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