As I get older, I find that many events that enthralled me as a youngster have become steadily less attractive. Sports set pieces, like The World Cup, the Olympics, Wimbledon, Cup Finals – all seem to have been dimmed by tawdry commercialism or just by the lack of intimate knowledge that comes with having to fill your adult brain with more important matters. Perhaps over the years familiarity has bred, if not contempt, a kind of muted interest.
However, one event of which this is definitely not true is the electoral circus – campaigns, election day, and, especially, the count and the results. I first registered an interest in this whole palaver, somewhat precociously at the age of 8, during the Kennedy election in 1960, and ever since I’ve been riveted by the whole process: from Bob Mackenzie’s swingometer through Peter Snow’s wonderful machines and right up to Twitter and Facebook, I am happy to report that I am more excited than ever by election day and its results.
With a few hours to the close of polls, this is maybe a good opportunity, in the calm before the psephologists’ dawn, to reflect on why I should be thus afflicted, and also, maybe, why I vote the way I do.
My excitement, I think, is based quite simply on a naïve admiration for what passes as democracy in our islands. I know its failings, I mourn its apparent inability to engage with the masses, and I’m well aware of the shortcomings of our politicians, but still, it seems to me, the power to choose our government, the physical act of marking that ballot paper, is one of the most exciting opportunities open to ordinary humans. Sometimes I doubt my sanity on this, but I’ve had many conversations with friends and acquaintances, who say they too recognize the feeling of awe they experience when entering the polling place, the almost sacred atmosphere in the booth, the familiar and comforting stubby pencil that allows us to indicate our preference. It’s a brilliant feeling, not to be found in any other sphere of our lives.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience the process as a voter and as an activist; I’ve spent countless nights on the sofa, promising myself I’ll go to bed after just one more result, and spent many Fridays like a half shut knife as a consequence; I’ve also sampled the electric atmosphere of the count, the shuffle of papers, the nervous coughing, the brightness of tv lights, and the darkness of defeat.
Put simply, it’s a pivotal moment in our lives when we get to mark the ballot paper, and it never loses its power over me, no matter how dismissive or disinterested others may be.
And why do I vote the way I do? For the SNP? And do I ask myself that question often enough? Because, if anything is guaranteed to nullify democracy, it’s the spectre of whole populations voting on a knee jerk reaction, without considering either their rationale for voting thus, or pausing to reflect on the result of their choice.
Well, first, let me define what I am not. I am not xenophobic, Anglophobe, parochial, small minded or bedecked in tartan. In fact, I guess I could class myself as the opposite to that stereotype.
Like many in these islands, I am a bit of a mongrel. Three grandparents Irish, one English; father Scottish, mother English. Born in Edinburgh, much of childhood in Lancashire, Irish Passport, and God knows where my accent comes from. I like cricket and Gaelic football and I have relations in America, France, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Australia, South Africa, England and Ireland.
I have a clear understanding of how Scotland is viewed in the north of England – and it’s very positively; I have great affection for Lancashire and for my English relations, and I have never sought to claim that in some way Scotland is better than any other country, nor indeed that ‘England’ is in some way to blame for all our woes. Indeed, there is a positivity in some parts of England that I wish could be replicated in some parts of Scotland!
However, I do believe that governments, to be effective, have to be responsible to the people. I believe that they have to make decisions in the people’s best interests and that they have to reach out to their neighbours in a spirit of cooperation and interdependence.
Under the British State, I don’t believe it is possible to achieve these ideals. A Westminster Government, perforce, has to consider the needs of the 50 million people who live in England, nearly a fifth of them around the Greater London area. In economic, cultural, geographical and political terms, this imperative militates against effective government for Scotland. In fishing, agriculture, the post industrial economy and in geographical and cultural requirements, Scotland, like England, has different needs to a British State. Only an Independent Scottish Government is in a position to make the right decisions for its people; and a strong independent nation here can be a supportive and collaborative neighbour to England, Ireland, Wales and the Nordic countries.
If one thing that gives me the dry boak, it is the sound of unionists who refer to ‘separatism’ because they think ‘Independence’ sounds too positive. Scotland could not be more separated from the world community than it is under the current arrangement: no seat in the UN, no direct representation in NATO, the EU or similar bodies, no ability to play its part on the world stage.
We are told by Unionists that independence would make us worse off – this from parties who have overseen a Scottish record on health, child poverty and urban blight that makes us the laughing stock of Europe. If the union is so good for Scotland, why are we in the state we are in (no pun intended!)?
I want a government elected by Scots to govern Scotland; I want Scotland to play a role in world affairs, to continue, positively, the expansive role it played before (and for a time, after) the union – a powerhouse of ideas and invention, rather than a smothered branch economy of a fading superpower.
Ultimately, I don’t believe that any country has the right to abdicate responsibility for running its own affairs. Are we to believe that the Benelux countries can run their own affairs but Scotland for some reason cannot? If bigger is better, why not make the UK the 52nd State – surely in international terms it is ‘too small to survive on its own’?
The thrill of the ballot box tonight for me was knowing I was making a decision about who should run my country and how it should be run; so I voted for a party that can look at the needs of the people in Scotland without calculating policies in tandem with what is best from the Westminster point of view.
That’s not separatism – it’s about taking responsibility. It’s not parochial – it’s looking to play a part on the international stage.
And that’s why I voted SNP.