Who am I and why am I here?
I have loved politics ever since high school. I have loved learning about the issues, debating the solutions to challenges that Scotland, UK, and the world face. I love politics for its institutions, how they are set up, the figures that have emerged from them, the ideas and values that have shape decisions that have influenced societal change. However, my love for politics is far more than the nuts and bolts, the personalities, and the history. It is about people’s stories, and how they can not just lift themselves, but lift their friends, their family, and their community.
These stories and lived experiences, no doubt shape our own group’s approach to politics, our activism, and our mission. A belief, that no barrier whether physical, societal, or economic should hold anyone back from reaching their potential, or participating within civil society. A belief, that we all have the right to live independently and to make the decisions that impact our lives. This right to independent living is so fundamental to what it means to live in a free society, and it is this belief that has brought me back to the Conservative Party.
So, who am I? My name is James Walker, but call me Jamie. I am 26, happily married, and just bought a new house. I am a graduate of Stirling, Glasgow, and Strathclyde universities with a varied working career in finance, civil society, voluntary and third sectors, well as varied as someone in their 20s can have I suppose. I am a passionate campaigner, with my first experience being a cancer campaigner in Scotland. I have fond memories of lobbying Parliament to establish standardised packaging of cigarettes in 2012 and petitioning The Scottish Parliament in 2011 to establish a cancer drugs fund. Over the years, I have also been involved with campaigning within disabled person organisations, most notable the One in Five Campaign in Scotland. This was a campaign to make politics more accessible, so disabled people can participate and contribute to the political process in Scotland. Additionally, I am in the process of co-founding a charity to enhance the value of lived experience and the importance it plays in public life.
I of course have my own lived experience. My mum died from cancer and during those years I witnessed her battle the disease with strength. My dad has MS and continues to live with it every day. My own experience is about mental health, specifically anxiety disorder and depression. I have lived with an anxiety disorder my whole life and as a result, battled depression over many years. There have been times when I have struggled to leave the house, connect with friends and family, pursue my passions, and I have even struggled to see tomorrow. To combat my anxiety and depression, I turned to alcohol and medication so I could try and feel normal. But, I didn’t help at all, it only made me worse. I struggled to engage with politics, work, and even relationships which in turn fuelled a sense that perhaps, it was the end of the line for me. But, there comes a time when enough is simply enough. There comes a time, when you stop trying to run away. Or in other words, when deciding to not let your depression or anxiety win.
For anyone reading this who has experienced mental health challenges, knows that that last part is easier said than done. I have always viewed myself as very high functioning, committed to what I am doing, ambitious and driven. When I joined the Conservatives initially in 2009, I went to every campaign event, canvassed, spoke to voters on stalls, did everything I could to engage with the process. I even took leaflets in my paper delivery bag and leafletted houses on my paper route when I was 15. As the years went on, I did some media engagement, took part in national campaigns, and pushed myself to remain engaged. I wanted to prove to myself that my anxiety disorder would not win. But I failed. I kept running away from my challenges, ignoring my problems. So when I left the party in 2014, a combination of changing political views but also frustration, my self-confidence, and my self-esteem fell through the floor. The same love I had for politics was gone. I could no longer push myself and contribute, and opportunity after opportunity passed me by. Eventually in 2016, with the encouragement of my wife, I took some time away to focus on myself, but importantly, to start to address my anxiety. This process took 4 years, but at the end of it, I feel more relaxed, surer about myself, and more confident than ever that I can contribute better than ever.
So, I suppose the next question to be answered is why I am back with the Conservative Party. Having left the party in 2014, and moved to the left over my latter years at university, I can understand why some will be reading and thinking ‘why has he come back? Well, we in Scotland have been living with constant political challenges for far too long. Independence has never left the political agenda, despite far greater problems facing communities and our country. Many of them affect disabled people across Scotland, issues such as:
- Growing mental health waiting times
- Disability employment gap widening between Scotland and the UK
- Children with additional support need now receiving less than £1000 per pupil compared to 2012.
This is all before we mention issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic which has affected jobs, incomes of hard-working families, and the stability of our economy. It is quite simple, pandemics change priorities, but in Scotland, we still see independence top of the agenda. This is despite the SNP failing to address basic questions about how an independent Scotland would function. In the towns I have grown up in, there are so many people who are struggling to get by. What matters to me, is how we can support people, lift them up and help them get ahead. By failing to address the tough questions about independence, the SNP fail so many people across our country. Yet over the last year, we have seen our United Kingdom take tough decisions. We have seen our union protect jobs, secure family incomes, and develop a vaccination program to lift us out of lockdown. Through tough times our union has kept the country together, and further division will only do more harm. Many years ago I lost faith in our union, over the last year I have found that faith restored, and I have come back to the Conservatives to fight against the division of the SNP, and focus on the big issues facing people today.
I am now in a place where my mental health challenges are no longer winning and by engaging with politics again, I am beating my anxiety. Coming back to the Conservatives was a long journey, but freedom and independent living are powerful ideals and will attract anyone who believes in a free and inclusive society. I hope to run for office one day but more important than that, I hope to use my lived experience to break down barriers so disabled people across the UK can participate and live independently. Independent living is not just an idea, it is a right, and it is one worth fighting for.