Professor Ailsa McKay, 1963-2014

Ailsa McKay, Professor of Economics at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), died on the 5th March at the all too early age of 50 after a feisty battle with cancer. After a first class B.A. Honours degree in Economics from the University of Stirling, and a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham, she joined GCU in 1991. Her academic interests and scholarship were in the fields of the economics of the welfare state, the reform of the current social security system, and the economics of gender inequality – particularly the unequal status and income of women, despite their enormous contribution through their paid and unpaid work to the economy and society. These threads came together in her advocacy of a Citizen’s Income. In fact, in Scotland, a Citizen’s Income is immediately associated in people’s minds with the name of Ailsa McKay. If her academic work had been all that she had contributed during her working life, then that would be impressive; but she did more than just analyse the impact of economic policies on women: she challenged them too. She was an active campaigner to make a difference in women’s lives. She was a leading feminist economist, and chair and convenor of the European Chapter of the International Association for Feminist Economists (IAFFE).

Ailsa analysed the contribution made by women through their paid and unpaid work to the economy, and also the effect of economic policies on women’s lives. She was a founding member of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group and a member of the Equality and Budgets Advisory Group of the Scottish Government. She was also a co-founder of the European Gender Budget Network, and was able to give evidence at home to the Scottish Government and H.M. Treasury, and abroad to the Irish Government, and to the government of the Basque community as it worked on their first gender budget initiative to give women a better deal through their economic policies. She also gave evidence in 2008 to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women of the Canadian Parliament. She made the case for policies to support women’s equality, such as the creation of a Citizen’s Income scheme, and for greater investment in the provision of a universal public childcare service, which would allow women to play a more equal role in the economy and society. She was instrumental in setting up a new research centre at GCU, Women in Scotland’s Economy (WiSE). The centre was her vision, and the realisation of her work for gender equality. The amount of work that Ailsa produced, both scholarly and active, in her all-too-short working life, puts many of us lesser mortals to shame.

With passion, compassion, energy and straight-talking, Ailsa influenced opinion formers and those in power to think and act differently. Her warmth, wit and sense of fun were always to the fore when we discussed our common interests. My main contact with her was in connection with our shared ideal of a Citizen’s Income. About four years ago she organised a conference on CI through the Scotland’s Futures Forum, set up by the Scottish Government so that people in Scotland could put forward their ideas for a better Scotland. Last summer she was invited to be a member of the Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Welfare. She gave a terrific speech at the Radical Independence Conference on the 23rd November, when she received a standing ovation, which – as she acknowledged – was unusual for an economist. I was grateful that she was well enough on the 15th January to participate in a seminar and round-table discussion on ‘Beyond Welfare Reform to a Citizen’s Income’ at the Scottish Parliament that I helped to organise, where she gave a passionate speech about the philosophical and political aspects of a Citizen’s Income. She was active in public life until four days before she died, when she contributed to a Scottish TUC Women’s School.

Ailsa will be much missed by her many friends and admirers, and Scotland has lost an important advocate and campaigner. To her husband, Jim, and children, Rory and Annie, we send our sincere condolences.