Billy Sangster

Political Persuasion

I took absolutely no interest in politics until after I'd left school and was working as an electrical apprentice, when it dawned on me that I'd be eligible to vote in the next general election. I decided to have a look to see who I'd be voting for.

The Conservative party seemed the right choice for me, as a proud admirer of my father's achievements in his classic rags-to-riches story. I decided their ideals suited the way I was going to lead my life; work hard, invest, capitalise, grow rich.

Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of Great Britain at that time. The Iron Lady leathered the unions, shut down the ship yards, the coal mines and threw countless people onto the dole, destroying established institutions, communities and families along the way. Tough medicine.

She introduced the Poll Tax to Scotland, trying it out up here before introducing it in the rest of the country. We were the guinea pigs.

She agreed to install the Trident nuclear deterrent at Faslane in the West of Scotland, a place far enough away from Westminster as to give no cause for concern. Out of sight, out of mind.

After a couple of years taking notice in what was happening, slowly the idea of voting Conservative did not now look to me like it was the best plan after all. Because I wasn't self employed, I now saw the reality of what the Conservatives stood for. These people seemed devoid of an important thing. A quality my father had in abundance and I'd overlooked somewhat in seeing exactly why he'd been successful, focussing instead on his working ethic.

That quality was empathy.

In hindsight, I'm glad that election hadn't been a couple of years earlier, when I'd have probably voted Conservative. I needed those first couple of years of experience in the workplace to form an opinion based in experience and not how I viewed things theoretically.

That is the reason I am cautious about giving sixteen year-olds the right to vote. I believe they're old enough to understand, formulate and express and an honest enough opinion, but I worry that the opinion they have is too heavily influenced by parents, teachers and government propaganda.

Our local MP was the Conservative Albert McQuarrie at the time. The "Buchan Bulldog" had his seat there for a couple of terms, since he'd won it from the Scottish Nationalist Douglas Henderson in 1979. I'd missed being old enough to vote in the 1983 election, but I'd be old enough for the next one.

Coinciding with my ability to vote at the next General Election came by ability to drink in pubs. Among the varied topics of discussion my best friend and I indulged in during those early days of developing our social skills in our chosen local was invariably that of politics. Blissfully unaware of the adage that religion and politics should be avoided at all costs when in a less than sober state, we talked of newspaper headlines, decisions and policies for many an hour, hammering out and forming opinions that would see us through the next twenty years or so.

One of the things we both definitely agreed on was that at the next polling day we'd be voting for the Scottish National Party.

There was a "new kid on the block" at that time, labelled a firebrand by some, the young Alex Salmond was to represent the Nationalist party for our area in the upcoming 1987 election. We decided we'd lend a hand to help oust the Conservative candidate. It seemed a long shot, as McQuarrie seemed firmly entrenched in his position, but we we couldn't just sit back and watch it happen.

We didn't have the money to join a political party, but noticing a small ad in the local paper, we did know that it was possible to volunteer to help out, so we turned up at the address given (much to the apparent bemusement of the other party members there, I think) and offered our services. We were given two massive bundles of the two paged colour SNP "paper" and set about delivering them to houses in the streets allocated to us, retiring for a well earned, self satisfied pint afterwards.

We were surprised, to say the least, to learn that Mr. Salmond had won the seat when the votes were counted, proud of the small part we'd played in making this happen.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Nationalists only managed to win three seats at that election and this tempered the elation somewhat. Our voice had been heard in our wee area, but it was but a drop in the ocean of Westminster politicians. Thatcher had won for the third term in a row. This depressed me.I realised then how unlikely it was that Scottish Independence would ever happen. It would take a monumental change people's thinking and pursuing it now seemed like a daunting, soul destroying task that would never occur in our lifetime.

I remained loyal to the cause of independence, but in my heart I feared that it could never be achieved in reality.

Thatcher remained in power until her lieutenants and generals stabbed her in the back in nineteen ninety. Ninety two saw the next general election where her successor, John Major, managed a surprise victory again for the Tories. Their fourth consecutive term in office.

This made me feel quite forlorn as my country continued to be treated with indifference by the Westminster government. Apathy with the political system in the UK set in, a feeling of democratic impotence prevailing.

The bland and lack-lustre Mr. Major continued the Conservative rule for five long years, however, slowly but surely cracks started appearing in the armour of the Tory old guard, helped in no small part by the rising popularity of a young, dynamic new leader chosen by the Labour party after the sad death of Neil Kinnock's successor, John Brown, in nineteen ninety four. Tony Blair was a breath of fresh air in UK politics, utilising a more US-centric, almost presidential style of leadership.

My growing political apathy halted for a while during the run up to that Labour election win, as part of their manifesto was the promise of a referendum on a brand new parliament for Scotland. This proposed institution would bring with it powers for Scotland denied since the advent of the Union. Among those things to be devolved were to be the health, education, justice and agriculture. In my eyes it was a step in the right direction and my faith in the political process was somewhat restored when the Scottish electorate also decided that it was a good opportunity by voting 'yes' in that historic referendum in 1997.

Democracy seemed, in a small way, to be believable again. The first Scottish Parliament Elections were held in nineteen ninety nine. Labour commanded a majority under Donald Dewar, the Scottish Nationalists were second, with the Conservatives and Liberals coming third and fourth respectively.

This all seemed like a dream come true to me. A much fairer proportional voting system meant that even the Green party, which had no outright winner in a constituency, still got a seat in the parliament. At last democracy seemed to me to be working and worth taking interest in again.

There was still a fly or two in the ointment, though and the wee beastie that was annoying me was the fact that we still had no control over income tax, relying instead on the Barnett Formula handout from Westminster. We were still subjugated, to a certain extent, by our Southern keepers.

Labour continued to hold the majority in the two thousand and three election under Jack McConnell, who became leader of that party after the resignation of Henry McLeish, the leader chosen after the sad death of Donald Dewar in 2000.

In the years following the first Scottish Parliamentary elections, the Scottish National Party seemed, in hindsight, to be in some disarray. Alex Salmond resigned his position as party leader while continuing to serve as both an MP in Westminster and an MSP in Holyrood. John Swinney took the reigns, but didn't quite cut the mustard as a party leader, failing to increase the Nationalists' share of the seats in 2003.

Salmond became leader again the year after and decided he would contest a seat for the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary Elections. He duly did so and turned the fortunes of the party around in the process. They won the election by a majority of once seat and formed a minority government. Once again, things were looking up for the independence cause. The SNP did a good enough job in what was previously called the Scottish Executive but was now called Scottish Government in that term, so much so that in the 2011 elections they won an outright majority. Good governance along with the financial crisis of 2008 contributed to this bloodying of the Labour Party's nose, so much so that it really hasn't totally recovered from that even in this present day.

Now, with a clear majority, the time was finally ripe to put the question to the people of Scotland: Do we want to become a proper nation again?

I could scarcely believe what was happening. We were going to get a chance to decide Scotland's future. The date was set for September the 18th, 2014 and since it was announced, campaigning from both sides has been ramping up.

So it seems pretty obvious which way my vote will be cast, but although the Nationalist government have made a decent enough job of running the country for the last few years, it isn't with them in mind that I'll be voting for independence. I see them more as a vehicle to become independently minded. As far as I'm concerned, the SNP had be as well disband if independence is gained next year. They will have served their purpose for me and I wonder if they reach their goal then the common bond that served as a glue in the party is gone then allegiances might change. I fully expect a time of some turmoil in that case, before things settle down politically.

It never ceases to amaze me the amount of people I meet that are still planning on voting against independence. Their reticence and fear are understandable however, as the UK media seem to be peddling the propaganda of the anti-independence campaign at every turn. "Project Fear" as we have come to know it, preys on the unknown. I don't blame the public for believing this nonsense, but all it takes is a step back to see the big picture.

The UK Labour party don't want independence as the block Scottish vote they receive in a general election is crucial to their desire to govern again.

The Scottish Labour party don't want independence because they are controlled by the UK Labour party.

The UK Conservative party don't want independence because they don't want to see an end to the oil revenue which has propped up up a good chunk of the UK economy for the past thirty years, apart from that I think they'd be glad to get rid of us.

The Scottish Conservatives obey their masters.

The Liberal Democratic party don't want independence for, well, I don't really know as they're becoming more irrelevant with each manifesto pledge they break in their coalition agreement with the Conservatives.

The Scottish Liberal Democratic party are... One MSP.

So, as it stands the process seems to be: YES campaign issue some positive arguments and gain a little ground in the opinion polls; NO campaign turn up the screws in Project Fear and are welcomed by the UK-wide media. Scottish public believes the scare stories. YES campaign lose a little ground in the opinion polls. Rinse. Repeat.

Meanwhile the public get ever more weary with the whole debate.

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