Welcome to the first in a series of very special guest posts. All of them from women, all of them telling us what they want from the political parties in this election.
Despite being a vital part of the electorate – particularly in this Scottish election – it can be hard to hear women’s voices and for the issues that matter to them to feature in the daily drive for votes. So the burd decided to rectify that and invited several women to share their thoughts and views on this blog space. I’m looking forward to reading their posts as much as you are!
First up is the quite wonderful Sara Sheridan. Sara is an historical novelist. Her latest novel, Secret of the Sands, is based on the real-life story of James Raymond Wellsted, the first European to be given permission to enter the interior of the Arabian Peninsula in the 1830s. She lives in Edinburgh, is a floating voter and tweets as @sarasheridan.
If it wasn’t for Nana…
My Nana was an ardent feminist. Born at the turn of the century, she was among the first generation of women who had the right to vote on equal terms with men for most of her adult life. She cherished this. I vividly remember her saying that women’s suffrage had been hard won (she was born the year of the Suffragette Hunger Strikes) and that my female cousins and I didn’t only have the right to vote but also a duty to do so. We owed a debt of gratitude to those women who had made huge sacrifices, so if it was possible to vote, we absolutely must. As a result I’ve voted in almost every election of any kind since I was 18.
I’m not politically active, or indeed, particularly well-informed. I know more about art than I do about politics, but nonetheless, in the words of Gelet Burgess, I know what I like. The sad truth is, however, these days I don’t like what I see. The political headlines make me incredibly sad and even angry, and in the last ten years as I head for the polling booth I don’t go with a spring in my step, a sense of pride and the thought that Nana would be glad I was doing my duty. This may be an inevitable side effect of ageing – the mellowing of youthful passions. But my passion hasn’t cooled for other long-held principles and the truth is I’m not alone. Voting figures are lower and lower and if it wasn’t for Nana I probably would have given up casting my vote a while ago.
This is because in the mellee of egos that constitutes our political system, many of the things I care about are falling by the wayside. The mass-communications that could enable our politics for good have instead turned it into a bland conglomeration of stinted opinion cloaked in the occasional media frenzy of blame or denial. In the run up to the election the Liberal Democrats called. In the past I have sometimes voted Liberal.
The man was friendly and asked me if I’d be voting Liberal again. I told him that given what was happening in Westminster I couldn’t possibly trust a Liberal politician. ‘But that’s in England,’ he said. I pointed out that Westminster’s decisions impinge on Scotland and that they are part of the same party. I despise what the Liberals have done to their principles to gain power and my vote is almost my only effective way to demonstrate that. The current marches and protests aren’t changing policy so my best shot is to vote on principle against the Liberal Democrats (and the Tories for that matter, though I have never voted Tory).
From his reaction I don’t expect I was the first person he’d spoken to who felt that way. That we are closing libraries and cutting back school budgets, scrimping on the NHS and allowing our transport system to fall into disrepair while allowing huge bonuses to be paid to bankers, particularly angers me. Thinking about it, the issue I have is that given the failure of Labour to spot the imminent collapse of the financial system and the failure of the Tories and Liberals to deal with the fallout of that in a fair or kind fashion, it is very difficult to trust any politician. This is, of course, not a new problem and there is probably no solving it. As the maxim goes, the desire for power (so integral to political success) should exclude anyone from standing for election.
I should also say that I’m not a nationalist of any stripe. I simply think that it’s too inward looking a philosophy and always feels closed minded. I heard Alex Salmond speak the other day and to me he sounded so provincial and small-minded that it made my skin crawl. I’ve never voted SNP. It’s a philosophy that makes the world smaller and more contained rather than larger and freer. I heard radical historian Ilan Pappe talk at the book festival last year and he compared the philosophy of nationalism worldwide (Zionists, Irish Republicans, Nazis). People here were shocked, but I think he is right.
I care about a lot of issues – I care about libraries (I’m a swot of course!), I care about healthcare, I care about homelessness and unemployment. I care about net neutrality and the steady erosion of our liberties both online and off. I care about the rich/poor divide and the rise of corporate business. Some elements of our culture are amazing – I’m proud to be European, to be British and to be Scottish. As a single mother I was supported for a short time by the state until my first book sold and since then from time to time I’ve been supported by successive public funds including the newly rebranded Creative Scotland. My career and indeed my education wouldn’t have been possible without that kind of public investment. Also I’ve benefited enormously from the NHS.
For all these things I’m deeply grateful. But when it comes down to this particular election the issue I care most about is integrity and sadly, I’m not seeing that. Not really. And the truth is, I’m still not sure how I’m going to vote.