A Political Journey (Saying Sorry)

Here’s a confession: I used to really dislike the SNP.  I’d go so far as to say I actively disliked them. Were my reasons valid? I’m not sure. I voted against Scottish independence in 2014 because I didn’t find the SNP’s case to be credible, and I believed Scotland would be out of the EU if we left the UK. 

From my perspective, the 2014 referendum was exhausting. For those of us on the No side, there were no marches, no gatherings, no messages of togetherness or hope. For us there was nothing but negative news (‘project fear’) and a really uneasy feeling in the gut that we were voting against fear instead of voting for hope.

As I’ve said many times, there was no joy in saying no, and I felt low for months afterwards – which is part of what caused me to dislike the SNP. I held them responsible for my low mood because I felt they’d pushed me into making an awful decision I didn’t want to make. And I worried they were going to ask me to do it again in the near future.

At the time of the first Scottish referendum, I wasn’t a member of any political party, and I’d not paid much attention to Scottish politics. I joined Labour in 2015 because I wanted to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. At the time, people told me it was a mistake, but I didn’t understand. To me, he represented the best in politics – a man with integrity who didn’t toe the party line. He wasn’t going to exchange silly barbs at PMQs, and instead would put forth questions from normal, decent people who wanted to see a change in the way things were done. We’d all had enough of austerity, and Corbyn seemed the man to change it. (Lord, was I an idiot!)

As I sat shocked in front of the TV on the morning of June 24, 2016, Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the BBC saying that ‘article 50 must now be invoked.’ I was gobsmacked. How could someone who claimed to be working for ordinary decent people not see the chaos Brexit would unleash? I am not one to talk to television sets, but I distinctly remember saying ‘you wanted this!’ and I quit the Labour Party that morning (which, by the way, they never acknowledged until my membership fees were due again).

I spent the next couple of months feeling sad and lost – unrepresented by any party as both Labour and the Tories chased the UKIPy Brexit vote. The Liberal Democrats were making the right noises, but they’d lost so much trust after forming a coalition with the Tories and going back on their promise not to raise tuition fees. I wasn’t sure they’d recover, but when a Lib Dem candidate did quite well in a by-election in October, I decided to try to support them by joining the party.

At first I felt I’d done the right thing. I was surrounded by likeminded people who felt that leaving the EU would be a disaster. Everyone was lovely and welcoming, and I had a little hope that things might be alright, but something was niggling me. For the first time since moving to Scotland 16 years ago, I felt a sense of separateness. The Lib Dems were saying the right things, but I couldn’t get fully on board with them. I know now that this was because they were only ever going to look after the UK as a whole, even if the various regions were not best served. I left the party a couple of months after joining because I couldn’t support a party I felt was not looking after the best interests of Scotland.

Since the Brexit vote, I’d noticed Nicola Sturgeon, Alyn Smith, and Angus Robertson were articulating my thoughts and beliefs better than any member of a national party were. Of course, it was probably a mistake as they were all SNP politicians – and I didn’t like the SNP – but I took my first genuine comfort since the Brexit vote in their words. But how could this be? I didn’t like the SNP! Or did I? I began to ask myself what I actually knew about them. As it turned out, not a lot.

Here’s what I’ve since found out since taking a little time to educate myself. The SNP government spends millions mitigating horrific Tory polices. They’ve protected vulnerable people from the bedroom tax, and have been extremely outspoken against the rape clause. They welcomed refugees when other parts of the UK wouldn’t. They legalised equal marriage. They’ve introduced baby boxes to help every baby born in Scotland get a decent start in life. And the SNP has denounced Brexit and the democratic deficit in Scotland since the vote to leave the EU.

Turns out, the SNP is political party speaking for me and my beliefs, and I didn’t see or hear it because I was blinded by the past. If I could forgive the LibDems for tuition fees, could I not forgive the SNP for not doing a better job in the 2014 independence referendum?

Well, yes. I could and I have. I’m not ready to join the party, but I will be casting my ballot for them on May 4th and again on June 8th. And if I’m given the opportunity, I will vote for Scottish independence. I will also be a little more grateful for the humanism and decency of people like Nicola Sturgeon and SNP politicians who do a good job of representing Scotland*.

I have to say that writing this little piece was hard because it forced me to admit to some silly beliefs and grudges I’d held onto for far too long. But here is the bottom line: I’m a liberal person with a slightly left-leaning perspective and I’m lucky to live in a country where most of my fellow citizens feel the same. I don’t consider myself a nationalist, but for the first time since moving to the UK all those years ago, I do feel Scottish.

As the Tories drag the UK into a chaotic Brexit, Scotland has a choice. We can say no to xenophobia, no to cruel cuts that harm the poor, no to economic catastrophe, and no to trade deals with the likes of Donald Trump – which is exactly what the SNP is doing. I’m over holding my stupid grudge and will do my best to make amends for being, well, stupid.

* My MSP is Michael Matheson, with whom I’ve met on several occasions. I am extremely lucky to have such a kind, compassionate, and understanding MSP.  I could not ask for better representation. The same goes for my MP John McNally, who I’ve met once and corresponded with on several occasions. He’s worked hard to fight Brexit in the Commons and I’m grateful for his and the SNP’s stance on social issues and environmental issues, as well as Brexit.  The fact these two gentlemen have been nothing but excellent really adds to the silliness of my grudge.

21.04.17 Edited to fix a mistake I made. I stated that ScotGov was the first to legalise equal marriage. England and Wales were first.

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