Why I will be engaging with politics this year

Debating chamber, Scottish Parliament
Debating chamber, Scottish Parliament (Source: Wikimedia Commons, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

I’ve never really considered myself as someone who is terribly interested in politics. That has changed this year as we rapidly approach Thursday 18 September 2014, the date set for Scotland’s Referendum where the country will be asked “should Scotland be an independent country?”

My first awareness of party politics was while walking home from primary school one day, probably in 1979; I would have been seven years old. I was walking along Selkirk high street when a friendly lady invited my friends and I into what is now the British Red Cross shop. It had been turned into a shop front for the Liberal Party (before it merged with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the current Liberal Democrats).

I wandered home proudly clutching a handful of Liberal Party stickers and leaflets about our local candidate David Steel. I simply remember my parents’ disapproval. My stickers probably went in the bin.

Of course the Conservative Party won the 1979 election, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, and as well as my stickers I also lost my bottle of milk each morning at school. The country lost a whole lot more.

I watched the miners’ strikes on the television. I didn’t understand much of it at the time, but I knew that something was wrong, and that these men in black donkey jackets and white helmets with lights on them were protesting against what the government was telling them. That seemed brave to me, but I was also somewhat confused. As a child I was brought up to obey those in charge, and how much more in charge could the government be? It all seemed so distant.

The first general election in which I was eligible to vote was 1992; I voted for David Steel (Liberal Democrat). Next was 1997, I was living in Bermondsey in south London; I voted for Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat). At the next general election in 2001 I was living in Inverness; I voted for Charles Kennedy (Liberal Democrat). Do you see a pattern? In 2005 I was living in Edinburgh; I voted for (I think) John Barrett (Liberal Democrat). By the 2010 general election I was here in Fife; I voted for Menzies Campbell (Liberal Democrat).

If you were to have asked me why I voted Liberal Democrat, what they stood for, what attracted me to their manifesto compared with the other major parties I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I voted for them because they were familiar. I voted for them because that’s what I knew growing up. I voted for them because a kind lady gave me a roll of stickers when I was seven.

It has concerned me for many years that I haven’t engaged with politics more. That I haven’t read the party manifestos before voting, that I haven’t engaged in meaningful conversations with party candidates on my doorstep. Or even better, that I’ve not gone out to engage with them. Because in many ways politics is presented as being very much “out there”.

It still all seems so distant. It feels like our politicians are telling us, “Don’t you worry about any of this politics stuff, we’ll deal with it.” And we have. And we’ve become distanced from it, numbed to what it going on, until all of a sudden we discover that MPs have been claiming expenses for all sorts of things and then we’re up in arms. Until it blows over and we once again lose interest.

We have a professionalisation of politics that has made democracy feel so much less representative; no wonder people like Russell Brand don’t vote. We’ve de-skilled ourselves in so many areas over the last few decades. We’ve handed over these really important issues of how we behave in a civil society to professional politicians, just as we hand over our cars to professional mechanics, and our health to professional doctors.

We are now being encouraged by the health profession (see, there’s that word again) to become partners with our doctors in managing our own health. I think we need to start doing the same with politics too. It’s for this reason that comedian Rufus Hound is planning to run for election in the European parliament because he is passionate about the NHS and what it stands for and he’s appalled by what the current UK government are doing to it. As was reported in The Independent:

The comedian said the NHS was “one of the single greatest achievements of any civilisation, ever, anywhere in the history of the world”.

And he hit out at the “millionaires that currently run things… the politico douchebags who are taking away your kids access to medicine”.

One of my primary goals this year is to engage more fully in politics, and particularly in the issues surrounding the Scottish referendum debate. This is a really important question that will shape our country for centuries to come. I owe it to myself and to my children to engage in this so that I when I step into the voting booth in September, in the building where Isaac’s playgroup meets every morning, I will know why I am marking an X in the box that I choose.

I am currently reading more than I have ever done about politics, about the UK, about Scotland, about history, about the construction of social reality, about the creation of money. I intend to blog about it here. (I’ve even created my first new blog category in about six or seven years: politics.)

And for the record, this half-Scottish, half-English boy (you could just say ‘British’ boy) is intending on voting NO on Thursday 18 September.

My next task is to begin to unpack just exactly why.

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