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 glasgow2014tickets@gmail.com. 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.

Women are wending their way to Yes

You’ll forgive me for having more than a passing interest in how women are going to vote in the referendum.  In the last two years, there has been a concerted effort – largely by women and largely by women from both Yes and No sides – to ensure women’s voices are heard in the debate.  You might wonder that we really are in the 21st Century but women have had to fight, call out and argue for their right to be represented in media discussions and speaker panels in the referendum debate.  But we are winning, even if falling somewhat short of equal representation.  Apparently, one women’s voice will always do, while often two or more of men’s is considered requisite.

Carolyn Leckie’s inspired idea to create a space for women who support independence in which they could engage with other like-minded women has borne remarkable fruit. The aim was not to create an echo chamber but a safe space which operated differently from traditional party and campaign structures, in which women could gather and importantly, invite other women to participate in. The focus throughout has been on listening to other women and giving them a space of their own in which to explore their thoughts and concerns on the referendum debate.  But let’s be honest, the point of what Carolyn and the other founding members of Women for Independence (of which I was one) created was also to enable and encourage more women in Scotland to vote Yes. 

That it has worked suggests that it was sorely needed. Because of Women for Independence, there are women involved in this debate, campaigning, speaking out, engaging and still listening to other women’s voice who have “never done this kind of thing before”. Women for Independence now has 1,200 individual members from all over Scotland, with over 40 local groups ranged all over the country.

And while our focus is on the campaign to win independence for Scotland for the next nine weeks, we won’t be going away on 19 September. The work will continue – hopefully with women from all parties and none, and from both sides of the constitutional debate – to ensure women’s rights and equality feature high up the agenda in post-referendum Scotland. Yup, that’s a threat and a promise.

Increasingly, Women for Independence is attracting women who did not start out voting yes. They have travelled to the conclusion that women in Scotland will be better off with independence either through a long and dissatisfying journey with the Labour party or over the arid landscape of two years of constitutional debate. Some of them started as No voters, most as undecideds. 

But don’t just take my word for it, look at the polls. 

Frankly, during this campaign, the polls have been all over the place. The differential in voting intentions being recorded by different pollsters and across polling periods is often so volatile that the only safe conclusion is “eh?”

There have been a lot of polls and very little can be said about them that tells us definitively what on earth is going on in the minds and intentions of the Scottish people. Though John Curtice does his best.

James Kelly at Scot Goes Pop! has done a sterling job, not only in keeping up with polling activity, but also in providing essential analysis. In particular, he’s tried to get to the crux of why the polls are still showing big leads for no when any of us out on the doorsteps know it’s a lot less clearcut than they suggest.

Looking only at ICM’s polling results in 2014 (from the surveys run for the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday), two tentative conclusions can be reached.

ICM poll table 2014

First, the longer the debate continues and the more information they have, the less men seem to know.  Wasn’t it always thus?

ICM’s polling suggests that the closer we get to Referendum day, men are being pulled away from a previous yes voting intention and increasingly, don’t know how they will vote. The fact that they do appear to be moving to undecided means there is still hope: one in five of men’s votes is still up for grabs. Why anyone thinks excluding the don’t knows at this stage is a good idea is beyond me.  Every second voter I canvass is a genuine undecided either because they cannot make up their mind or simply haven’t thought about it.  Read that last bit again, Yes and No stalwarts, and weep.

Second, women are largely where they started the year, having been on a bit of a journey in the last few months. Having reached a low point of support for independence in May, women do now seem to be moving towards a yes vote.  And there are still plenty who have yet to make up their minds. ICM suggests that when they do, they are largely deciding to vote yes. Again, these undecideds are still genuinely undecided for the reasons outlined above. Few can be categorised as not voting because most I meet absolutely intend to do so. Once they’ve had a chance to think about it and get hold of information because they’ve not had anything much, is a frequent refrain. (Note to Yes and No folk – try harder!)

There are many factors at play, of course. But the visibility of a campaign working so enthusiastically at the grassroots to encourage more women to vote yes, will have made a contribution. When women who support independence get the chance to expound the benefits of independence to other, undecided women – benefits for themselves, their families, their communities and the country’s future – those messages resonate.

Moreover, the issues matter. Women have been most affected by Westminster’s cuts. They are concerned about the future of the welfare state and NHS in Scotland as they see the privatisation of the NHS South of the border. More and more women are realizing that only independence guarantees a fairer and more prosperous future for them and their families.

Last week, I met a woman in her thirties, who despite the draw of a warm, balmy summer evening, sat on a hard seat in a village hall for two hours and listened. I watched her throughout and she was listening hard to everything that was being said: her attention did not waver, not even for a minute. I spoke to her at the end and asked her why she had come.

With tears shining in her eyes, she replied that she wanted to make sure she was making the best choice for her children’s future. That how she voted really mattered and she wanted to make sure she got it right. She did not want her children to be denied a better future because she got her vote wrong. She has been undecided throughout, swinging from undecided to yes, back again and over to no, before landing up firmly back on the fence for the last month or so. Since then, she has immersed herself in the debate, in gathering and reading information, on turning out to meetings like the one I met her at, because she absolutely wants to make sure she is doing the right thing by her children. 

She’s finally made up her mind.  She’s voting yes.



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