especially if there’s a controversial motion. Or some people have just never been to a council meeting. We’ve seen a lot of younger people take up the opportunity to come and watch.
Q: What is in the magic sauce of the Glasgow council that makes young people interested in showing up to watch? Is it the historic nature of the place? The topics you consider? Or with 85 councillors, everyone has a friend on city council and they’re showing up to support their buddies?
A: Maybe it’s a bit of everything. Two years ago was the first time 16-year-olds could vote in a council election. We’ve seen younger people become more involved in politics.
Q: Something that is noticeably different from most American and Canadian councils is the time in Glasgow’s council meetings dedicated to questions. Who decides which councillors get to question, and what is the purpose of asking those questions?
A: They’ve in the last couple of meetings changed how questions are done. Before it could genuinely take up a full meeting just full of questions. What they’ve done now is, say the Labour Party would put in six or seven questions. Four of them will get picked and the other three will get a written response. Some people use it to make noise about an ongoing issue, to take a hit at the leader of the council. Other people will use it to highlight a local issue. If you get a good hit on a question, you can make not just your local paper, but maybe the Glasgow citywide paper.
Q: A lot of what I hear in debates goes along the lines of “Labour did this five years ago.” “Well, the Tories did that 10 years ago.” “Oh, where was the SNP when this and that was happening?” It appears like you are settling a score. How much accuracy is there to that?
A: I think you’re right in that a lot of people like to play the blame game. It’s frustrating for me as someone who’s only in the city chambers two years–who wasn’t there when other decisions were made–and to have to take that. I’m trying my best to be the new generation of councillor, but you’re still tarred with the decisions made a long time ago.
Q: So you’re speaking to a culture where new councillors get saddled with their party’s baggage to the point that when they are the seasoned councillor, the expectation is that they will saddle new incoming councillors of the opposition party with the bad decisions of their predecessors?
A: Absolutely. You try and get away from that. People outside, like constituents, they’re willing to listen and see that you are the new face. But there’s a lot of people in the chamber—that is their rhetoric. If they can’t properly answer a question, they’ll say, “what did Labour do?” Or “what did the Tories do?”
Follow Councillor Eva Murray on Twitter: @EvaCMurray