Tales from the Campaign Trail (2)

So, eight weeks of the sabbatical down, four to go.  Where on earth did the time go?

On the doorsteps mainly. But also at meetings, in leafleting, on street stalls, on the airwaves, providing training, dealing with 100 emails a day and making lists that contain important details like “buy milk”.

The target of engaging with 100 voters a week is proving a scoosh.  Easily that and then some. And I’m loving it.  Even the cranky old No voters.  Because actually, there are few of them.  Instead, there is a populace whose political conscience has been awakened.  Who want to chat. Even if they have decided naw, they’ve thought about it, weighed it up and made their decision.  

And then there are all those “yes but” women. Oh bless them all. If I could hug each and every one I would. And sometimes do, especially if there are tears.  Because they all want to. Get. It. Right.  To make the right decision for themselves, but mainly for their children.

All Jock Tamson’s Bairns

And what of those children eh?  What to make of the decision by 27 of our 32 local authorities “banning” the referendum from their schools?  It’s no pasaran to either side in the campaign oh but, children will be allowed to talk about it.  Well, that’s ok then.

But where are they to get their information from?  To whom do they address questions?  Ah, the teachers. Of course, because they have all the answers, all the facts and absolutely no opinions at all.  Aye, right.

Only in Scotland – the country with aspirations to be the best place for children to grow up (only clearly not just yet) – would we exclude children from this great big chat we are having with ourselves.  After all, what’s it got to do with them?  Why, it’s only their future that we are all discussing. Why on earth might we want them to be informed and engaged and to feel part of all that is going on around them?  Why would we want them to feel that they are allowed to form a view and have a stake in what is going on?

Kez Dugdale MSP, who took time out of her own busy campaigning schedule to help me launch the book – out soon, don’t worry you’ll hear about it – hit the nail on the head.  We don’t run schools for children or design them around their needs. Schools are built and provided to suit councils and bureaucrats.  And this decision emphasises just how so. Because this decision has been reached in order to make life easy. Never mind that it excludes children from the debate on their future and sends entirely the wrong message about citizenship and the role of politics in our day to day lives. 

The problem is that they are picking it up. They glean snitches of headlines and snippets of adult chat and chew that over and discuss it among themselves.  And see all this nonsense about “breaking up” and “splitting up our big UK family”?  It has got them worried.  They put that into the context of their own, often complex, familial relationships and are filled with fear and dread about what that will actually mean.  And their instinctive, emotional reaction is that they want us all to stay together.  One great, big happy family, just like the one they wish they had in their everyday lives.

We should be ashamed of ourselves. Or rather, Better Together should.  And so should the authorities with whom the nation charges the education of oor weans.  Because they have denied our children the opportunity to make their voices heard, to form considered opinions, to make their own minds up, to have all the facts in front of them and reach a decision. To learn and to reflect among their peers, in a space that should belong to them, in which they should feel comfortable and in control. If ever there was a case for changing the old order of things, these councils just helped make it.

Being out on the stump, you actually get to engage with children, of all ages and all backgrounds.  And they are inspiring in very different ways.

There’s the beautiful, articulate young Scots Asian woman I met last week who is seething with indignation and frustration. But also action.  She set up the feminist society at her elite school.  That made me smile.  She is trying to engage her peers in serious debate about her country’s future, about what it means for them, but primped and preened and with wealth priming them for a shiny future no matter the outcome, they are indifferent.  What can I do, she asked.  Keep on doing what you are, I said.  You are amazing and you will find some of what you are discussing with friends and classmates is getting through.  Sometimes, though it’s a long haul.

And then, the other extreme.  A girl the same age but with quite different prospects.  Down at the chemist’s, picking up her granny’s many prescriptions.  Granny, who reared her, is a yes but I’m a no, she said, over the handlebars of her rickety old bike.  So I gave her one of Women for Independence’s bookmarks to give to her granny.  And she held it carefully and looked at it like it was something.  A present.  Something special.  She looked at it in a way that said she doesn’t get given very much to have for herself.  And I could see that she felt she couldn’t ask for one for herself, cos she wasn’t voting yes. So I gave her one and the smile she gave me back has warmed me ever since.

Then there’s the 15 year old boy who rushed out to talk to us when visiting with the Margo Mobile.  I’m not 16 until November, I cannae vote.  He was distraught.  I want to, I want to vote so badly.  My whole family is Yes and I’ve converted half of them and I’m the only one not getting a say.  So I gave him my special tartan Yes badge, which a pal had sourced off the internet for us, that many have coveted and none have been able to prise away from me.  But I gave it to him.  Because someone who cares that much about not having a say in this debate deserves it.

And talking of Christmas leavers, what to make of the feral pack of teenage boys who roam Muirhouse and Pilton, who appear to have made it their mission to part me from Jinty the moped? Twice now they’ve had a go. The first time I tried to talk to them, to ask them not to steal her, to explain why I was there and what I was doing. The venom with which they responded was incredible. Their faces contorted with pain and rage. Howling insults and threats in language that they thought would send me scarpering, for daring to try to engage them. And despite all of that, and the fact that they have inconvenienced me hugely, I’m not angry at them.  I feel for them, actually. A week into the new school year and none of them appears to have bothered going back. And no one appears to have come looking for them.  As some local residents – who are good, decent, kind folk and rescued me and Jinty – explained half their parents are junkies, the other half don’t give a shit. They roam the scheme, fending for themselves, left to their own devices.  

Do not pass go. Do not collect nothing, for these boys are headed straight down a path marked jail and poverty and addiction and failure.  A dismal past, an empty present and absolutely no chance of a better future, whether Scotland votes yes or no on 18 September. And no one seems to care. Or gave up caring a long time ago.

Finally, there was the gang of wee lassies.  What are you doing, missus?  Trying to speak to people, to persuade them to vote yes.  We’re aw voting naw and so’s all our parents.  Can we have a badge?  I gave them badges. And balloons. And bookmarks. Have you been to ma door, one of them asked?  She told me the address, I checked my canvass sheets. I had. What did my da tell ye?  That he’s voting yes.  That made her pause.  Eventually she asked, so why are you voting yes?  I told her and explained that it was about wanting a better future for us all, but especially for them. So that they when they grew up, they had choices that I hadn’t had. They considered this for a moment.  Ah don’t need a better future, their leader said, tossing her ponytail over her shoulder.  Ah’m goin to be a model.  And with that they were off.

Brief Highlights

The Latvian woman who has been here for three years, whose son started school for the first time two weeks ago.  Who loves Scotland and wants to stay here.  And who wasn’t on the electoral roll because no one had told her she was entitled to vote in some elections as an EU national.  She is now.

We’re not quite a split household but we are split neighbours.  My house – as you can imagine – has had Yes windaes for a while. But my pensioner neighbour put up his wee Labour leaflet the other week “I’m voting no”. He won’t be budged,  He’s a No and that’s that.  And he’s entitled to his view and for it to be treated with respect.  And anyway, we’re good neighbours – we do each other’s bins, I send him soup over now and again, he watches the cat when I’m away.  So he now has a great big No Thanks poster in his bedroom window.  What can I say?  He’ll still be my neighbour when all this is over.

Things I am going to do after 18 September

the ironing  that got done, we’d run out of clothes

the garden – the back is a jungle, I pretend it’s no longer mine

for Boy Wonder and I to stop wearing odd socks 

read a book




Happy International Women’s Day (2)

I asked a number of women to contribute some thoughts to the blog to mark the occasion of the day.  But, being a wumman with far too much to do and too little time in which to do it, I half-ersed it.  In that, I had the thought but then forgot to do the asking until it was almost too late.

Didn’t give folk enough time.  Cos they are all dead busy women too, but a few did indeed come up trumps.  And their thoughts are well worth having and sharing.

Are there any lessons from this wee episode?  Aside from me needing to plan things better (I have been urged to try this from an early age and never really quite got round to giving it a whirl)?  How about – how can we make women’s lives less busy so that they have more time to share with each other and simply to be.  Yup that would do it.

First up, Kezia Dugdale, Labour MSP for Lothians and one of the 2011 intake.  It would be remiss of me not to say that Kez is one of the bright young political things and is fairly making her mark, with a swift promotion into the Shadow Cabinet ranks with her appointment as Shadow Minister for Youth Unemployment.

I asked her what IWD means to her:

“For me, it’s a day for celebration and contemplation. A worthy moment to pause and mark the progress we’ve made towards equality.

But it’s also a day to reaffirm our collective commitment for a better tomorrow. To focus the mind on a more equal and just Scotland and to share our energy, experiences and hopes with other sisters around the world for whom the march towards equality is only just beginning.

And when it comes to Scotland’s constitutional future, I hope that across the political spectrum we can unite today behind the shared belief that women’s voices must be at the heart of our country’s debate. The settled will cannot be set by men in suits alone.”

And I also asked Gail Lythgoe, as another of Scottish politics’ bright young things, what advice she might want to impart on International Women’s Day to young women about to enter adulthood.  Gail is Convenor of SNP Students and is also on the party’s National Executive Committee.  She’s intelligent and fiercely bright, as well as being statuesque and sunny and just an all-round lovely person.  And we found out – rather bizarrely on twitter – that her aunt and I were at school together.  Scotland the village indeed.

“When asked what advice I would give to a younger woman, I eventually came to the conclusion it would have to be: you probably have, or can gain, the skills; you just need to gain belief in yourself.

How many times have you noticed that you sit in a discussion or meeting and have had some thoughts buzzing through your mind and yet thought “someone else will put it better than me” or “the point probably isn’t even that relevant anyway”? I have experienced that all my life before I realised, only very recently, I should just say it. Later on, I’ve assessed it to have been relevant to the discussion and been glad I said it. Otherwise, much more confident folk, typically men, will tend to dominate discussions.

I noticed at a recent NUS Conference, that when the Education Secretary was being asked questions by the audience, there was only 1 female and plenty of males asking questions. And I wondered, how many young women were thinking and forming thoughts in that very room but not putting them into words?

My advice to young women is to be yourself and rather than judging yourself on those around you, to look at what really matters to you. For some reason, ambitious is a dirty word. It is only dirty if you make your intentions and actions dirty. Be motivated, strive to do your best, aspire for a better world and better you and be as determined as you want.

Examine your belief in yourself. Where do you want to be? And how can you get yourself there?”

I also put the same question to Shelagh McKinlay who tweets as @Shequeen and blogs at the Absurdist as well as on the Herald’s online political pages.  Her parliamentary sketches are laugh out loud funny;  indeed, she’s one of the best and most witty writers/bloggers I know and I’m delighted to have got to know her a little, thanks to twitter.

“What would I tell young women heading for adulthood today? In many ways I’d give them the same advice as I’d give to young men. Respect yourself. Respect others. Work hard. Invest in a good bra.  

Young people face many of the same challenges regardless of gender and we must hope that future generations of men and women will work together to keep building a better society. But some things are different for girls.  Sexism still exists, it is not a figment of the imagination of middle-aged feminists like me.

The freedom women have today was hard won and, unfortunately, cannot be taken for granted.  I’d tell them that they therefore shouldn’t be complacent or accept second best.  Protecting our freedom involves fighting your corner and being what some might term “difficult”. I’d tell them not to worry about that. I’d tell them that too many young women, and I was one of them, worry too much about being liked for the wrong reasons – for being biddable and uncomplaining and not saying “No”.  I’d tell them saying “No” is fine if you have good reason and that if people don’t like it, that’s their problem.

I’d tell them to forget about being “good” and concentrate on being decent. I’d tell them to celebrate the fact that they live at a time when they have so much choice and opportunity. Young women today do face difficult choices, but I’d still rather have their life than my grandmother’s. 

Finally, I’d tell them to wear teeny tiny skirts and dance like crazy whenever they can, because one day the chance to do either may not come around so often.”