Sara Sheridan: New Year’s Resolutions? New Life Resolutions more like it

Poor wee blog withering away on the vine, lonely and forgotten. But still loved, at least by me.

And thanks to friends, about to get a wee burst of life at year end. The last time, Sara Sheridan posted on this blog, it created an unedifying storm of comment.  Women has views, shock horror.

It’s fair to say that since then, Sara has been – using the X factor parlance – on a bit of a journey.  From dubious to interested to full on Yes.  She was one of the stars of Edinburgh Women for Indy, going wherever asked to speak and engage with women voters.  Often at a moment’s notice, despite her busy schedule.

Because in between all the politicking, Sara is still a writer and cultural commentator. And very good at both. She is on twitter @sarasheridan and on FB: sarasheridanwriter

Enjoy her New Life Resolutions. 

It’s that time of year – the time when you can’t help reviewing what you’ve been up to and thinking about where you might be going next.

2014 was a seminal year for so many people in Scotland. For me, it was revolutionary! I’ve never been interested in politics before. When the Referendum came along it set me alight – suddenly I was up late reading statistics, trawling articles for information and engaging with friends in debate. Some people I know stayed in either a Yes or No bubble but my family and friends came from both sides and I really enjoyed talking to the people around me about the issues.

2014 changed my life. It’s as simple as that.

On 19th September I was gutted. I cried every day for nine days about the No. I still find myself tearing up sometimes. That’s the risk you take when you fall in love with a dream. So that first horrible day, around me, as everyone struggled to rally I was moved by the way we pulled together. A No campaigning friend arrived with a bottle of whisky and we Yessers laid into it! Quite apart from the dreadful disappointment (and let’s face it, one side was always going to be disappointed) I found myself floundering. My life had changed. I had changed. I couldn’t imagine a way forward and I certainly wasn’t going to go back. I have a lovely life, a job I enjoy and a fabulous family but that wasn’t enough any more. In a way politics had made me greedy!

During the referendum I had written articles, appeared on TV and radio and occasionally spoken to meetings. Afterwards, the calls kept coming but somehow, it felt odd, almost purposeless, to pitch up to a morning radio show and air my opinions, when the possibility of real change had been removed. Within the Yes movement people rallied at different paces (some with astonishing speed) but I found myself going slowly. I’m not a party political person, never have been – I am driven by issues. While my husband and several of our friends joined the SNP, I knew that wasn’t for me. They had my vote but not my membership.

In a way I think I was heartbroken. The Referendum had been for me, a love affair with my country and it had given me passion for possibility of changing it for the better. It had set me alight. Like a teenager at the end of her first affair, I struggled to come back down to earth, to align what I had felt so passionately with the day to day reality I came back to when the party was over.

Gradually, I realised I had to find things I could do. Maybe not huge things, but things that were worthwhile. I discussed it with my husband and we made a vow (one that didn’t appear on the front page of the Daily Record) to boycott the organisations and businesses that we felt had behaved dishonourably during the campaign. I’m not talking about people that came out for No. People were entitled to do that. But supermarkets that claimed prices would go up, shops that said they’d fire people and relocate. We made a list and we’ve stuck to it – our shopping habits have changed.

The biggest shock of the Referendum for me, though, was the role the mass market media played and particularly the BBC. I had always trusted the BBC and from time to time I’d worked there. The ongoing bias infuriated me (it still does). We considered cancelling our TV licence. At first I thought this was a big ask – after all, I was now fascinated by politics, how would I do without the News (twice a night) and the rest of UK broadcast political programming? We switched off the telly though and tried it for a week and lo and behold we found we LOVED it. It was strange and very unexpected but not having advertising in the background and being able to pick and choose what to watch (because like many people we had had a lazy, if it’s on we’ll give it a go attitude). We also found we could pick up news stories online easily and in the end, we felt more informed, not less informed by boycotting the television. If you’d like to try it, there is a guide to the ins and outs of cancelling your licence (scroll down) on Wings:

Boycotts are positive consumer action but I also wanted to find ways of boosting the causes I agreed with as well as moving away from businesses and organisations with whom I did not. When the National came out I had a policy of buying 2 copies and leaving one in a local coffee shop or restaurant with the rest of the papers. I made donations to a few crowdfunders and also to the Common Weal. I became a joiner (not political parties) but other organisations, including Women for Independence, which I find completely inspiring.

I still don’t know the way forward. Not really. But I know how I want to vote (which is something I haven’t always known 6 months before the polling date) and I feel good about where my money is going and how it is being used. I suppose the Referendum has given me a sense of responsibility that I never had before.

All of this is not enough. I’m looking at other ways of making a contribution, of shifting my day to day life to let me take part and express myself politically. But it is a start. A step in a different direction and into a different life. I might not have the governance I had hoped for coming into 2015 but I have prospects and I have hope – a hope that change will come, more slowly than we might have liked, but come nonetheless.

And I’m sticking with it – in for the long run.

Read this while you wait for the Smith Commission report

As relevant now as when it was submitted; perhaps more so when listening to the dancing on pinheads going on this morning about which bits of which powers Scotland should be allowed to have.  Jonathan Sher moved from the USA to Scotland 10 years ago and became a UK citizen earlier this year in order to vote Yes in the independence referendum.  This was his personal submission to the Smith Commission. It makes a lot of sense to me.

Dear Lord Smith,

Thank you for accepting this complex, but vital, assignment.

The Herald published three of my personal opinion pieces on the Scottish independence referendum (16 June, 4 July and 15 September), which provide a context for my submission to you today.

As I understand it, your intent is to reflect the will of the Scottish voters accurately in relation to the additional powers that will soon be devolved to Scotland. A majority of voters in last month’s referendum wanted at least ‘Devo Max’, so that is what should be delivered. [Note: I am using ‘Devo Max’ to refer to the powers articulated by the SNP and Scottish Greens in their submissions to your Commission]

What is known is that:

A. 55% of Scottish voters preferred to remain within the United Kingdom, thereby removing independence as one of the current options.

B. 45% of Scottish voters wanted all powers to be vested in the Scottish Parliament.

C. Opinion polls, both before and after the referendum, indicated majority support for at least Devo Max. If even as few as 1 in 10 No voters (5.5% of all voters) were persuaded by leading politicians to think they were voting for Devo Max, then a majority (at least 50.5%) of all Scottish voters made it plain that they want the maximum possible powers to be held by the Scottish Parliament.

D. Given this simple calculation (45% Yes voters, plus at least 5.5% No=Devo Max voters), there seems a moral obligation for you to insist upon an agreement that delivers as full a devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament as is possible without causing the UK to be unable to function successfully.

I am struck by the focus in much of the recent public and media debate on which specific powers should be devolved by Westminster to Holyrood. This seems back-to-front. Shouldn’t the focus be on reaching agreement about which specific powers must be reserved at Westminster for the United Kingdom to function well? Any power not explicitly reserved at the UK level devolves to the Scottish Parliament.

During the referendum debate, the key powers discussed as the defining ones to have a United Kingdom were currency, foreign affairs and the military. There may be a small number of other specific powers necessary for the UK to function successfully, but you are doubtless more aware of them than me.

This referendum was not simply the prelude to the best compromise that can now be brokered among the five political parties at your Commission’s table — based upon their priorities and preferences. In my opinion,  your Commission’s final agreement should embody and honour the expressed desire of a majority of Scotland’s voters to have the maximum possible powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament — a parliament whose existence must become permanent, i.e. one that can neither be abolished nor controlled by Westminster.

In practical terms, any agreement that delivers less than Devo Max would discount the votes of the 45% who voted for all powers to be held by Holyrood – and also discount the votes of all citizens who, while against independence, were voting for the greatest possible devolution of powers to Scotland within the UK.

With appreciation for your consideration,

Dr Jonathan Sher

Nicola Sturgeon: on a personal mission

When Nicola Sturgeon walked out onto the SNP Conference stage, I cried.  When she paid tribute to Kay Ulrich, whose was the first SNP parliamentary contest she ever campaigned in I cried.  When she paid warm and fulsome tribute to Alex Salmond, I cried.  When he nearly cried at the sustained applause from delegates, I cried.  When Nicola finished her speech just barely holding back her emotion, I cried.  A lot of tears – happy tears – were shed watching Nicola Sturgeon give her first speech to conference as the SNP’s leader.

That in itself is an achievement worth noting and celebrating. Nicola Sturgeon is the first woman to be party leader in its 80 year history.  On Wednesday, she will become Scotland’s first female First Minister and only the second woman anywhere on these islands to hold the highest office.  She will be the only woman elected currently to the highest office in one of the Parliaments/Assemblies in the UK.  If ever there was a wow moment in Scottish and indeed, UK politics, then this is it.

In her first speech as leader, Nicola set out her personal mission, in political and policy terms.  There are small details which still need work.  A podium which suits her height, so we see more than just her head and shoulders; an autocue so she gets to engage more with the audience at home in telly-land (though she will use more eye contact naturally as she becomes more confident);  and a subtle shift in party messaging.  Stronger for Scotland is too masculine for this, the female age in the SNP and dare I say it, very Salmond.  But all this will develop, just as she flourishes in her new role.

While Nicola devoted a significant segment of her speech to praising Salmond, she also made sure to draw a line: “under Alex’s leadership we have achieved so much, but I’m here to tell you that our best days are still to come”.  And with that the era of Eck was consigned to history.

From there on, Nicola Sturgeon set out her vision and mission and key to the delivery was the way in which she took charge.  This was not a speech in which she showed the way ahead, but told it.  There was a strong message to UK broadcasters about excluding the SNP from televised UK election debates.  She set out the stark reality of what Westminster’s business as usual agenda means for Scotland.  She warned Labour of an apocalyptic future – “linking arms with the Tories will cost Labour dear – this year, next year and for many, many years to come”. And she made sure conference delegates knew what she expected of them: “for all that we have achieved to date, we must do better.  As hard as we have worked, we must redouble our efforts”.

There’s no doubt who’s the boss now.

This speech had so much content and covered a continent in terms of political strategy.  She set out how the SNP will fight the Westminster election next year and what the tactics of an enlarged group of SNP MPs might be. “My pledge to Scotland today is simple – the SNP will never, ever, put the Tories into government. But I ask you to think about this. Think about how much more we could win for Scotland from a Westminster Labour government if they had to depend on SNP votes. Key to the electoral strategy is an appeal to Scotland to “lend us – Scotland’s Party – your support. Vote SNP and the message we will carry to Westminster on your behalf is this. Scotland’s interests will not be sidelined. Not now, not ever.”

Most of the content of her speech was devoted to what she will do as First Minister in the remaining year and a half of this parliamentary session, and beyond the 2016 elections, with her key ambition to win a third term of government for the SNP.  Her proposals were rich in policy content and also marked a shifting of the guard, with a focus on social justice. Indeed, she has taken ownership of the social justice agenda in Scotland, showing she intends to boss it and leave no room for Labour to occupy this territory.

Much of what she offered will appeal – instinctively, rather than by design I think – to women.  That’s what happens when you have a woman at the top.  Suddenly, the priorities and the pitch change.  Just like that.

We were given a clear insight into Nicola Sturgeon’s political philosophy in one succinct statement: “tackling poverty and inequality – and improving opportunity for all – will be my personal mission as your First Minister. But we all know that in 2014 government can’t do it alone. If we are to make a difference, we must all come together – government, communities, trade unions, businesses, the third sector – and we must make it a sustained national endeavour. Working together, that is the approach that I intend to build.”

Nicola established that she will be a First Minister with a serious purpose, an approach which unifies and an instinct to work with partners.  And she made tackling poverty her personal goal.

Building for the future featured heavily as a theme.  In what the party has to do to win the “prize” of independence and of “prosperity, equality and opportunity”.  In what the SNP in government has to do to win independence: “everything I have experienced since 2007, and everything I witnessed during the referendum campaign, persuades me that good government and progress to an independent Scotland go hand in hand”.  And in what that SNP government has to do for children to have “the best start in life and a bridge to a better future”.

In each and every way, it is clear that Nicola Sturgeon has thought about what she wants to achieve as SNP leader.  And has thought through how she not just survives for the long term, but thrives.  Her political goals are clear, built on a strong party base and traditional totems like broadcasting bias.  But she also took ownership of that heritage and in just 50 minutes, shaped it to set fair for a future fashioned by her and a new SNP team.

Be very clear.  Make no mistake.  Know this.  Nicola Sturgeon is on a mission, which as her whole life has been, is both personal and political.

And she has over 85,000 willing allies within the party, and many more thousands of friends and potential partners outwith it, to help her achieve it.