A guest post by Samuel Miller (Macart)
I don’t really do politics. I don’t particularly trust politicians either and I don’t consider politics a game to be played like some or a career path to a life of ease like others. So why, oh why am I here now explaining just why I’ve become so passionately engaged in this debate?
Why do I care about the outcome? Just what motivates a long time diehard cynic like me to become a political anorak in his middle, though ruggedly well preserved (cough), years to drop the habits of a lifetime and argue a case for independence? You know the drill of mithering family, friends, workmates, strangers in the street and making a nuisance of himself? Or drinking in what others say and write, passing on fliers, cards, news and information?
These are questions I’ve asked myself plenty of times over the past three years and I came to a shocking conclusion, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I mean my youth wasn’t particularly political I’ll grant you, though as a boy I remember my dad, an old card carrying shop steward, cheering on Jimmy Reid and the Clydeside work in. A couple of years later even my maw, (the least politically inclined of us all), prophesying; “See thon bonnie Margo lassie? I think she’ll stick up for people she will. She’s a good speaker,” but that was the just about the range we got to. It wasn’t that we were anti politics, its just that it was something considered to be between yourself and a polling booth. Those two examples though did kind of set the tone in the household for what was considered good people to look out for.
I remember the very day I received my first life lesson on politics back in 1979. Anyone old enough knows what’s coming next. It was exciting stuff back then, this concept of a Scottish assembly, the powers it might have and the directions it could take. Yet, as a young and then pretty idealistic fella in his teens I watched as a nation was lied to and cheated of its right to self governance.
The result as we’re all now aware was a sham. From the appalling arguments, which to this day are still used by those opposed to any form of Scottish self governance, to lies and outright vote rigging sanctioned from the highest levels of government. Yet still for all that and on a slim margin, a Yes vote won the day only to be denied the prize. That was perhaps the most visciously cruel of all possible results. You would have required a chainsaw to cut the atmosphere of gloom in our house for days afterwards. That result left a mark and a lesson I never forgot.
The next thirty odd years seemed to confirm everything I thought about the establishment and the political class in particular. Mismanaged industrial decline and mass unemployment followed by a new ‘economic model’. Working class communities becoming long term benefit reliant communities and rife with poverty. A steady flow of parliamentary scandals turning what was an already tarnished Westminster reputation into a publicly exposed sewer of corruption, patronage and party political warfare. Service to the people, if it had ever been part of the job description, had apparently long since been abandoned in favour of power politics and election winning machines. The rich/poor divide became a chasm over this period and strangely nobody in power seemed interested in claiming responsibility. I had left the thought of political engagement behind and got on with life. My long time mantra is much used even today by almost anyone you care to talk to on the subject of politics: “Doesn’t matter who you vote for, or how you vote, nothing ever changes.”
Even when the second bite at the cherry came along back in 97, although I voted double Yes, I held out little hope that much would change I simply saw the piss poor devolution package as another means of keeping the natives quiet. There was no fresh thinking, revolutionary policies or powers for people to get excited about. No belief on the part of government that the people could be trusted with making their own decisions. The one and only time I ever agreed with he who must not be named – “Powers that are constitutionally there can be used but the Scottish Labour Party is not planning to raise income tax and once the power is given it is like any parish council: it’s got the right to exercise it.” Tony Blair. A ‘parish council’ and at the time, that summed it all up for me, but I was so wrong and wrong in the biggest way.
It started with another famous quotation on the opening day and first session of the Scottish Parliament.
*”The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on the 25th day of March in the year 1707, is hereby reconvened.” Winnie Ewing
I can’t tell you what it was, but I felt an expectancy I thought long dead on hearing those words. Just a flicker of interest really at first, but I thought, let’s see what happens next. As it turns out the next fourteen years haven’t been such a disappointment. After a stuttering start and a few glaring howlers, our parliament has grown in public stature and confidence. There is ample *evidence that the Scottish electorate have grown to trust their parliament and place it far ahead in preference to Westminster government. Good grief, it wasn’t long before a party of independence gained at first a minority support for governance, swiftly followed by a clear majority second term. There was a reason for that. A parliament and government whose focus was on social justice and public care as opposed to geo politics and home baked self serving greed and patronage. This was done with one metaphorical hand tied behind its back. Who knew such a thing was possible?
At last, there was another viable option on ballot papers for people to consider, which would return a party capable of governance and best of all whether you agreed with their individual policies or not you knew they only had one focus, that the welfare and wishes of the Scottish electorate came first. Words and phrases unused for many years and a few new ones, became commonplace in our daily news and amazingly people began to have conversations about politics again, REAL conversations as opposed to the usual two word summations. Words and phrases like referendum, constitution, common weal, civic engagement and social wage became part of those everyday conversations. We were actually watching our politics transform before our very eyes – or should that be revive before our very eyes?
That shocking conclusion I was talking about earlier had already occurred by this point. My disenchantment with politics, my anger and frustration at the system, the politicians, the effect it was having on people’s lives. Well much to my surprise, I had discovered my practised cynicism and indifference over the years was as much a sham as that result in 1979.
I had, over the short lifetime of our new parliament, discovered that I cared. I cared about how people engaged with their governance. It mattered how the government (of any stripe) cared for their electorate and how they served and answered to those they represent. It also mattered how people in the communities cared for each other and all it took to seal the deal for me was for one particular administration to care just what the people thought about their system of government. That this administration should have faith and trust enough in their electorate to ask the question.
Should Scotland be an independent country?
That took courage for any party of government. They put the power to change an entire political system, the course of a country’s future in the hands of the electorate and declared a people’s referendum. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what the current Scottish government have done. They have given the people of Scotland the power to choose their own system of government. Not same chair, different hats, but different chair, wardrobe, room, house and street. Think about that for a minute. That is the opportunity that has been handed to the Scottish electorate. All those times you’ve wished you had the power to clean house and set things straight? Well now you’ve got it in the palm of your hand.
Faith and trust, two very important words and I’d forgotten all about them and their meaning for such a long time. They rely on reciprocity, an exchange, a two way street. I believe that the Scottish Government and the YES campaign aren’t just asking us to have faith or trust in them though, but also in ourselves. They are asking that we put our cynicism to one side and have faith in a possible future and each other, in our families and communities to make that possible future a reality.
I now choose to put cynicism to one side. I choose to care and I choose to believe we can do better, both for ourselves and more importantly each other. I believe we can undo what decades of self interest and mismanagement have done. I believe we can, as a popular sovereignty, with an accountable system of governance and a written constitution enshrining our rights and responsibilities, make an independent Scotland a better place.
That, I suppose, is why a cynic on the wrong side of fifty has become a political anorak after several decades of just being angry and sarcastic.