Women in the Law: Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh

Greg Gordon continues his series of profiles of Women in the Law with Glasgow lawyer Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh OBE. The article is copied from http://www.scottishlegal.com/index.asp?cat=FEATURES&subtype=#1560

Friday 7 February 2014

It says much for Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh’s contribution to Scottish cultural life that when she received the OBE for services to business and Scotland’s Asian community at New Year, the media response was universally positive.

After all, the opportunity for mischief-making was obvious. Our press love nothing more than to point out the perceived hypocrisies of public figures. Surely an SNP candidate and YES campaign figurehead taking a royally conferred honour was too good to resist?

Only The Times sought to make any kind of capital from Ms Ahmed-Sheikh’s OBE award with a tame question. It was easily brushed off by the Glasgow lawyer, a partner at Hamilton Burns who specialises in commercial conveyancing and private client work, often with a family law or immigration element.

“For me independence is a practical, democratic proposition. It isn’t about cultural imperialism so it really is an honour for me to be recognised in this way,” she says.

At the age of 43, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh has raised a family of four while packing in a senior legal career and seemingly endless political and public life obligations.

She’s even been a leading lady in a Bollywood soap. The TV show Des Pardes was a massive mid 1990s hit in Pakistan.

During a two year stopover in Pakistan, fluency in Urdu and Punjabi was added to a list of accomplishments that includes a Masters degree in International Law and Economics from the University of Edinburgh which she completed after returning to education as a parent. She had her first child just days after her LLB graduation ceremony and her last, 12 years later, just hours after a partners’ lunch at Hamilton Burns had left her feeling ‘a bit faint’.

The current UK Asian Woman of Achievement is a former Scottish Asian Businesswoman of the Year. She created The Scottish Asian Women’s Association in 2012 to promote the contribution of Asian women in Scotland.

These roles form part of a portfolio that includes positions as The SNP’s National Women’s Officer, and an advisory board member position within the YES independence campaign.

Work with Mosaic (an ex-offenders mentoring charity), a Vice Chair role with Women First and a Trustee position with Scottish Women In Sport fill up the additional space within a packed schedule.

She could also become Scotland’s first Asian MEP after being chosen as one of the SNP’s six contenders for the 2014 Elections.

Tasmina was born in London to an Indian father who lived in Pakistan before entering public life as an Edinburgh Tory councillor. Her mother is a Welsh-Czech former Royal Shakespeare Company actress. Continuing the family’s interest in showbusiness, politics, law, and lifelong learning Tasmina’s mother completed her LLB as a pensioner. Her sister practices as a barrister in London.

The idea of multiculturalism comes easily to the family. “It seems self-evident that Scotland’s fourth generation immigrants would consider themselves to be Scottish Asians rather than Asian Scots.”

She says: “They’ve grown up here, speak English as their first language and like most Scots love both curry and Irn Bru. The level of integration is important. You’ll now find Scottish Asian plumbers, computer designers alongside lawyers and doctors. Where immigrants’ children could be better represented is in public life.”

But surely a belief in multiculturalism runs contrary to the separatism of Scottish independence? This is a charge the lawyer flatly refutes.

“Independence is a practical solution. Westminster is not fit for purpose as a democratic chamber that represents the wishes of Scotland’s electorate. We are governed by a party who have just one Scottish MP.

She says: “Scotland’s electorate support free access to education, personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions and small business rate relief through our parliament. None of these things are on the agenda at Westminster. It is an absurd position to accept an imposed politics we don’t want.”

It is the lawyer’s enthusiasm for Scottish Women In Sport – a charity that aims to support and encourage female involvement in an area of cultural life where women remain seriously under-represented and under-recognised – that provides the biggest clue to the lawyer’s primary motivations. They are: participation and representation.

“Whether we’re discussing Westminster, social justice, sport, gender or race, the key to making progress is activism. Change starts with individuals’ personal contributions.”

Similarly, it is probably fair to say that lawyers of a certain vintage, class and outlook are also already over-represented in Scotland’s public and political life? Tasmina partner believes that while that assertion is a fair one historically, the image of the law as the preserve of privately educated grey men in suits is changing.

“The fact is there are so many ways into the law now – notwithstanding the economic pressure on traineeships.

“We are seeing women taking a career break to raise a family and then returning to senior roles, mature students taking a law degree as retraining and people working in related fields such as police and other public servants entering our profession. They bring energy, fresh insights and practical experience, not just black type legal solutions.”

She says: “As in Scotland as a whole, a diverse law sector can only help clients. They need legal guidance but also increasingly personalised practical and commercial advice from their lawyer.”

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