Around 3pm on Friday, when an overall SNP majority was confirmed by the result from Kirkcaldy, I sat on the couch, a wee bit tearful, and realised I was sitting in an SNP constituency in an SNP country – at least in electoral terms. It was a huge, if slightly surreal moment, and I wondered how to mark it.
So around 4pm, my wife and I got into the car and started to drive. We went from home in the recently won Edinburgh West, into the city’s West End. We passed through the Grassmarket under the Castle – with its permanent union flag, and along the Cowgate, past the plaque commemorating hero James Connolly, past St Pat’s Church – birthplace of Hibs, and down Holyrood Rd – towards the Scottish Parliament. As we turned right into the Park, we passed the Scotsman building – proudly aware of our son who’s doing a work placement with Scotland on Sunday and was delighted to have worked on the Scotsman election coverage through the night.
We took the low road through the park – the Radical Road being pedestrian only – past St Margaret’s Loch where my mother pushed me in my pram, and up the hill past Dunsapie Loch – the first Edinburgh settlement – and round the south side of Arthur’s Seat.
The sun was blazing, the wind refreshing; ahead of us lay the whole of south Edinburgh – from the house my grandfather lived in as an immigrant to the Halls of Residence of my university days, out through the housing schemes where I first started canvassing for the SNP in the 1970s, and further on to the Pentlands.
Below us the plush fairways and greens of Prestonfield Golf Club, and, behind the hotel of the same name, a green oval of neat grass, surrounded by a crowd in waiting.
Just after 5pm.the helicopter specked its way from the clouds to the west and performed a wide arc till it was heading towards us, navigation light shining straight ahead, a Local Hero moment, if ever there was one. Camera mad, I was clicking away in fine style. And then, as the helicopter turned in front of us and angled towards the hotel below, the camera was forgotten. It was hanging by my side.
My right hand was punching the air, fist clenched, tears rolling down my cheeks. There was one other couple by us: they were waving and jumping. Four figures on the side of a hill, trying to attract the attention of a man in a helicopter.
The cynics would tell you this was ample evidence of Alex Salmond’s ‘Presidential style’, a worrying demonstration of ‘a one man party’ and ‘personality politics’. But they would be so wrong.
I don’t think we were visible to the First Minister, who was sitting on the other side of the chopper, and, yes, it would have been nice if he had been able to see that small demonstration of joy far below: a sign of how much an election result can mean to voters, a reminder of the responsibility of leadership.
But that wasn’t the reason for my punching the air. The reason for that lay all around us on this May afternoon: Holyrood Park, childhood memories, the streets of south Edinburgh, the country that’s my home. You can’t support a party for nearly fifty years without believing in it and its aims and policies; you don’t work as an activist without forging both a commitment and a love of that party; and you can’t help but feel joy when the vast majority of voters, at last, agree with you. I was emotional for all the party members who had toiled long and hard over many years for this moment; like me they will have been called tartan Tories, immature, naive, wreckers, fascists, communists, xenophobic, parochial, and small minded. They have told folk on the doorstep that they wanted a better Scotland, a fair and caring society, a Scotland that plays its part in the world community and a better chance for our young people to be proud and successful. They had been positive about our country – where others had denigrated it (and our smaller neighbours), and the voters, bearing in mind their record in minority government, had agreed with them. It was a moment of hope.
Below us, the rotors stopped, the crowd waited, the door opened, and the unmistakable figure of Alex Salmond stepped forward to hug the equally recognisable Nichola Sturgeon. Up on the hill, the cheers could be heard – excited without being over the top, recognition rather than hero worship.
The SNP front bench does excite admiration – but it’s based on their competence, not their personalities.
Not for the first time in these weeks I am minded of John Quincy Adams’ take on leadership:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
And as we drive back through the Old Town, I hear the words of local man and Hibs supporter, Jim Connolly, in Dublin:
“Thanks be to God, Pearse, that we’ve lived to see this day.”
Oh just a bit!