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…
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.
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: