At the age of only 38, Sarah Boyack was appointed to the first Scottish Cabinet as Minister for Transport, Environment and Planning, serving from May 1999 to November 2001. During this time she introduced free bus travel for elderly and disabled people in Scotland, improved energy efficiency standards for social housing and sat on the European and Audit committees.
Her passionate interest in the environment led to her receiving the RSPB Goldcrest Award for the greatest contribution to the development of environmental policy since devolution and in December 2005 she was named The Scottish Renewables Best Politician.
Sarah was born in Glasgow but brought up in Edinburgh. She was educated at Edinburghâ€™s Royal High School and was among the first intake of girls at the school. Sarah later studied Modern History and Politics, gaining an MA at Glasgow University, which she followed with a Diploma in Town and Country Planning at Heriot Watt University.
â€œAt the root is of what drives me is my belief that I want to improve the world I live in. This goes back to my choosing being a town planner as my first career and then becoming a planning lecturerâ€.
Her political beliefs were undoubtedly formed and fostered by her late father Jim Boyack who served for 3 years as a councillor on the old Edinburgh Corporation. She says, â€œI was aware of politics from a very early age. This was in the Margaret Thatcher era and I was active in student politics in campaigning for devolution. I got a good grounding in reality at Glasgow University and found the lives of shipyard workers and those in other heavy industries worth fighting for.â€ She adds â€œuniversity is the place where you find yourself.â€
Sarah is pleased that the environment, not formerly centre stage, has now become so and this she says, â€œkeeps me going. I feel it is a fantastic privilege to be in the Scottish Parliament. I personally have been recycled on several occasions! You choose to do things but events move you on, in my case from Cabinet Minister, to Committee Chair and now a backbencher!â€
One of the best things to happen in her life so far, unsurprisingly, was being elected to, as she put it â€œThe first Scottish Parliament in 300 years.” “At the time I thought this is as good as it gets, but I have pretty much enjoyed everything I have done so far. Iâ€™ve learned a lot along the way and I always see things as the half full glass not the half empty one.â€
She is also proud of introducing, in particular, environmental policies into Parliament.
Perspective and Prediction
Inevitably there have been a few low periods. As she says â€œIf you put yourself up as a politician you donâ€™t know how itâ€™s going to be. Being in the first Cabinet was fantastic but challenging. I had suddenly to deal with conflicts, which became easier as time went by but sometimes it is difficult to get things into perspective and you can never totally predict how things will work out.â€
She thinks her greatest achievement to date was the introduction of free bus travel which Sarah believes has long-term benefits in improving peopleâ€™s lives. She also considers politics are now much more accessible to people.
This is essentially a private, indeed shy woman who is quite guarded about her family â€œFamily and friends keep you supported â€“ constituents keep you grounded. Family and friends help you to relax and switch off. I do find it hard to be disciplined enough to say â€œnoâ€ to an event though.â€
Reading crime novels, going to movies â€“ for entertainment â€“ and films â€“thought-provoking ones, are ways in which Sarah relaxes. She finds reading novels â€œlifts the spirits and is a form of escapism.â€
She feels that she is rather unfairly considered to be anti-car and came in for some mild ridicule for riding her bicycle to Parliament (without a car following behind her). But Sarah does practice what she preaches and believes you learn from lifeâ€™s experiences and move on.
Her heroes include Barbara Castle. â€œShe was the first woman in a really senior position in politics. Her diaries show her as a very human person, active until she died and she made an incredible contribution to public life.â€
She also admires Nelson Mandela for his capacity to live through personal sacrifice and imprisonment and come out of it smiling and forgiving and going on to play a pivotal role in healing society in South Africa.
Currently her next big challenge is to get her Memberâ€™s Bill to promote energy efficiency and household Renewables through the Parliament. She is also passionate about securing the future of Edinburghâ€™s Kings Theatre. She believes the arts can have a beneficial influence in combating anti-social behaviour and one senses a campaign coming on.
If you’d like to know when new articles appear on Lothian Life, sign up here. If you’d prefer a monthly newsletter, sign up here. Articles on Lothian Life are free to read and we hope you enjoy them. However we do pay our writers and have other expenses too, so if you feel like making a contribution to keep things going we’d be very grateful. As my mother used to say, “Mony a mickle maks a muckle”.