Ailsa McKay, who has died aged 50, was professor of economics at Glasgow Caledonian University. A renowned and familiar figure, Ailsa was a leading feminist economist dedicated to challenging and evidencing the impact of economic policies on women.
Noted by her feminist economist peers as a talented, influential and generous individual with a global following, Ailsa's absence from that international group is sorely felt. She leaves a legacy of important work which has already had a significant and lasting impact on public policy, particularly the Scottish Budget, gender budgeting and childcare provision.
Promoted to Professor in 2009, true to her character and her ethos, the title did not sit comfortably with Ailsa. Although proud of her academic achievements and recognition, she rather preferred to be described as Ailsa, she thought this a leveller in her work with women, public organisations, government and civil society. Reflecting upon the tributes and condolences it is clear that her humanity and ability to connect with people has had a profound effect on many from all walks of life. Marilyn Waring, a principal founder of the discipline of feminist economics, New Zealand feminist politician and human rights campaigner describes Ailsa as "having had a profound effect on my life and the way in which I understand my life's work" after Ailsa's friendship of many years and work with co-editor Margunn Bjornholt as recently as 2013 to produce Bjørnholt, M.; McKay, A. (2014). Advances in Feminist Economics in Times of Economic Crisis and Bjørnholt, M.; McKay, A. (eds) (2014). Counting on Marilyn Waring. New Advances in Feminist Economics. Ailsa's "generosity of spirit" towards other academics "in the minefield of competition to publish" is oft noted as is her ability to foster a funny, cathartic and witty posture to the great benefit of all concerned.
Ailsa graduated from the University of Stirling with a 1st class BA Hons, and went on to gain her PhD from the University of Nottingham, where her thesis was entitled: Arguing for a Citizens Basic Income: A Contribution From a Feminist Economics Perspective.
She joined Glasgow Caledonian University as a lecturer in 1991 and would go on to become Head of the Department of Economics and International Business, and Vice Dean of the University's Business School. Throughout these years she played a pivotal role in changing the university's culture to enhance the prospects of promotion for female academics and acted as a warm and generous role model and mentor to younger female colleagues. This contribution is evidenced by the fact a third of Glasgow Caledonian University's professors are female, well above the sector average.
Ailsa's teaching and research interests lay in the economics of the welfare state, the reform of current social security measures, women, work and income and the economics of gender inequality. She founded and led the Women in Scotland's Economy (WiSE) Research Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University. The research centre brings an alternative perspective to the contribution of women to the economy in Scotland. With commentary based on feminist economics and feminist public policy analysis, the WiSE Research Centre produces research briefings, academic commentary and analysis across a range of issues in Scotland's economy.
Consistent with her down-to-earth approach and belief in telling the stories of ordinary women, the Scottish Women's Budget Group (SWBG) was founded around Ailsa's kitchen table. Over the years the regular work of the group grew in importance and reach to promote gender equality in the budgetary process of the Scottish Government. As a result of the work of the SWBG and Ailsa's membership of the Scottish Government's Equality and Budgets Advisory Group, an Equality Budget Statement is now attached to the Scottish Government Draft Budget and embedded in the budget process. Initiated in 2009, the Scottish government was the first in the UK to incorporate an Equality Budget statement. It was a significant milestone in Ailsa's long-term campaign for gender analysis of government budgets, spending plans, and economic strategies. Her influence was recognised by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, as having had a profound impact on the work of the Scottish Government in budgetary matters.
She was also the Budget Adviser to the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament during three separate Budgets from 2007-2011. Within the last year alone, Ailsa was instrumental in profiling the economic case for more progressive policies on childcare provision, a key part of the Scottish Government's White Paper on independence.
Ailsa was a long-standing friend and supporter of the Scottish Trade Union Congress and worked in partnership with the Women's Committee and the Close the Gap project to enrich, enlighten and improve the lives of ordinary people. She delivered a keynote address at the first Women and Employment Summit, held jointly by the Scottish Government and the STUC. The Reid Foundation invited her to become a member of its Board, and she was the Chair of the inaugural Jimmy Reid Lecture, delivered by the First Minister. Just days after she passed away, it was confirmed Ailsa had been the most popular nomination in a list of the Outstanding Women of Scotland being compiled by the Saltire Society.
Her work was recognised internationally, as the Visiting Chair in Gender Studies at University Complutense, Madrid; a Visiting Academic at Curtin Business School, Perth, Australia and as a policy advisor in Ireland, Turkey, Canada, and to the United Nations. She was a founding member of the European Gender Budgets Network and was a member of the International Association for Feminist Economics.
The tributes of her international peers bear witness to the reach of Ailsa's work and her importance as sister and friend.
Ailsa was an academic whose formidable intellect and disciplinary excellence transcended academic boundaries leaving a profound impact on public policy, and enriching the lives of people in Scotland and beyond. Feisty and irrepressible in fighting for the causes she believed in, she was also recognised across Scottish public life for her warmth, passion, wit and incredible energy. Even during the period of her illness, her contributions to policy debates and campaigning activity were sustained.
She is survived by her husband Jim and her children Rory and Annie.