I thought long and hard before embarking on this essay. How can we all learn from 2014? How can Scotland and the United Kingdom learn? How can I learn? I can learn about how I conduct myself, whether I'm out in public or I'm posting online (Twitter, Facebook, my blog). There is always room to learn. And this, for me, is how our country can learn - the way in which we conduct our politics. It's healthy to debate in a democracy, indeed it's essential. It's also healthy to have strong opinions, and to have different opinions. But, and it's a pretty big but, those opinions can be argued in a polite, positive, and constructive manner. Argued with a little respect, some dignity, and plenty of goodwill. We really have to end this 'Punch and Judy', party against party, school playground, childish style of politics. This 'black and white', 'I'm right and you're wrong', attitude of boastfulness and ego - the threats, bullying, rhetoric, ransom and bluster - is so corrosive. It's everywhere, you just need to look at social media. It does not have to be like this. Do we learn nothing as we grow up, as children maturing into adults? Find the common ground where we agree, welcome the different ideas that inspire us, and dismiss entirely those intended only to insult, fragment and inflame. Start working with each other, rather than against ourselves, and built on it. I'm not saying we will always agree, but we can learn to disagree in a better way. Surely?
Sound-bites. They have their uses, but too many are expressed just to draw a quick reaction (and then lead to action without thought). They're spoken merely to provoke. Sound-bites are too short to contain the whole story or facts (especially on twitter) and they can easily by spun out of context. A lot of sound-bites are deeply unhelpful - to all of us. Nat, BritNat, Unionist, 'Hope Over Fear', Westmonster/Wastemonster, traitor, quizzling, 'my conscience is clear'. When a sound-bite is used in such a manner, it often says more about the person who used it, than anything it could say about the person it's aimed at (not always, but often). Sound-bites can be words taken out of context, misrepresented, misused and abused (and sometimes, that is something that's done on purpose). Used in such a way, they don't offer anything constructive. A tweet can appear like a sound-bite and, due to its brevity, it often is a sound-bite. That's why you must carefully consider everything that you say on twitter, and do your best to allow a reader to think about the wider context. Don't simply dictate your words for someone to blindly follow them - speak your words to encourage someone to actually think about them, and then be inspired by them. Speak and write politely and respectfully, and peacefully and constructively. And do it with goodwill, even if you disagree, whether your words are sound-bites or whole paragraphs. That's what I try to do when I write (try being the word - I'll be honest about that). I'll admit I'm guilty of making plenty of mistakes. All I will say is this - would I really be human if I didn't?
The media. A lot is written and spoken in the media (television, radio, newspapers, and, increasingly, the internet world of Twitter, Facebook, and blogging). How much of it is honest and polite? How much is driven by an agenda? And what about media hysteria? I read, I watch, and I listen. Some of it is the truth, some of it is just falsehoods, and some of it is twisted towards one or the other. Reality, more often than not, is in the middle somewhere, sitting between the lines. It's usually pretty complex, and it's never black and white. I come to my own conclusions, as rational and reasoned as I can. I don't always succeed. I am now wary of bowing down to what any one individual or institution might say. I apply this approach to politicians as much as I do to the media. The debate during the 2014 referendum has reinforced and taught me how important it is to think for myself, and not just follow a cause (or anything else) blindly. I am still learning this. I won't put words in your mouth (I'll do my most sincerest, and my very best, not to do that). So please don't put words in my mouth either. I'm sure I am unsuccessful just as much as I am successful at this. Don't be so hard on each other for being human and making mistakes, the point is to try and learn from them. I don't think we ever do, or ever should, stop learning in life. Life is about learning. Individuals make mistakes. Governments make mistakes. Make them account for them, and make them learn from them, and then allow them to adapt from them. Do it through strong, positive, and constructive criticism, rather than negative accusations. It may work, it may not, but it's a much better approach and has a better chance of success.
While free speech is important, and we should be extremely careful about controlling what people say and do, take a moment to think about some of the phrases that are spoken by certain people and (in this election) certain candidates. Think for a minute, and them ask youself - is this who I would like to represent me? I've always believed that if you can't say something in a polite and respectful way, then you shouldn't be saying it at all.
First things first, please let us move beyond just pure party politics. I'll vote for an individual. A person who is showing respect and goodwill, someone who I feel will work with respect and goodwill for this area, and in harmony with Scotland, the United Kingdom, and the world as a whole. That individual is not Alex Salmond. Look at this quote by Salmond, from a 'Daily Telegraph' interview - "There's a vast overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, regardless of political preference, who rather like the idea of the Westminster parliament being hung by a Scottish rope". It says it all for me. If I am in a minority of people who would not like to see such a scenario, then I am proud. As a Scot, I am actually quite disturbed and concerned by such an idea. He does not represent my view. And he never will. This letter here also makes interesting reading - 'Dear Alex ... an open letter to the former First Minister from an old schoolmate'
I have a feeling (and I'm open to the idea it could be wrong) that Salmond and Sturgeon would rather use this election as a proxy, a proxy towards another vote on independence (whenever they intend that to be). The SNP won't say it openly, but many SNP candidates are pretty clear that independence is still their main intention. Don't be fooled by anything otherwise. They're not trying to hide the fact that they'll always support Scottish Independence. I wouldn't expect them to, and I wouldn't ask them to. I do appreciate honesty. So why not just be open and honest about it? Why be so secretive, talk about stirring things up at Westminster, and deny a continued aim of independence? An aim that is so very clear. We want a government in Westminster that is as stable and harmonious as possible. The United Kingdom needs that more than ever. We don't want one that's ever more acrimonious and tearing itself apart - where one part is trying to fragment the parliament from within, rather than encourage the positive change that actually needs to be achieved. That's in no ones interests. Not the United Kingdom. Definitely not Scotland. Not anyone at all. Very real issues face us across the United Kingdom, and in Scotland - the future of the NHS, standards of education, levels of employment and more. Can we please discuss these very real issues? And without a culture of backstabbing, blame and entitlement, and without 'petty' disagreements. Think about all of that for a moment.
I simply do not agree with the SNP's key policy, and therefore I would never vote for them. I never could. I respect that some people do (and would) vote for them, I would be a hypocrite supporting a healthy democracy if I didn't. That doesn't mean I don't disagree intensely though. Live and let live on that point. I firmly believe that everyone's opinion is valid (does that surprise anyone?), and more so if it is expressed in a way that is polite and respectful. Even if I disagree. It's just unfortunate that many opinions are not expressed in a polite and respectful way. It's damaging Scotland, not just Britain, the lact of respect and goodwill. The lack of dignity.
I'm really swayed towards the Liberal Democrats. Despite what they may, or may not, have got right in coalition. I admire what I've read, seen and heard from Christine Jardine. She cares. She has passion. She comes across friendly and respectful, and she appears strong willed. She looks more than ready to get the job done, as best she can.
I'm thinking about the individual here, and her individual qualities, as well as her wider party. It feels to me that there's slightly less bluster coming from the Liberal Democrats, and that they're waiting quietly in the background. I admire that they are being a bit more measured, and not really forcing themselves too heavily on people (not from anything I have experienced anyway). I'm getting a few leaflets for Jardine through the mail now and then, and I'm happy to look at them. I'm getting so many leaflets for Salmond that I'm sick of the sight of them. 'Vote Christine Jardine' looks like the best option for Gordon's future, within Scotland and within the United Kingdom. Don't punish the Liberal Democrats for all the misakes of a coalition that contains a much higher percentage of Conservative politicians. Sometimes you have to be brave and put faith in one individual. That individual is Christine Jardine. If elected, she can carry on the tireless good work that Malcolm Bruce has done for Gordon, over the last thirty (30) years in parliament.
Where I Stand
I wouldn't join a political party, and I never wear political badges (the closest I came was a 'No Thanks' twibbon on my Facebook and Twitter profile pictures). I often find myself agreeing and disagreeing with politicians across the political spectrum, regardless of their party.
In terms of finding a natural place to align myself, I would say that I'm quite Liberal in my view. I also sway slightly towards Labour, far more than I realised actually. I don't think the Liberal Democrats have been given a fair chance - as the smaller party in a coaltion, having an influence was always going to be a challenge. Rightly or wrongly, they made a deal with the party winning most seats in 2010. That party was the Conservative party (by a relatively slim margin). The party with the most seats has first rights to try and form a government (I think that's fair), and that's what happened in 2010 (as also occured in the Scottish Parliament in 2007, when the SNP formed a minority administration). How do we judge the coalition? We all have our own opinions (some agreeing, some disagreeing. None of them wrong. Maybe even none of them right). No one is going to be happy all of the time, with any government. That's just a drawback of democracy, and the way that life is. I find it hard to judge any of the parties, since we don't witness everything happening in the rooms of 'government' (and I apply that to all the political parties). What really goes on behind closed doors? Do I think the Lib-Dems got some things wrong? Absolutely. Do I believe there were moments when they could have done more? Probably. And do I feel that they actually got some bits right? Definitely. I'd have liked to have seen a Liberal Democrat government in 2010, and if Labour had had the larger number of seats, I'd have liked to have seen a deal between the Liberals and Labour. For me, a Labour-Liberal Democrats coalition wouldn't be perfect, but it would be no bad outcome in a hung parliament. I would tolerate another Conservative-Liberal deal. What about a Labour-Conservative-Liberal deal? (I'm sure stranger things have happened!). One deal that would be terrible, however, would be a Labour-SNP deal.
I wouldn't vote Conservative. I just don't think they fully understand how ordinary people live. I'm sure they do try, but I'm not always convinced by those attempts. I am lucky to be reasonably well off (if not at all rich), I have a reasonably payed job, and I am lucky to have the extra support of my family. I should never take that for granted - a lot of people are not as lucky as me. I can only see things from my own (probably) limited perspective, and I acknowledge that. I avoid UKIP, as I don't feel they are at all right for Britain. I am proud that we are multicultural, and I believe we probably do benefit from EU membership. Leaving is not the answer, what is needed is proper reform. Make a better balance, between what the EU gives us culturally, as well as what it gives us politically and economically. The EU is a fantastic idea, and it's some achievement that, for over half a century, there has been no European conflict between the likes of France, Britain and Germany (athough there have been disagreements, and wars elsewhere we've been involved in, albeit not wars against each other). Let's work to make the EU the great 'union' that it really should be.
While I would never vote SNP, I recognise that Nicola Sturgeon is a very intelligent woman, a very capable woman, and a very skilled speaker. I can't really deny that. She's an accomplished politician, and there's actually much that she says that I admire and even agree with - such as a fairer and better society, and one that works to eradicate poverty. I just don't agree with her means of achieving it. A party clearly working for a better Scotland, within a better United Kingdom, and working to strengthen that union, might well have gained my vote. That party could have been the SNP. It's just a shame that that party is not the SNP, a party with a narrow view cemented by nationalism. Sturgeon says that only the people of Scotland will (rightly) decide when it is time for another 'Independence Referendum'. I agree with her, to the extent that it is up to the people, but a mandate will have to be offered to the people first, to allow any prospect of that happening. Sturgeon will have to offer that mandate sooner rather than later (the 2016 SNP Manifesto?), or her supporters will lynch her (politically, if not actually). So when she says she isn't planning another referendum, I think she's lying. It's just a matter of when she'd like to offer one to Scotland, that's all.
One 'Face of nationalism'?
All of these statements were made by SNP candidates standing in this election (As far as I am aware. If not, I fully apologise and retract them, and will remove them from this article, if requested). Source - Daily Mail, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. I am repeating quotes only) -
George Kerevan (East Lothian seat candidate) - "A hung Parliament could mean punishing, all-night sittings and constant media scrutiny, but I would relish the chance to take Scotland's fight to the enemy camp." and "After Home Rule, independence will follow as the UK economy implodes".
Martin Docherty (West Dunbartonshire seat candidate, at a meeting of the Clydebank Trades Union Council) - "I was lucky, I had a mother who stood (at the shipyard gates) on a Friday afternoon waiting for a pay packet. Her and ten others. While the rest of them, with all due respect, gentlemen, usually p***** it up against a wall in Connolly's (bar)."
Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey seat candidate) - "Winning this seat delivers a unique opportunity to take the next step on the road to achieving an independent Scotland."
Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross seat candidate) - "I for one will never accept anything less than independence" and "Never mind the referendum. Just declare independence."
Neil Hay (Edinburgh South seat candidate) - under the pseudonym of "Paco McSheepie" on twitter, he referred to UK supporters as "quislings" and said that some elderly voters can "barely remember their own names".
These words speak for themselves. I find it a great shame to share them, and do not take any kind of pleasure from it. Is this really the Scotland that has achieved so much that is wonderful, within the United Kingdom? The one that we want to live in?
George Orwell said "Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception".
Do not decieve yourself, or allow yourself to be decieved.
Two of my doubts on 'SNP Policy'
The SNP policy of Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA), which they now seem to be backing away from slightly and calling Full Financial Responsibility (FFR), could be a path to economic chaos (EDIT - a genuine and honest mistake on my part, 'Fiscal' has actually been replaced with 'Financial' in the new term. My memory was at fault, and I apologise. My original point still stands, which I will expand on more clearly - do the Scottish Government know that FFA is a bad idea, so they're now trying to distance themselves from it, on the sly? It doesn't give me a lot of confidence in them, whether they say FFA or FFR!). Kevin Hague explains it all much better than I could - 'A Simple Summary of Scotland's Economy' (it's worth having a look through the rest of his blog too, if you have the time). This attack by Alex Salmond on the 'Institute for Fiscal Studies' (IFS) is extraordinary (includes a link to Salmond's original article, and a link to an analysis made by the IFS on the fiscal plans of four parties) - 'Alex Salmond attacks IFS over Scottish National Party's spending plans after the election'
I feel that the SNP stance on Trident is naive. They want rid of nuclear weapons, and I want rid of nuclear weapons. It's a terrible legacy we've been left from the past, and so many better things could benefit from using the money that instead goes to Trident. But moving them to England wouldn't make much difference, and removing them from the United Kingdom wouldn't influence the likes of North Korea. If the so-called Islamic State is still around in ten years time (and it's not going away anytime soon, I don't think), and it gets hold of nuclear weapons, our nuclear deterrent could well be very reassuring. A deeply uncomfortable and very necessary evil. I support a phased, and multilateral, nuclear disarmament across the entire world. With different governments, and different agendas, there is never going to be an easy answer on how to do this.
I will vote. It is my right, people fought for me to get that right, and I believe that everyone should use that right and vote (whatever their political view). All I can be clear about is this - I will not be voting for Alex Salmond. I've been told he's very pleasant and considerate in person, and I have no reason to doubt that. I don't have a personal dislike for a man I've never met, and all I wish him are health and happiness in life. My intense dislike is only towards his manner of politics, which seem to exemplify the 'Punch and Judy' style of conduct that so concerns me about Scotland and Britain in 2015. It seems like we have a political-child who is not being given the 'sweet' that they so desperately wanted, and they throw their 'toys' out of the pram as a consequence. I was impressed by Salmond's speech on 19th September 2014, when he announced that he would be stepping down, and I wished that he'd come across more like that during the referendum campaign. He said he would respect the result of the referendum, and yet it took him only a few weeks to claim that no voters were tricked into believing 'the vow' (a promise which wouldn't be delivered, he said). Where is the patience, the respect and the humility? Alex Salmond doesn't seem to have that in him, not in the way he comes across. That saddens me, more than it does anger me. And worse than that, it erodes any trust that I might have had left in him. That trust is gone. At the end of the day though, beyond just Alex Salmond, I will never support a party that wishes to break up our 'family' of nations, so I will never give my support to the SNP. They have a right to stand in elections, which I respect. I have just as much right not to vote for them, which I hope they would respect.
Why must we always play a 'blame game' in British politics, and find someone specific to blame for everything? If the next government gets it wrong, and the SNP are involved, will they be blamed in the same way that the Liberal Democrats have been (for making tough choices, and let's face it, not, always getting them right)? And if they do get it wrong, will they hold their hand up and admit it or simply say 'sorry Sir, it wasn't me'? It takes guts to admit when you're wrong, and some more guts still, to try and do something positive from those mistakes.
There comes a moment when you have to forgive the past, and respect that things went wrong sometimes, as well as wonderfully right at other times. Take something positive (no matter how small) and use it to move on. Don't necessarily forget, or forgive for the other party's sake (it can be very hard to do that), but forgive for yourself. Don't hold onto negative emotions that have turned into anger and hate. Find a way to release them that's positive - it's the most rewarding feeling in the world. Hate and anger hurt and damage you most of all - don't let them hurt and damage other people as well. I'm not aiming this at any one person, or any group of people - I just feel that there is too much negativity and division in society today. It's alright to disagree, but we don't have to divide and take sides as we do so.
I'm convinced that there's a need for change. I just don't believe the SNP are the answer, or the type of independence they offered us last year. Change has to come fairly and respectfully, for the United Kingdom as one whole. The Westminster of old does not seem to fit in the 21st Century world, where we should all be on an equal footing, not in a heirarchy of Lords,elites, Upper, Middle, and Working classes. We're all human beings. Individual politics, and individual ideas, rather than pure party politics, feels like a really good idea to me (although I recognise that reality isn't always as good as 'in theory'). If that makes sense, I'm still pondering the idea. The key to all of this is to reform the House of Lords, Westminster and the voting system, so that individual voters have a better voice, and a fairer say, on how their country is governed. Individual ideas (sometimes good ideas) can so easily drowned out by the wider crowd. Lets find a way to change that, in a fair and respectable way. Individuals debating, rather than groups gathering like a 'gang culture' and bickering.
The Liberal Democrats had the right idea, trying to change 'first past the post', even though the electorate ultimately rejected it. Wouldn't 'proportional representation' be fairer? There are pros and cons, of course, but I supported it in the 2011 Referendum, once I had taken a little time to understand it properly. Our political system needs to be reformed, but it has to be done slowly, and properly, and nothing can just change radically overnight. Give it time. Change can happen. Nothing ever stays the same. Life, and the world, is like a river - it is always flowing in new and different directions. It is our role, as individuals, to choose and shape whether they are bad or good directions. Not everything is always in our control, I understand that, but there is plenty that is within our influence. We have choices that we can make. Take the time to change the system for the better, don't just break it apart into chaos.
A Lot Matters
This election is not about independence, but there are still great issues from the referendum that need to be resolved. They need to be resolved definitively. The last thing we need is a 'neverendum' or another referendum campaign. We need to build stability and heal divisions. I didn't vote no because I am fearful, or because I was tricked by 'the Vow', or because I don't believe that Scotland could 'make it' as an independent country (I'm sure that it could, Scottish people never give up after all). I voted no because I love the United Kingdom. I see no reason why we can't make very real, and very benificial, change together. Keeping Britain as one nation, formed from several distinct nations, if we work hard enough. I won't repeat all of my reasons here, that was another debate (please read my previous essay here - 'A Positive Scotland - A Positive World' ), but I will say that I genuinely love the United Kingdom. I really do. For those things that we have done right, and not for the things that have gone terribly wrong, or the things that we haven't got right (of course I don't love those things). I love the unique cultures that we share together (and yes, that includes the similarities and the differences between us) - the Welsh, the English, the Scottish, the Irish, the Polish, and all the other nationalities. The many different people who all make this beautiful country their home. Look at the art, the science and the engineering that we have achieved together. I will never vote to endanger that. The time is now, to work together more than ever before and, where it needs to be done, to make things better for everyone. Work to get rid of poverty, food-banks and injustice, wherever they might be in the world. Let us work towards a better humanity. Vote for an individual who will work with other individuals (disagreeing with them sometimes, yes, as well as agreeing with them - that's actually essential), and not completely against them. An individual with peace, respect, dignity and goodwill amongst their core values. It's not up to me to say who to vote for (I can't highlight that enough), not in a democracy, and not if we would like to live in a democracy of fairness and freewill (I would). All I hope, as always, is that I might at least inspire someone to think, first and foremost. It's right there - the power of thought. Put it into action. With peace and respect, and dignity and goodwill.