Gary Wilson: My journey to Yes

When folk say that Scotland is a village, they really do mean it. It’s funny how people you know through contact in a certain sphere, turn up again somewhere completely different and totally unexpected.  When I first met Gary Wilson, I knew he was a Labour member and involved in Better Together. I never dreamed that we’d end up on the same side nor that I’d get to hear his eloquent and powerful explanation for his Journey to Yes:

I began life in this campaign as a Labour party member and as the Better Together co-ordinator for my area, Edinburgh East. I’d like to say I beat off stiff opposition for the “honour” but lots of my Labour colleagues were uneasy about the alliance with the Tories in Better Together. I came forward because I saw it as my duty and no one else could or would.

But it didn’t take long for two concerns to emerge. First, here I was hob-nobbing with the very people I had spent all my life campaigning against. Second, a no vote could lead to the worst possible option for me – another Tory government in charge of all of us in the UK.

And I had been speaking with friends who work with homeless people, disabled people, and lone parents about the impact of welfare reform. It was more than I could stomach
and I began listening instead to my heart. And my heart told me I could not be part of the Better Together campaign. Even though I continue to be a Labour party member in
Edinburgh East.

I also started looking into the arguments against staying in the UK – the case, particularly the economic case, for independence for Scotland is strong, very strong. I also began to notice
the very vicious press attacks designed to scare folk and the success these scare tactics appeared to be having.

And so I journeyed to Yes. And I am not alone.

A lot of my Labour friends have doubts and are uneasy at the position they find themselves in with the party throwing their lot in with the Tories.

As a gay man who had come out many years ago, I was under no illusion of the impact of “coming out” for yes. But I had to do it. And it has been difficult but also the right thing to do.

I recall hearing Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservative leader) talking to young people about change and how she felt that she now lived in a liberating, exciting, free country ie the UK.

That isn’t my experience. And there’s nothing exciting about the current environment of cuts and pay freezes for public sector workers. It’s not exciting for the one million living in poverty in Scotland. It’s not exciting being attacked for being sick or being disabled.

There has been a 400% rise in the last year in the number of people in Scotland using foodbanks to stave off hunger – I don’t call that liberating, I call that a disgrace. Where’s the freedom for the 1 in 5 living in poverty in the world’s sixth largest economy?

I did not get involved in the Labour party to sanction public service and welfare cuts but to fight them. And now I can by campaigning for independence for Scotland.

It took me a while to get involved with Labour for Independence, but I’m glad I did. We are fighting for what we believe in and there are more of us than the Labour
party likes to pretend.

Tales from the Campaign Trail (1)

So, four weeks of the Sabbatical down, eight to go.  Apart from a wee interlude in Yorkshire for the Tour de France, it’s been pretty full on referendum campaigning.

I set myself the goal of engaging with 100 voters a week which I worried, judging by the gasps from some, was overly ambitious.  It’s not.  If anything, it’s been too cautious.  Last week alone, I spoke with over 300 voters.

In fact, I’m having so much fun I thought I’d share the highlights with the wider world, in a weekly round-up diary.  Which may have two posts this week as I catch up… Sometimes good ideas take a while…

Wunderful wimmin

The best thing about getting out there on to doorsteps is meeting all Jock Tamson’s bairns.  And it’s when you meet people, and they share a little of who they are and what they do, and how they got from there to here, that you inwardly rejoice that you live in a country called Scotland.  People are amazing and they are amazing in a multitude of ways.  I hear resilience and can do and refusal to accept defeat.  I also hear negativity and doubt and fear and worst of all, the articulation of conditioning to think that we can’t.  “We cannae afford to” “Do you think we could?” “I think Scotland would make a hash of it if we go it alone” – anyone who doubts that there has been a colonialisation of hearts and minds in Scotland should join me some day on the doorsteps.  But they’d also encounter hope in the form of what people achieve for themselves, their families and their communities.  And the ones who make my heart sing the most?  The wimmin.  The wunderful, wunderful wimmin I encounter from a wide range of backgrounds.

There’s the woman with three deerhounds in a two bedroomed house with a wee square back garden who speaks in double negatives. “Well, I can tell you who I’m no’ gonnae voter fir.  And that’s the no lot.”  Yep, that does mean she’s voting yes.  Better than that, she’s decided she’s the Yes shop steward at her work, posting leaflets and snippets on the staff noticeboard in the canteen, ensuring it is discussed regularly and often at breaks. “Particularly aw thae young yins whose heids are fu o nonsense”. She took five Scotland’s Future summaries, the first going to her colleague on the machine in front of her, for this apparently is just what she needed.  She beamed when I said I wished we had twenty of her.

There was the Muslim woman in the hijab with the largest, most beautiful brown eyes I have ever seen, who was “almost, nearly voting yes”.  But wouldn’t commit fully, yet, just in case.  I’m not sure “just in case” what, as she made a pretty convincing case for voting yes, with little prompting from me.  She watched and read everything, all the political coverage and programmes and she and her family and friends spent a lot of time on Facebook discussing politics.  Gaza was the hot topic and I listened to her thoughts on what was going to happen.  A ground invasion she thought, the day before it happened.  Witty and fiercely intelligent and engaged and thoughtful.  And a Scottish accent to boot.  I left in complete awe frankly.

Then, there was the pensioner with Alzheimer’s whose front door wouldn’t open so she decided by looking through the nets that she could trust me and we spent five minutes wrestling the keys through her letterbox so I could open her door from the outside.  I did so because I was worried that she couldn’t get out if she needed to.  Turns out the door sticks all the time and the back door is fine.  Anyway, after a long chat about her family which flitted and skittered across the decades and memories, she finally got round to asking why I was here.  So we talked politics for a little bit and she advised she’d probably vote no.  I knew that she was a no before I went in, but it didn’t matter.  Before I left I made her a cup of tea, made sure she could get her feet up on the stool and left a note for her daughter explaining who I was and why I had been in the house, otherwise “I’ll get a row cos I’m not supposed to let anyone in”.

Spending time with pensioners was a bit of a feature last week.  Apparently, I’m good at pensioners; supported housing is ideal for my engagement skills, so I was told, even just to negotiate the buzzers.  Don’t tell them but where they sent me?  Trade buttons work until 3pm… But I did have a great time, for most of them can’t stand at the door talking for very long, so you do get invited in and offered cups of tea. And they make time for a proper chat and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to listen to them and hear about their lives.

The one who will stay long with me was a woman aged 94 who will be voting in person, thanks.  Absolutely sharp as a tack mentally, reads two newspapers every day, scours the TV news avidly.  She was probably going to vote no she said.  At her age, who needs the change?  But then she did something that doesn’t happen all that often.  She turned to me and asked me why I was voting Yes.  So I talked about my boys and how the fact that more children than ever in Scotland are growing up in poverty and how we didn’t seem able to do much about it in the current system.

And she told me that her husband had left her with two wee ones and she tried as best she could to cope on her own in the 1950s but it was hard in those postwar years.  And eventually she had to go to the Parish Relief for help and with tears in her eyes, she told me how they had treated her and how ashamed they had made her feel, as if it had all been her fault.  And I told her about my own experience forty years later of being a lone parent on benefits. And about how lone parents were being treated now.

And she talked about what it was like to grow up in the hungry thirties.  Every morning, her mother would send her and her brother off to the Salvation Army for breakfast: a mug of hot porridge and bread crusts (they kept the bread for the men). And how sometimes that would be their only meal of the day and she can still remember what it felt like to go to bed hungry.  And she turned to me and said, that’s why they keep that food parcel in the porch of my church round the corner, isn’t it?  There’s always one there and when it goes, it gets replaced straight away.  The women who used to do the flowers do it.

She hadn’t made the link before now.  “The hungry thirties are back, aren’t they?” she asked.  “Now I get it.  That’s why you’re voting yes.”  I had said nothing other than a sharing of stories and experiences and she had arrived at the conclusion herself, of how in her lifetime she had seen the return of hunger and destitution to the streets of Scotland.  And why something as radical as independence was needed.  Will she vote yes?  I think so.

Brief Highlights

Come to the seaside, they said.  It’s great fun, you’ll like it.  They had great fun apparently, yesses everywhere.  I got four doors slammed in my face.  But I did also find two young women who’d never been on the register before and persuaded them to fill the form in this time.

I also managed to find a whole street, admittedly of only ten houses, which is No in its entirety.  Yep, every voter voting No. I’m open to offers… It’ll go to a good cause…

Quote of the week

“It’s so confusing when you hear about it on the news or read about it in the newspapers.  You don’t know who or what to believe, but see when you explain it, it makes much more sense”.

Things I am going to do after 18 September:

the ironing


Free to good homes: Glasgow 2014 tickets

Well, they didn’t open up a return and resale so here we are, sitting with tickets we cannot physically use and no way of giving them back.

So I’m happy to give them to you.  And yes they are free to good homes, though as the parents are pensioners these days, if you can afford to pay the face value for them, then your conscience probably dictates that you should.

But I’d really rather they went to folk who couldn’t afford to go otherwise. And the only people who will know you’ve asked for them is us, will be kept under wraps by me so please don’t feel you cannot apply for them. I’d be delighted if they go to families who really wouldn’t be going otherwise.

It’s a first come first served basis.  The only difficulty might be is that they are a funny mix – there are three concessions and only one adult.  There doesn’t seem to be a difference on the ticket between “seniors” and “children” – they cost the same – so anyone qualifying for a concession could take them.  Happy to split them up eg if a lone parent with two children or grandparents want to take a grandchild etc.

So here they are:

Monday 28 July:

Four tickets for Gymnastics in the SECC Hydro for the evening session 7pm to 9.30pm.  It’s team competition and individuals qualifying so should be good.  Three concessions, one adult.

Tuesday 29 July:

Four tickets for Badminton at the Emirates arena from 9am to 3pm. Three concessions, one adult.

Four tickets for Wrestling at the SECC from 10am to 2.30pm.  Three concessions, one adult.

Eight tickets for Table Tennis at the Scotstoun Sports Campus from 4pm to 9pm.  That’s six concessions and two adults.

If anyone would like them or just more info, please email me at I have the tickets and can post them out.  Happy for anyone from a charity working with families who might benefit to get in touch (if they don’t all go by Tuesday, I’ll be contacting the one I work for to offer them up). Happy to cover postage costs too.

Just to reiterate, this is not about making money or even our money back (though see above) it’s about making sure as many seats are filled as possible, enabling families who might not otherwise get to go and experience the Commonwealth Games on their doorstep and to ensure our Games are a huge success.

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who retweeted and shared this blog post.  All the tickets are now gone.  The majority are going to Arden community youth project in the East End of Glasgow, so some of the children for whom these Games are supposed to provide a legacy, get to go.  It’s a shame the Games organisers didn’t think to give them free access, for I can think of no better home for my tickets.


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