Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My last campaign

I have marked the Scottish referendum on September 18th, 2014 as the site of my last political campaign. To be truthful I have seldom been on a campaign trail ; canvassing at people's front doors ; handing out leaflets or making sure that elderly voters are able to get to the polling station. Political campaigning is not strongly represented in my genetic make up. My Dad, I think had Conservative tendencies but did not always make it to the polling booth. I think my Mum followed my Dad's voting intentions focussing her efforts on sovereignty within her family. Grandad Jackson had Labour sympathies and Grandad Sharpe was sympathetic to home rule for Scotland, but politics were not often discussed in our family and my parents always insisted that voting was a secret process not to be shared with others.  We do have an outstanding political campaign organiser in our family and that's my son. I am so proud of him but I can take no credit for his political brilliance.

Home rule for Scotland : my younger sister and me somewhere in the Trossachs, 1956

My political campaigns have mainly taken place in my head as I composed acerbic sentences about the opponents of the party with which I sympathised but very few people ever got to hear these.  Add to that conversations with family members and friends; the odd sarcastic comment in the Bull Inn, Totnes towards fellow customers who in my almighty view have made a  particularly distasteful or reactionary remark ; the inevitable verbal tirade directed at the television during news bulletins, and there you have the meagre sum total of my campaigning.

An exception has been the current Scottish referendum campaign. I have been more actively involved in this campaign than any other. My wife and I spent the month of August in Edinburgh and the atmosphere was such that you could not fail to be drawn into the referendum campaign on one side or another. We both support the YES campaign and we spent the month attending talks, public meetings and holding informal discussions arguing the case for independence. We wore and are still wearing our YES badges with pride. We put up YES posters on the windows where we had authority to do so. On returning to Totnes I have been trying to persuade Devonians that an independent Scotland would be a good thing for every country in the British Isles. It might persuade them to bring their governance closer to the heart of their own communities rather than allowing it to be housed in distant Westminster.

 I have also been sending encouraging emails to  friends in Scotland who are working tirelessly for the YES campaign, urging them to keep going and thanking them for their efforts on behalf of an independent Scotland. As readers of this blog know I have also been writing in support of the YES campaign.

Let's hear it for the YES campaigners

My efforts are minimal when compared to the people working for the YES campaign in Scotland. The YES workers have been heroic in bringing the campaign to the stage where victory is possible. The entire forces of the national media have been blasting against them, including the notionally balanced and unbiased BBC and you can add to that the propaganda machines of Westminster's main parties. So let's hear it for the YES campaign workers. The highest recorded figure of  97% of the Scottish electorate have  registered to vote in the referendum, ensuring that those who previously may never have valued themselves enough to vote because of the way the political and economic system has been stacked against them, have a real opportunity to change the course of Scottish history. Referendum day will be their day. The vision, enthusiasm and determination of the YES campaign has largely been responsible for this. Even those intending to vote against them will in all fairness admit that YES workers have run a great campaign.

My shameful political history

My family, friends and colleagues may be surprised and disappointed to know that I have in my time voted, in both general and local elections, for the Conservatives, the Liberals, Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Green Party and I recently I deliberately spoilt my vote. Before castigating me for chronic disloyalty I would argue, but will not do so here, that there is a natural, as well as considered stream of thought running through my voting pattern. I believe it is more important for a political party to listen and show loyalty to the developing ideas of all of its supporters rather than the supporters being subservient to their leaders' personal ambitions for power.

Most of my votes have been cast in England, which for the majority of my life has been my primary place of residence.  My first vote however, was cast at the polling station in Johnshaven, a fishing village in what was then Kincardineshire. I was almost 24 years old. In those days you had to be 21 years old to vote and the previous general election had been in 1966 when I was only just too young to vote. In 1970 I voted Conservative because I admired Ted Heath's long held determination to make the United Kingdom a member of what was then the EEC and is now the EU. I am encouraged that those who are leading the current campaign for Scottish independence desire that Scotland should play a full part in Europe, something political leaders south of the border are increasingly less enthusiastic about.

In that 1970 election, Alick Buchanan Smith,  the standing MP for North Angus and the Mearns was duly re-elected with a large and increased majority. The Labour candidate was a distant second. Overall in the United Kingdom the Conservatives gained a House of Commons majority and Ted Heath formed a government.

In 1973 following Margo Macdonald's stunning by-election victory in Govan while she was standing for the SNP,  it began to seem possible that the Scottish electorate might vote for independence. The romance of that idea, so close as it was to my natural sympathies, impelled me in the 1974 and 1975 general elections to vote for the SNP candidate even though I was in a place of work where the support of conservatism with or without a capital C was demanded. I did not shout out my affinity with the independence cause, and, in a way I can't be proud of, I gave out the impression that I would join the crowd and vote Conservative.  I can only say I was a young man with a young family and my wife and I had to earn the money to feed, clothe and shelter our children.  I guess I am mentioning all this to show that despite errors of judgment, mistakes and subterfuge I have always hoped for an independent Scotland.

For the record Alick Buchanan Smith won the 1974 and 1975 elections but the SNP came second in both and the Tory majority was reduced to under 2,000. I like to think that my votes formed a tiny part of a small step on the stairs that have led us to the vote tomorrow.

The source of my desire for Scottish independence

1975 was my last opportunity to vote in Scotland. Why then, when I will have no vote in the referendum and having spent 50 years of my life here in England - this present tour has lasted 40 years  -  do I still carry a torch for an independent Scotland ?

That's a difficult one to answer. I don't believe that the decisions we make are ruled either by the heart or by the head. I am sure they are formed by a combination of both. In my case the balance may fall more on the heart's side for I know that many of my sympathies lie deep in my childhood experiences.

During my first primary school years, in the early 1950s I was impressed, proud and entranced by the courageous deeds of the Scottish heroes my teachers at Liff Road School, Miss Wilson and Miss Gilchrist described as they told us about the struggles William Wallace and Robert the Bruce faced in trying to gain independence from Scotland. I was entranced to the extent that when, at about the age of eight, I was asked in my English lesson to write a poem, I took out my pencil opened my exercise book and began to scribble a poem about making Scotland free. Its opening lines were this couplet :

Come on you Scots don't be like cattle
Draw out your swords and charge into battle!

This is all I remember of the poem.  When I showed the poem to my mother she liked it but my father, a mainly dour engineer did not : more of that on another occasion. You'll agree the couplet does not indicate the first flowering of a poetic genius. I'm still fond of it though because it is the earliest signal in my memory which marks me out as someone who wanted independence for Scotland. Though other thoughts and priorities may at times have got in the way I have never lost this deep-felt desire. My view on Scottish independence has never changed. Of course, in other pieces of writing I have offered up what might be described as more sophisticated reasons for supporting Scottish independence, but my political star on that issue was fixed at the moment before I'd set the pencil to my exercise book.

For me the referendum being held tomorrow on September 18th, 2014 is a now or never event. A lifetime's desire will be satisfied or it will be thwarted. If the people of Scotland do not vote YES then I cannot see another opportunity to seek independence arising in the years remaining to me. Whatever way it goes, this is my last campaign.


Jan Noble writes

Hi Charles

I have followed your blog for a long time. I’ve enjoyed it, laughed at and with it, been moved and stirred up by it at times but I’ve always kept quiet. I’ve never been a 'letters to the editor’ sort but I thought I should respond today. No, I’m not a gloating Englishman nor is this sporting applause as brave Scotland walks defeated back to the pavilion. I think all I want to say was how important your blog is and has been in the last few months leading up to the independence referendum. 

Personally I am glad of the result. And although my girlfriend, an Italian, informs me that last night she dreamt I leapt ecstatically from a tower block draped in a union jack ironically shouting “Yes” when the “No” vote was announced, I can assure you this says much about the Italians and nothing about myself or my views. The thing is I was not drawn into the debate but rather put off by it and the grey suited arguments presented by both camps. Your blog however was a voice I heard and listened to throughout. More personal than political and without tactical canvassing you expressed your opinions, thoughts and feelings and won my ear. I was swayed. I became sympathetic to a Yes vote and I’d say, in this sense, result aside, your campaign was a success. 

The argument is not lost. It continues. I look forward to your future posts. 

Keep writing!


PS I can still sing the words to Scotland's 1978 World Cup song - the first football song I ever learnt. I hope you can take this as some consolation.

Find out what Jan is currently writing and performing at

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