It’s a funny old world

Ach, I’m in a funny old place.

Everyone else got up this morning bursting with excitement at the prospect of a “day that will go down in Scottish history“.  On 25 January 2012, the consultation paper on the independence referendum will be published.  We’ll get at least one question, hopefully too, there will be answers to some other conundrums and concerns too.  It’s a big staging post on the journey and no mistake.  And even if you’re agin it all, I suspect the fact that it is now game on has created a wee frisson too.

Can I get worked up about it?  Raise a flicker of interest?  Feel a flutter in my tummy?  No.

My family has in excess of a century’s worth of SNP membership and service in pursuit of the cause among us.  In fact, my big chicklet has probably got more leafleting experience under his belt than 1000 of the recent converts altogether.  This is the moment we have all been working towards.  So why my flat reaction?

Because there are bigger and more immediate things happening.  And someone, somewhere has got to get worked up about that methinks.  If we wait for independence, it will be too late.  If we focus on the choices of tomorrow, we risk ignoring the needs of today.  Many are prepared to play the waiting game.  They get it, if you like, more than me.

They have their eyes fixed firmly on the prize.  Folk like me are scattering their energy and resources, sowing it thinly, attempting to make a difference now.  Whose approach is the right one?  Which will deliver a yes vote?  Who knows.  The problem is I’ve never been much good at patience.

So here I am, with the big moment happening around me, more impressed with the attitude of the House of Lords, who are determined to do what they (some of them) can to stand up for the voiceless and powerless and face down the worst excesses of 21st Century Thatcherism.  I spent more time last night reading about Lord Mackay of Clashfern than I did about the First Minister’s Hugo Young lecture.  An almost treacherous offence I know but before I am hung, drawn and quartered, allow me to explain.  That speech was hugely important and significant on a whole range of levels.  It also has a lot to say, it marks the start of a step change in the discourse and debate on Scotland’s future and I look forward to perusing it when the mood is right.

But really, truly, deeply?  I have a sense of greater urgency about the impending welfare reform measures than I do about the referendum.  Maybe it’s because we are still in the trenches of the phoney war.  Maybe it’s just the prospect of two years and more of ding dong, with more heat than light being generated.  Or maybe it’s because I find it hard to work out how people will summon up the energy to care about our constitutional future while being bombarded by pay freezes, pension cuts, job losses and benefit changes.

I’m under no illusion that anything we do with the current settlement is simply chipping away at the edges.  Trying one amendment at a time to change the world and make a difference.  It’s soul-destroying stuff.  But when you manage to make one stick, when the prospect of a big success for the little people is within sight, then maybe it’s not all so futile after all.

To do nothing, to care but to then shrug our shoulders and ask what can we do, without all the powers of a normal state, isn’t good enough frankly.  Everyone in politics or who works and lives in and around politics has a duty to take what they have before them and fashion it as well as they can.  The best nationalist councillors do it, investing their time and talents, to make change happen in their own patches.  Often, they get accused of going native by their ain folk (me included) and treated with disdain.  Yet, their political achievements are significant.  It’s a microcosm of the idea of being seen to govern competently and therefore, converting the cautious and the doubters.  The launch of the journey to the referendum today is very much a vindication of their approach and hopefully, they get a moment to bask in the realisation of having contributed to history being made.

Me?  I think I’ll wait to read the consultation paper until in a more aspirational frame of mind and reserve my cheers and celebration for one Lord Mackay of Clashfern.  For, if he pulls off his amendment coup in the House of Lords today, there is half a chance that we can protect some of Scotland’s most vulnerable, impoverished children from the worst excesses and intentions of this Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.

Which puts me in a very uncomfortable place, realising that it’s a funny old world and pondering over some puzzles.

Like how the unelected, unaccountable House of Lords from whom I instinctively recoil has done a far better job of holding the UK Government to account on some of the more bilious aspects of welfare reform than they managed in the other place.  The Labour opposition could have, should have made more capital out of its work on this bill.  It hasn’t.  The UK parties are more aligned on the issue of welfare reform than they care to admit – or some of their appointees to the Lords feel comfortable with, thankfully.

It’s also made me realise that in independent Scotland we will absolutely need to create a revising chamber and multi-cameral parliament that is for the people but importantly too, is by and of them.   And maybe I’m not so far behind the pace on the debate after all;  it’s just that my focus is elsewhere, on some of the boring and tedious detail that needs to be resolved if Scotland is to be persuaded that choosing independence is the right thing to do.

We all have our place in this debate.  Mine is clearly with the minutiae and the detail of the day.  It’s a good job then that we have a First Minister capable of creating, carrying and capitalising on the zeitgeist.  Making sure the narrative curve is big enough to sweep everyone into its arc, including – eventually I’m sure – me.


7 thoughts on “It’s a funny old world

  1. Should welfare policy and reform be left to Westminster as it is now constituted?


    It is by chance that House of Lords have seen fit to block Coalition proposals. This process is reliant on numbers and weak opposition, not force of arguement, morality nor ethics.

    What we are witnessing is the poor and the unfortunate being punished just for being poor and unfortunate.

  2. A very interesting and thoughtful piece. In this particular case, the upper house is reacting well, but who’s to say the opposite wouldn’t happen in a different situation? I’m sure there are examples.

    In Canada, the Senate is a repository of legal and constitutional expertise who chiefly try to see to it that laws passed by Parliament are robust and non-contradictory. It is a body which has suffered a great deal of criticism recently and calls for reform. Some want it elected, others want it to continue to be appointed.

    After independence I foresee an amazing period of political experimentation. Perhaps this will be one issue that will come up.

  3. Thanks Kate, aye keeping us focused on the important issues. As I read your blog I kept thinking we change the world one person at a time. So it’s important to focus on the policies that affect each and everyone of us. The small things and the big things too. Keep up the challenge, we need to not lose sight of what matters to the vulnerable for whatever reason.

  4. An inspiring read Kate to know that there are people who, amongst the headline grabbing daily political theatre, continue to work at the coalface and strive to address the issues of the day that matter. Fair play.

    “Everyone in politics or who works and lives in and around politics has a duty to take what they have before them and fashion it as well as they can.”

    I absolutely agree. However, it’s worth remembering that not all of us work in or around politics and our influence on the political agenda normally stops, unfortunately, at the ballot box. As a software developer with a 2 year old and 2 month old, my foray into politics and current affairs extends as far as trying to educate myself, use my vote and just recently, offer some commentary that supports the constitutional battle ahead. Not because I, or others, dont care about the other battles that need to be fought, but because some of us can only take a high-level interest in the politics of our country. We participate in the democratic process by (hopefully) educating ourselves and electing those we feel are best placed to govern on our behalf. Of course, we should not sit idly by while a Tory government destroys a principle we believe in, but lack of action does not represent lack of will. Almost as many officials were elected to opposition for times like these when a government must be held to account on behalf of those of us who cannot participate in politics beyond the ballot box.

    And yes, how ironic that for a’ that, the last line of defence in welfare reform is the unelected second chamber. For those of us who missed a calling to political life, you sometimes wonder what the point is of taking part in the democratic process at all – a government with minimal mandate being taken to task by unelected lords because the opposition are impotent.

    Chin up. Today is just political theatre. It wont change lives. That day will come. For us on the outside looking in, it is reassuring to know that there are people taking these real issues seriously.

    • You put it all so well in perspective – sorry I was snippy last night. Today’s blog attempting to explain a bit more. two bairns, work and politics? Wow!

      • Absolutely no need to apologise. You’ve provided a timely reminder that there are issues that will unfortunately be eclipsed by this debate. Unfortunately for some of us, it is difficult to influence these issues once the votes are cast, but it is no excuse for failing to give them more consideration and debate whether it be in chats with friends, blogs, social networks, etc, even with a constitutional hue if some of us must define ourselves in these terms for the next few years.

        And the work and twa bairns is no big deal compared to some – all thankfully healthy and no great dependency on the state, so are lucky that we do not have to face real poverty or problems that a lot of others do. The politics stuff is just limited reading, and some writing, when I find the time that allows. Bloggers like your good self, and others, are needed to remind the rest of us amateur enthusiasts that the fine detail is just as important as the big picture. 😉

  5. It really annoys me as well that while the House of Lords should be an obscenity, it is in fact a really wonderful place where over the past governments the members have protected our civil rights against Blair, and are standing up against the worst excesses of the ConDems.
    I have always thought that the SNP ban on sending member to the Lords has been short sighted as there is no one there officially to speak for Scotland. (though there are one or two who would be minded to support independence.
    The House of Lords is a good thing on the basis of a lot which it does.
    Then we have the Earl of Caithness appearing from his primeval swamp, and we realise that there are people there every bid as bad as our caricature.

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