Scottish Greens candidate Seonad Hoy on hoping to win the Hillhead by-election

By Corinne Allott, Ellie Smith

The Glasgow Guardian discusses her journey into politics, her time as a student at the University of Glasgow, and her policy aims should she be elected

On Thursday 7 March, Glasgow City Council’s Hillhead ward will host a by-election, following the death of long-time Labour councillor and former MSP Hanzala Malik. All five of the major Scottish parties are standing a candidate, and The National has remarked that this by-election could be representative of voting intentions in the general election later this year.

Seonad Hoy, the Scottish Greens’ candidate, grew up in Barrhead, then went on to study geography at the University of Glasgow. When asked about what drove her towards Green Party politics, she told the story of how she leafletted for the Yes campaign in 2014. Afterwards, after being “so devastated” by the result of the referendum, she decided to join the Green Party at the tail end of the year. Despite having two small children, she has been “active[ly] campaigning with candidates,” and as Hillhead is her home, she decided that she should stand as a candidate in this by-election.

She speaks warmly of her time at the University of Glasgow “having [had] the best time and [making] some really great friends who [she is] still friendly with 20 years later”. Seonad began her geography degree in 2001, and lived at home for her first year, before moving into a flat in Kersland Street. Her fondness for the opportunities her degree provided is clear – her involvement with the European Geography Association, which allowed her to go on exchange visits to European nations – is what she credits with her “internationalist outlook.” These visits have clearly had an impact on her and her politics – there are “a lot of things in other European cities and countries that [she] could see that Glasgow would massively benefit from, like cycling infrastructure and recycling infrastructure. There’s so much that we can learn from people in other countries.”

When asked about how the University has changed, and on its approach to climate change, she acknowledged the aim to reach net zero by 2030 for “an institution of this size, it is a big task to achieve that [goal], so it seems, on the surface of it, pretty impressive the work that the university is doing.”

In regards to her involvement in the Green Party as a whole, Seonad makes it clear from the get-go that the Greens were always an obvious choice for her. Her stance as an environmentalist, alongside her studies as a geography undergraduate student, meant that she never looked anywhere else. A huge part of why the Green policies are so close to Seonad’s heart lies in her motherhood. The presence of her young children, aged eight and five, have impacted her political decisions. She tells us that “I need to be able to look them in the eye and say I did everything that I could”, and whilst she “has been involved at some stages more than others” because of her children, her commitment to the party has never wavered.

We probed her on specifics that led to her standing, and she refers to Patrick Harvie, current leader of the Scottish Greens and MSP for the Glasgow region. She says she was “really impressed” by Harvie back when he was first elected as an MSP, and then as co-convener of the party, and has been in the party ever since. Following an active role campaigning with various candidates over the years, Seonad decided that now was the time for her to stand as a candidate too, “because we need more women in politics and we need more Green councillors.”

It wasn’t only Patrick Harvie who inspired her. When asked about what she thinks might have changed in the party in recent years, Seonad is quick to note the positive change in the Hillhead ward, and attributes it to current Green councillor Martha Wardrop, whom she looks up to as “really dedicated and really well respected.” Policies which Wardrop has been involved in implementing include active travel infrastructure, cycle lanes and improvements to recycling, alongside generally “listening to residents and giving the residents a voice.”

Since 2020, Seonad has been out canvassing regularly with Wardrop, “because it’s always important to find out what issues are concerning residents and also update them on the work that their councillors are doing.” She recounts this work as hugely well received, and adds that people are always happy to see Wardrop. Seonad’s respect for Wardrop seems to stem primarily from her work supporting the local community, something that she is “really passionate about,” and feminist city planning, to which she also refers to the work of Langside ward councillor Holly Bruce.

The first of Seonad’s focuses, local community growing, she spoke about with passion and knowledge. She told us about her involvement in West Prince’s Street’s Woodlands Community Garden, where she took her young daughter during lockdown to grow fruit and vegetables. The “big positive impact on [her] health and wellbeing” seemed invaluable to Seonad – she has seen “the difference that community gardens can bring to people’s lives”. Following on from this, we spoke on the issue of food security, increasingly prevalent in the Hillhead ward as residents are experiencing growing rates of poverty, and how Seonad pledges to campaign for local food growth as both a vital geopolitical solution and an opportunity for socialisation.

Another local issue close to Seonad’s heart is that of air pollution, which “really concerns [her] because children are disproportionately affected”. When questioned on a future expansion of the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ), she replies that she “absolutely” and “wholeheartedly” supports the expansion. Seonad tells us about the campaign to close down the M8, the city’s central motorway, after the “really poor city planning back in the 60s”, which caused Glasgow to be the “only city in the UK that has a motorway running right through the middle of it”. She quickly adds that other policies, like pedestrianisation and more cycling routes, would ease LEZ expansion.

In regards more specifically to feminist city planning, Seonad talks about two aspects of her life which led to her campaigning on these issues. The first, her role as a mother, impacts her ability to navigate her way around the city with a buggy due to badly designed pavements and cars parked everywhere. She notes that “provision of public toilets is a big thing as well when you’ve got young kids and there’s no public toilets available, that can be really, really difficult”. She also touched on the street lighting available in the West End, specifically within Kelvingrove Park. Seonad joined us in remarking that the amount of young women living in the area means that “it’s really important that street lighting is well maintained so that people feel safe walking around.”

The likelihood of the policies Seonad is proposing actually being implemented depends in part on how much support she receives from her fellow councillors. We noted that, if she is elected, she would be joining Martha Wardrop as two of the three Hillhead councillors, meaning that there would be a Green majority in this ward. She adds to this that we would go from ten to eleven Green councillors in Glasgow as a whole, “which would make a bit of a difference in terms of what we’re able to achieve strategically as well.” Alongside this, Patrick Harvie is not only the MSP for this area, but also the Scottish Government Minister for Tenants’ Rights, making him responsible for heating buildings. Seonad tells us that Harvie is currently overseeing a Heating Buildings Bill and Housing Bill, and that she would be working in partnership with him to implement such bills locally. It seems that Seonad is keen to work with her fellow councillors and MSPs to “make sure that people are getting everything that they’re entitled to.”

Seonad works in the social housing sector. She has done so for 13 years, and “just seeing the impact that current governmental policy, like Westminster policy, has on the poorest people in our society – [she’d] like to do something to improve the cost-of-living crisis at the moment.” This is clearly something that is very close to her heart, and she explains that it feeds into the reason why she decided to join the Greens, as “they’re the party that [she sees] who have the long term taxation plans where the richest people in society should be paying a lot more money so that we have a more equal society, like countries like Finland and Sweden and Denmark. People do pay more in taxes, but they get much better. There’s a much better social security network to fall back on if people fall into tough times.” Her work in the third sector has allowed her to see how “people are really, really struggling. People are relying on food banks…we should have a welfare system that works where people can live in dignity and don’t have to resort to food banks.”

Seonad has plans to use her knowledge of the third sector in her role as councillor – one of the issues she is focusing on as part of her campaign “is around retrofitting tenements, because obviously it’s mostly tenemental stock in the West End of the city, and there’s big challenges there in terms of making it more green, warmer for people, and more affordable for people to heat as well.” She plans to prioritise making sure that people have the information available to know what schemes they can access to get the support that they need, particularly for students. While responsibility for fixing the problem entirely falls a little further than the remit of a local councillor, Seonad was keen to express how universities have to “be affordable and if accommodation is ridiculously expensive then it does prevent people from applying in the first place. But then when people come, it ends up that they’re getting into massive debt or they’re working ridiculously long hours and they can’t focus on their studies. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Seonad is confident about her chances in the by-election, but she is by no means complacent. “Hillhead is the ‘Greenest’ ward in Scotland. Martha, who’s the current councillor, won by the biggest majority out of any of our main councillors in the country…It is the perfect ward for us to have a by-election. But having said that, we can’t take anything for granted. That’s why we’re out every single day of the week, chapping on doors, talking to people, finding out what the local issues are, doing everything that we can to support them and encouraging them to turn out because a lot of people aren’t even aware that the by-election is taking place.” While she isn’t taking anything for granted, she explains that the Greens hope to do better than the SNP in this election, “because we did at the last local election, and Martha’s so well-respected that hopefully that’s going to have an impact in the by-election as well.” She is keen to encourage those who live in the ward to turn out and vote – 20 February is the deadline to register. Anyone over 16 living legally in Scotland has the right to vote in Scottish elections.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments