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Sky's the limit: Meet Scotland's newest party leader

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater is an engineer by day - and a trapeze artist by night.

By STV News

Published 13 Aug 2019.

It's not every day you see a politician flinging themselves into a front-flip off a flying trapeze.

But then, new Scottish Greens' co-leader Lorna Slater isn't a normal politician: for starters, she's not a councillor, an MSP, an MEP, or elected to any other kind of public office.

The 44-year-old - Scotland's newest party leader - has been involved behind the scenes with the Greens for around five years.

And when the party decided to shake-up its organisation, replacing the old co-convener positions with the new co-leader roles, Ms Slater capitalised on her popularity with the grassroots to be elected on August 1.

"It's that old adage that someone's got to do it," she said.

"You can only stand around so long saying why isn't anyone speaking up for the climate? Someone needs to do it.

"I can't ask someone else to do a job that I'm not willing to do myself."

The Greens have long maintained a leadership structure which requires a man and a woman to share the top positions, with well-known MSP Patrick Harvie having been one of the co-conveners - and now a co-leader - since 2008.

I put it to her that she is just the latest "token woman" to be installed alongside Mr Harvie, who has seen three female co-conveners come and go over the last decade - most recently Maggie Chapman, who stood to become co-leader but lost out to Ms Slater.

She replied: "That's a misunderstanding of how the Green party works.

"The Green party is a grassroots party. Policy is decided by members. Elected representatives are accountable to their branches.

"This is not a top-down organisation. Patrick does not tell the Greens what to do. I won't tell the Greens what to do. Party members tell us what to do."

The political newcomer, originally from Canada, works as an electromechanical engineer for Orbital Marine Power in Edinburgh.

Previously known as Scotrenewables, the firm is a world-leader in developing floating tidal power and, up in Orkney, it has built one of the most advanced tidal turbines in the world.

Ms Slater said: "On a day-to-day basis I sit in front of a computer like everyone else does.

"When we're actually building a turbine, then we're on site either in shipyards or manufacturer's factories all over Europe.

"That's when we're in hard hats and coveralls and steel-toed boots doing that kind of inspection and hands-on things."

We met across the M8 in Glasgow, before her evening class at Aerial Edge, the city's circus school, which she does twice a week.

It began as a 40th birthday present - a voucher to try the flying trapeze - and despite a nasty early injury, Ms Slater's passion for the circus saw her accepted onto a foundation course at the school.

The course had her training full-time as a trapeze artist for four months, but Ms Slater stressed: "I do recreational circus, I'm not a professional, this is a hobby for me.

"So you'll have to tell me if I'm any good."

And so it was I had the somewhat bizarre experience of watching the co-leader of Holyrood's fourth largest party flying through the air on a trapeze about 25ft above me, in a warehouse connected to Kelvin Hall that I never knew existed.

The second time, she wore a harness in order to finish with a flip, but she was swinging without one at first.

I have it on good authority Green politicians may be thrust into the harness as part of future team-building exercises.

I suggested that she is a completely unknown quantity to people in Scotland - and someone who doesn't represent them at any level, from council ward up to Westminster or Holyrood constituency.

"I represent Green party members," said Ms Slater.

"What I'll be able to do is communicate to you, and to the voters of Scotland, what the Green party policies are and also how effective our politicians are.

"We have an excellent track record in councils around Scotland and in Holyrood of making a difference.

"Even a few Green MSPs or Green councillors can make a really big difference because they make sure climate and social justice are always on the table and never forgotten about."

She added: "I'm an ordinary working person, I have a nine-to-five job, I take the bus to work, I worry about paying my bills, I lose my glasses down the back of the sofa and this is the kind of person I'd like to see more of in politics.

"Fewer old, rich, white men, more ordinary people, more women, more disabled people, more people of colour, more people of all different backgrounds.

"I hope I am the unknown quantity - I hope I am the start, the trickle that builds the stream, so that politics becomes really diverse and we hit that tipping point of our parliament really representing the people of Scotland."