When I was wee, it was simple.
There was only one party that supported Scottish independence: the Scottish National Party.
My parents were both members of the SNP and I can recall my first bout of political activism.
It came during the 1983 election campaign. My older sister had been given a task by her teacher to draw an election poster and her group had to draw one for the Conservatives. Something didn’t sit right with 10-year-old me. The Conservatives were the party of Mrs Thatcher and she was not for Scotland. I knew this because that is what my Dad said.
I asked my Mum what party she supported and she told me the SNP, and I got to work creating a poster that said: “Vote for Scotland, Vote for the SNP”. It had a wee Saltire on it too and was a country mile better than my sister’s efforts in support of Mrs T.
This cemented an interest in current affairs that hasn’t left me since. Four years later I was handing out leaflets for the SNP in my local area in the 87 election campaign and then staying up late into the night watching the results. Several modern studies jotters laced with SNP mentions and slogans later and I was in the party itself. Now 16 I could join and did so after a public meeting featuring Jim Sillars in Castlemilk.
What followed was a 7 year period of handing out leaflets, canvassing and going to meetings and social events. The high points were the places visited and the people met. The low-points were the lost elections and the failed campaigns.
One event stayed with me the most and has had the deepest impact. With many others I helped form a human shield to prevent Sheriff Officers from entering the home of a woman to then hold a Poinding for Poll Tax debts.
The woman in question was a lone parent and she had barely anything in her house. Net curtains kept the weather out and no doubt Peter was robbed to pay Paul. Her poverty was laid bare. It was only out of necessity that she had opened her home to us but she was as generous and welcoming as it was possible to be in the circumstances.
This was the reality of our politics. Here was the target of the ‘Community Charge’ – the poorest in our community.
The whole situation summed-up why I was an activist: to work in solidarity with others to bring about a society that did not see such poverty nor such attacks on the poor.
That solidarity was with people in my own party, in other parties and in no party.
So what changed?
Me. I changed.
I have always known that political parties are umbrella groups of people with similar but not the same ideas on how the country should be run. I wanted a break as I felt that I could no longer campaign and ask people to vote for something I myself could not guarantee I’d back.
The drift had started long before this at a Special Conference in Govan in Spring 1991, when the party abandoned its Poll Tax non-payment campaign. Through a topical resolution at a conference the campaign ended but:
Conference reserves the right to launch a new non-payment campaign if the Government reneges on the promises made in the House of Commons that the new scheme will conform to the principles of fairness and ability to pay and will contain rebate arrangements to protect people on low incomes.
That ‘new scheme’ was of course the fair and based upon ability to pay Council Tax that still remains with us today.
Much of this was simply down to my own political development.
I had grown up politically inside a party and was to an extent partly bounded by defending its stance on any given issue – as well as being bounded by my own naivety.
Taking a break necessitated not renewing my membership. This decision was personal not political. I felt that retaining a party card meant that it would be too easy to fall back into activism and that was not for me at that time. I didn’t leave with any hurrah, nor any intention of joining another party.
That break has continued now for almost 18 years.
In that time, many of the people I campaigned with, laughed with and got drunk with have stayed and are now at the top or near the top of our government.
My former colleagues now increasingly feature in my lessons as their pictures and names are appearing in the web pages, exam questions and news articles that my pupils access.
Am I jealous of their success? No, not one bit. I do admit to taking some pride though in what they have achieved and will no doubt go on to achieve.
I have thought about rejoining them at different times but have not done so.
The first question is over the extent to which one compromises one’s own principles and world view to sit under the umbrella again – and to ask others to join us.
Also, to what extent does taking a party card actually help achieve those things that we want in society? People’s views on this seem to have changed following the referendum, and the immediate response would be that it takes more than simply holding a membership card.
Unlike when I was wee, the SNP is no longer the sole pro-Independence party, nor does it hold any monopoly on a commitment to social justice.
Finally, does ‘owning-up’ to a party political badge mean that our words and deeds become tainted? [Well, they would say that because they are a member of Party X]
That’s for Part 2. Whenever that comes.