The reluctant anorak

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.



35 comments on “The reluctant anorak

  1. Hugh Wallace says:

    Reblogged this on Are We Really Better Together? and commented:
    “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.”

  2. mary vasey says:

    Well said Macart, I agree with all you’ve said. Thanks and YES I too shall be voting YES

  3. […] 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 l…  […]

  4. flooplepoop says:

    To my shame, until a few years ago, i didn’t know that we had won in 1979, but then cheated out of it,and in talking to others of my age group, they didn’t know either.
    This led to me looking for more information, even though i would have voted Yes anyway. All the stuff out there, McCrone,Misuse of oil fund,West coast oil,Trident,etc,etc just hardened my resolve.
    I,myself have become an anorak, as i think a lot of people have at this time and your article has reinforced that thought.

  5. Flooplepoop….Same here….Frustrating, isn’t it?
    Scotland’s awake like never before.
    We’ve a chance though.
    Here’s what awaits us from Westminster if we don’t grasp this….

    ‘The Great English NHS Sell Off’.

  6. erruanne says:

    well written, and from An ordinary Gran, I concur with everything written here. If anyone is still thinking of voting No, you should ask someone who was around when we were robbed of our result in ’79. The nation was depressed for decades. We’ve only recently come out of that, with thanks to the careful and discipline from current Scottish Government. We have this once chance to change our direction. Let’s not waste it. Or we’ll have to bulk-buy the prozac.

    • macart763 says:

      We can do it.

      Its in our hands for the first time ever, to tell the politicians how we wish to be governed. Its the reason why the establishment are desperate to personalise the debate, to lay this out as a party and personality election format. If the electorate become fully aware of just what this opportunity really means they know fine well that the game is a bogey.

      They’ll have to become public servants again.🙂

  7. […] The reluctant anorak […]

  8. Well said, Mac. That’s why I decided, for the first time in my life, to get off my backside and onto the streets to try to make a difference.

  9. Bamstick says:

    Brilliantly said.
    I think a lot of us 50 somethings wear anoraks of some sort now. My husband, a history and politics graduate, has worn one for over 30 years. But, like you I’ve only started to become engaged. I even bought a Scottish History book with lots of pictures so I could find out about my country. My understanding of history from my school days ( in Scotland) didn’t cover ANY Scottish history! And politics was a real turn off, men in grey suits telling me what I could and couldn’t do.

    I think that the most important thing you say is:

    “It mattered how the government (of any stripe) cared for their electorate and how they served and answered to those they represent.”

    Such a simple concept, but one that I had never thought about until recently. Government or Politicians were so far out of reach to us normal folk, they did their thing we did ours.
    Time for big changes. Time for all of us to vote YES.

  10. JimnArlene says:

    Being nearly 50 I too remember 79 and the fact that a Labour government robbed Scotland, of it’s first bite at the self-determination cherry. Then we got the wicked witch of the handbag, the *cough, splutter, vomit* Scottish Labour party blaming it all, on a handful of SNP MP’s. I believed then as I do now, SLab loved the Thatcher years. They could sit on their hands, blame the Tories and the “tartan” variety ( as they would have it) for all the rape and pillaging of our nation; in the knowledge that the Scots would vote for a monkey in a red tie. As the song says, those days are past now and in the past, they must remain. For SLab, it is the end of the road; for Scotland it is the beginning of the journey to a better, fairer system of government and society. Where can, all help our neighbours, at home or internationally and be the country we all know in our hearts, we can be.

  11. 1979 remains lodged in minds like a chunk of brooding granite and has shaped the actions of many of us. This referendum campaign has opened eyes, the lies and manipulation becoming ever more apparent to those who never questioned previously. And now as we enter the final straight the future is beckoning. We are buoyed up by what we could do, how democracy would be shaped by the many and not the few, and we are becoming aware of the opportunities open to us with independence.

    Well done Glasgow in helping raise two and a half million pounds for UNICEF, but what about those kids and families on our own doorsteps (many not far from where last night’s opening ceremony was held) who continue to live in poverty and rely on food banks to exist.

    Scotland is a wealthy nation (whether many of those who live here believe that or not) with that wealth we can chose to build a healthier and more equal country. Until we do 1979 will never be laid to rest.

    • macart763 says:

      Well said jings.

    • YESGUY says:

      Brilliant Macart. You always have something interesting to say and i really enjoyed the article.

      Jings Ditto. We have thousands of kids in poverty and it should shame everyone at Westmidden for they’re attacks on the poor.

      Friends of mine have recorded “Caledonia” and all money raised goes to the local food bank charities. It’s a brilliant version and a very worthy cause. Please see link below and buy the song (released on 27th July) and help feed oor folk who have fallen on hard times or sanctions.

      Or watch the video at the

      Thank you all at WGD.

  12. Bigbricks says:

    As a cynic on the wrong side of 60 now, I’m encouraged by your story, which I think is probably not an uncommon tale in anyone old enough to have voted in 1979.
    I like your second last paragraph. It’s as concise and uplifting a statement of why we should be voting Yes as I’ve ever read. Gaun yersel auld yin (wee bit tongue in cheek there)!

  13. WRH2 says:

    Like many others I too remember 79 and the betrayal of our hopes. I remember also Tony Blair and Gordon Brown coming up here in the 2007 Holyrood election to tell us we would be worse off with an SNP government. Cheek.
    And I remember the night of the count in 2011 turning into a party as seat after seat fell to the SNP.
    I want to party again on 19th September. Only this time it will be the greatest party of all.

  14. maybolebuddie says:

    Great post Samuel, your piece highlights the fact that the YES side have already won the argument through the political enlightenment of the Scottish nation, its out of the box and its not going back no matter the referendum result in September. I believe the Scottish people are on a journey to independence, its only a matter of time!

  15. Nana says:

    Macart…This is a wonderful piece of writing.

    You have put into words my feelings on this great opportunity we have, not just for Scotland but for the rest of the UK. I hope we grab it with both hands.

    I wrote the lyrics to Yewchoobs ‘YES is the way’ and the last verse sums it up for me….

    Think of the children as yet to be born
    Vote yes and be sure we will never be scorned
    Vote no and they’ll wonder why we were feart
    To grab at this chance to make changes
    Shout from the playground Yes is the way
    For the times are finally changing

  16. hektorsmum says:

    Well Mac, you must stop representing yourself as an old boy, though as you say in decent nick. I was not in my teens when we “lost ” the Referendum in 1979 just getting into my stride as a thirty something. I was very annoyed to put it lightly at the machinations of the Labour Party then and my annoyance has gone much further since. I can honestly say I detest the lot of them now, from the so called left wing to their masters who they seem powerless to do anything about. Trouble is that it is a career move with ALL of them these days. The old sort like Denis Skinner have long been sidelined and still they stay there.
    We did not know about McCrone then but I remember watching the feeble fifty do nothing, oh they had set the SNP back a bit but like the tide it has come back and if the very worst happens, it will again.
    Strangely when I read about your family, it must just about sums up every family in Scotland, mine was not that political, oh they voted Labour, I know that. Mum sometimes didn’t but Gran now, well she was old enough to remember how hard women fought to get the vote, and it was her who may have inadvertently started my love of politics. I have always been a nationalist and always angry. I am hoping against hope to stop and be happy with a great big smile on my face and a glass in my hand come September.

  17. Robert Wilson says:

    I’m not actually an inhabitant of your lovely island but I do have some sort of input in to your daily lives as I’m one of the guys who gets out of their bed at an ungodly hour of the night to deliver your daily bread to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry ‘Caledonian Isles’, so I thought I’d venture my opinion on your thread.
    I too remember 1979, and what sticks in my mind is the eleven SNP MPs who moved the vote of no confidence in the Callahan Labour Government.
    This was their revenge on the Labour Government which had included the 40% condition on the Scottish Assembly Referendum earlier the same year. Although the yes vote won by a narrow simple majority, they only polled 32.9% of the electorate and the condition for the proposition to succeed was not met.
    Was this an onerous or unjust condition? Personally I think not. Surely such a momentous change to constitutional rule should be carried by at least 51% of the electorate? I would suggest though that it was not a wise condition to impose since it most likely convinced thousands of no voters that it wasn’t necessary they should exercise their ballot.
    Of course history shows the Nationalists went through the division lobbies with Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party to bring the Government down by a one vote margin.
    This heralded Margaret Thatcher’s election victory with all it’s dismal consequences for Scotland.
    The blame for the subsequent depredations of the Thatcher Government on Scottish industry must therefore in great part be laid at their door.
    The Scottish electorate subsequently passed verdict on the Nationalist’s actions by overwhelmingly rejecting them at the ballot box, and only two of the eleven were returned in the next Parliament.
    Since there is no such condition on the Independence Referendum, all that is required by the Nationalist side is to gain a simple majority to win, but I believe their will be no such apathy by the Unionist supporters on this occasion and that independence will be overwhelmingly rejected.

    • macart763 says:

      The thread isn’t about the SNP, or indeed Labour per se, but about how government serves itself and uses that power to achieve the result it desires. How this in turn disenfranchises and alienates the public which it supposedly serves. Your opinion that the 40% rule was merited as you say is just that, a personal opinion. However in conjunction with the Douglas-Home promise and a strategy of fear and uncertainty which we see repeated to this day, was enough to deny the Scottish electorate that assembly at first time of asking.

      Callahan’s government fell because he was a poor PM with an unpopular govt. and would have fallen regardless of anything the SNP did. Blaming the SNP or anyone else for Callahan’s failure as a PM and party leader simply doesn’t add up and never really did. It also underlines the point that Callahan was marking time before losing out to an eventual conservative govt. regardless. That Thatcher was continually voted back into office in successive GEs does underline the point of independence though. It didn’t matter that Scotland rejected Thatcher, votes elsewhere decided our fate under that regime.

      As for what a current ‘nationalist side’ is? No one has ever defined that for me. I see a lot of people waving flags quite proudly right now at the Commonwealth games from many nations. Are they all nationalists? And if so what is a good or a bad nationalist? The one’s waving St George’s flags? Saltire’s? Maldive’s? The Maple leaf of Canada? Or perhaps when its an Olympics and we all wave Union flags, does that still make us nationalists and again good or bad? I do know that in the YES campaign there are enthusiastic people from all parties including Labour and I guarantee you that there is no complacency to be found there either.🙂

      This referendum is not about party politics and never was. Its about how and where the people of Scotland wish to be governed. That decision will affect all parties and their politics including the SNP. Like I said above, it takes courage to put this kind of power into the hands of the public. A popular sovereignty and a directly accountable parliament where the powers of office are derived from popular mandate. Or in other words it doesn’t matter which party forms the government, they answer to the people.

      Thanks for the post.🙂

      • Bamstick says:

        Thanks macart763
        I just read the post and was desperate to leave a response but I don’t know the history or quite how to reply without giving offence. Your answer fits the bill perfectly.

        • macart763 says:

          Just Mac is fine.🙂

          I was no different upon a time. I thought the SNP had made an error in the vote of no confidence, but frankly the Callahan and prior to him Wilson governments were unpopular with the wider UK electorate. It was a time of great economic unrest and rising unemployment. Boy if folks had only known what was coming round the corner.😦

          Mr Callahan was going to lose the day job not because of anything anyone else did, but because his government was failing. They had been on a shoogly peg since Mr Wilson resigned and only had a small majority at the time. This on the back of a hard time for the economy left Mr Callahan in a hard place. Even if there had been no such party as the SNP in existence its pretty arguable that his days in the big chair were numbered.

  18. macart763 says:

    Thanks everyone for the great comments.

    Much appreciated.

    • davidmccann24 says:

      Excellent post Sam.
      RE Robert’s comment above about the demise of Callaghan’s gavernment. The facts, of course are very different, and no amount of Labour spin, then or now, can conceal the fact that from March 1974 until April 1979, the SNP consistently supported the Labour Government’s slim majority over the Tories, and had the Labour Whips managed to rein in their own anti devolution MPs, the Labour Government could have survived until the Autumn of 1979.
      Prior to their election in 1974, the Labour Party promised to set up a Scottish Assembly which would be ‘ a powerhouse with cash and authority’, and although the Scotland Act was passed by both Houses of Parliament and adopted by Scottish voters in the Referendum of March 1979, it was repealed (unconstitutionally) by the House of Commons after the General Election of May 1979.
      The Referendum result was the catalyst in the demise of the Labour Government. In his memoirs, “Time and Chance”, the then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan noted:
      “ In his (i.e. Michael Cox, Labour’s Chief Whip) view, the difficulty within the (Labour) Party, was much greater than any from the Scottish National Party, and the Whip’s judgement was that the government could not rely on the votes of Labour members from the north if we moved to reject the Repeal Order……… we could lose the vote.”
      In short, Labour back benchers, including Neil Kinnock, Brian Wilson et al, would have preferred, not just to see, but to participate in, the demise of their own government, rather than honour Labour’s manifesto commitment to the Scottish people, by establishing the Assembly which Scots had already voted ‘yes’ for in the Referendum.

      • macart763 says:

        Thanks David

        Not a read I’m familiar with, but It sounds about right and fits with the politics of the time. It always seems easier to blame others for your own problems and failures.

  19. Karen Fisher says:

    What a great piece! I was 13 at the 79 referendum. My father was a dyed in the wool Labour man and I was dragged out to leaflet drop at polling stations and thru letter boxes for all elections. My peers and kids who left school seemed to have no hope in the 80,s. We all hated Maggie. We all thought we would die in a nuclear war. I remember a popular discussion being what we would do after the 3 min warning???

    I have not voted Labour for the last few years, although I will ashamedly admit to helping Tony get in. My eyes are well and truly opened I don’t think I could vote Labour again unless they revert to socialist ideals.
    I see a new vigour in our society, a new hope that we will manage to change and improve Scotland after independence away from the Londoncentric influence.
    I will be so upset if we miss this fantastic opportunity, and am literally petrified at the havock westminster will surely wreck on us financially. They did it before.
    Fingers crossed with the positive campaigning everyone is doing, enlightening our population we will succeed, we must!

    • macart763 says:

      Heh, don’t worry about it. We all believed and as I alluded to ATL my old dad was basically a died in the wool Labour man and for many years that’s how I voted too. It took me a while, but I finally learned to vote for people rather than parties. Wherever I found myself I made it a point to find out about the people in a local election. Find out what others thought about them what they stood for personally. I’ve put a vote down for Labour, SNP, Green and Liberal in times past because I believed in what the person stood for.

  20. Yie wee rascal, macart, you told us yie couldn’t write! Aye, right…..regards,

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