I really should have written this last night but since Monday’s debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling the Twittersphere has been going completely mental with positive, up-beat pro-independence messages and it has been nigh on impossible to drag myself away. And to top it all, yesterday saw the launch of the total car-crash of a Better Together video, aimed squarely at the Undecided women of Scotland and a new meme was created and #PatronisingBTLady trended at record speed. Try tearing yourself away from that! I couldn’t. (Don’t worry non-Twittery readers, normal service will resume in the next paragraph.)
At the weekend I learned that the Right Honourable Jim Murphy MP (Labour MP for East Renfrewshire) was gracing Banchory, Inverurie, Aberdeen and Stonehaven with his presence as part of his 100 towns in 100 days tour of Scotland in which he is campaigning on behalf of No Thanks/Better Together/UKOK (or whatever they are calling themselves this week) for Scotland to remain in the UK (and, completely incidentally I am sure, for Jim Murphy’s job at Westminster to remain secure for the foreseeable future, him being senior enough in the Labour Party that he gets a safe(ish) seat). If you google Mr Murphy you will find screeds of article detailing his voting record, his expenses scandals and other such niceties so I won’t go into any of that here, but suffice to say I am not a fan of the man* or his politics.
I had thought I might make a point of going to all of Mr Murphy’s speeches to wave my Yes saltire but in the end I decided I was only going to attend the Aberdeen session. I was just going to go along by myself but then the call went out on Facebook, ‘could you set up a Yes stall to coincide with his talk?’ How could I say no! So I, along with a number (20, 30, 40? quite a few anyway) other Yes campaigners from various branches of the ‘movement’ met up outside Marks & Spencers to show the people of Aberdeen that Mr Murphy’s views were opposed by many and to provide them with information about the benefits of independence. Ok, and to heckle Mr Murphy as well, let’s be honest about it.
Imagine my delight, when I drove the #YesPleaseVan onto Netherkirkgate, to see that Nicola Sturgeon was there speaking to people in the square! I have admired Ms Sturgeon for as long as I can remember her. She is an extremely able politician, head and shoulders above so many in UK politics, and if she has faults as a person or as a politician (which she must, she is human after all) I am not aware of them. I also have a degree of personal connection to her as well because I have family living in her former Govan constituency and she was very helpful to them in some difficult times. Only doing her job I suppose, but doing it well and with genuine human warmth and feeling. I was very happy to be able to catch a moment with her and thank her for those actions as well as what she is doing for the benefit of the people of Scotland. I dearly hope that she becomes First Minister** of Scotland one day soon regardless of the outcome of this referendum as, other than Alex Salmond, I can’t think of any current Scottish politician who is qualified for the job. I didn’t manage to get a photo taken with Nicola so you will have to take my word that I met her but somebody did manage to get this image of her with my wee van in the background (and I think that was my Yes sign she is holding up & a photographer borrowed my Yes baseball cap so it might have made its way into the papers too).
Anyway, Ms Sturgeon and her entourage left, just before Mr Murphy was due to arrive at 4pm, to put her on the ferry to Shetland and we waited. And we waited. And waited.
We waited while a small crowd of No Thanks badge wearers gathered for the big man. I am not personally acquainted with any Labour or Tory councillors in Aberdeen (I’ve now met a few SNP ones through the campaign) but I know many by name if not to recognise their faces and I am told that most of the people gathering for Jim were these councillors (strange bedfellows, Tories and Labour). What I can certainly say is that whoever the people were they were uniformly middle aged, middle class and well dressed (suits and ties mainly) and mostly men whereas the (larger) group of Yes supporters were all ages (youngest 16, oldest over 70), from a wide socio-economic range, a fair spread of dress styles from suits to tie-dyed t-shirts, representing both genders (though still mainly men it has to be said) and of diverse political persuasions and perspectives (Tory/LibDem sorts, SNP supporters and radical socialist).
Mr Murphy eventually appeared about 4.45pm and spoke – sans microphone (one of the Yes guys offered him one) – for a while. I would say there 50-70 people there with my rough breakdown of numbers as 50% independence supporters, 30% NTUKOKBT (mainly said councillors) and 20% passers-by who, judging by how many of them asked me ‘who is that guy?’, were clearly not there to hear Jim speak. He was heckled by the Yes crowd with me throwing in a few shouted comments as well (my early Army training taught me how to project my voice – CLAP ‘Clearly, Loudly, As an order, with Pauses’ – and later years working on-board ships and dealing with crowds of people in the police refined the skill, well volume anyway). This is my flag doing the photo-bombing, though I wasn’t holding at the time (I would lay odds on the woman in the fore-ground not being a UKOKNTBT supporter).
I can’t recall everything he said but I do remember him commenting on the strength of the UK economy (my shouted reply, ‘£1.4 trillion national debt’); Alex Salmond’s expenses (I mean, really Jim? Mr Salmond has not been investigated in relation to his parliamentary expenses; you have); a vote for independence being a vote against internationalism (because making England/rUK an international destination is somehow ‘national’… I’m confused, but clearly not as much as Mr Murphy appears to be); and then some decidedly odd comments about ‘peaceful Irish nationalism being the ‘complete opposite of Scottish nationalism’ (because we just can’t stop lobbing bombs around, obviously) because ‘they want to join with another country’ while we ‘want to separate one’ (completely ignoring the fact that for the Irish nationalists to get their way and join Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland together they must separate Northern Ireland from the UK. Duh).
These comments about Irish nationalism may have arisen due to a question or two from some of the Yes guys (who were from Glasgow) but what did strike me was that Mr Murphy’s comments (along with ones about his own Irish-Catholic origins) were the sort that would speak to those in the sectarian communities of West Central Scotland but aren’t really understood elsewhere in Scotland. Another example, perhaps, of the people in the centres of power (the Central Belt or London) not understanding or appreciating that the issues that concern them most are not necessarily those the rest of us are dealing with. I didn’t grow up in Glasgow but my family are from there and I lived there long enough to have a pretty good handle on the sectarian divide and understand the under-currents and coded language (‘what school did you go to?’ is not a question about what academic education you received) but the last twelve years in Aberdeen have shown me that people here don’t necessarily understand or appreciate that stuff beyond a fairly superficial level. That, I might add, is a Very Good Thing™ because it indicates ‘Scotland’s Shame‘ is not a universal problem.
My experience of the event was quite a positive one. I had elected (with assistance from another guy) to hold up a large ‘Labour for Independence’ banner right in Mr Murphy’s eyeline at the back of the crowd and he must have heard my shouts but not once did he come close to making eye contact with me though he was prepared to engage directly with ‘The Nationalists™’ heckling him from closer in. Nor did anyone from Aberdeen Labour come anywhere near me (though the looks I was getting should have turned me to stone). Clearly the fact that there are Labour people in favour of independence is too close for comfort and deflects the narrative of ‘it’s all about the SNP and Alex Salmond’ so Mr Murphy just ignored it. I shouted a few one-liners which appeared to go down well with the watching crowd (I got comments of ‘I’m with this guy!’ and so on) and only had one ‘let him speak’ from an irate BTNTUKOK type (and I got more laughs when I replied ‘I’m not stopping him, am I?’) until I was effectively silenced by a very pleasant young man who politely asked me why I was in favour of independence.
David was one of Mr Murphy’s assistants and was extremely polite, well-mannered and willing to listen and to explain his own personal views so we had a good, though brief, chat. I did, at the time, wonder if he was using this as a deliberate tactic to shut me down but decided to speak to him anyway and, after Mr Murphy had finished speaking, we shook hands and he went back to work. A minute or so later I went over to him and congratulated him on a job well done on keeping me quiet and he actually blushed and insisted it wasn’t a deliberate act on his part. I believed him. But I really shouldn’t have taught him that trick should I? So if any readers are heckling Mr Murphy in future and a very nice young man stops to speak to you, smile and ignore him and get on with your shouting!
David was an interesting one for me. He told me he had studied international relations and that his main reason for wanting Scotland to remain in the UK was for the international voice that gave us. We debated some of the ideas and I would have welcomed a longer chat with him and the opportunity to bring the conversation back inside Scotland’s borders as well as considering the international implications. He was young enough to have been a fairly recent graduate (last five years anyway) and he clearly has political or diplomatic ambitions. He said that iScotland would probably offer him more opportunities to develop a career as a diplomat and seemed quite willing to remain in Scotland and make it work if we vote Yes in September. My snap judgement is that he is exactly the sort of talent we will benefit from in time to come. But perhaps his world view has been limited, rather than expanded, by his international relations perspective and is an example of why the course of school-university-political assistant-politician does not serve a country well. Without blowing my own trumpet (too loudly), my perspective on life is filtered through my schooling (in two countries), time spent at three different universities and two colleges (I’m not a slow learner, honest, I just enjoy studying widely different topics), unemployment and low-paid, low-skilled work through to well-paid, highly skilled private sector employment, public service in the army and police and charity work as well as periods of time working and living overseas and with people from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I can see beyond domestic politics or my own issues but all the international presence that a country might have pales into naught if the major issues of poverty and deprivation at home are not addressed. I can’t help but feel that the country would be a better place if all those with political ambition had to served their time – an apprenticeship of life perhaps – in the ‘real world’ for a decade or so before being allowed into the game.
If my experience of Jim’s Travelling Circus was pleasant enough, some of my Yes compatriots were not so lucky. Two of the guys were right in the crowd and asking Mr Murphy awkward questions. They reported being physically intimidated and abused with sectarian and racist remarks from BTNTUKOK people (please refer to my paragraph above where I describe who those people were – I will leave you to join the dots) which were the sort that would have got people ‘lifted’ on the spot had I still been a bobby and on duty at the time (obviously, if I were still a bobby I wouldn’t be writing this or taking part in any of the campaigning). Pity we didn’t get it on film. I am disgusted by this sort of behaviour and if I encountered any Yes types indulging in similar I would be all over them like a rash. I will leave others to determine what they think of Better Together if this sort of behaviour is tolerated at their events.
But back to being positive.
The Yes crowd were essentially a happy, upbeat, smiley gathering while UKOKNTBT appeared grim and unsmiling in the main. Even before we had the stall set up people were approaching us for stickers, posters and information. We didn’t need to approach people in the street, simply by being there they came to us in their droves. Sure, it was nice chatting to the Yes folk who wanted to add their names to the Declaration but it was the Undecideds that I was there for and I got to speak to good number of them, answering their questions and helping allay their media instilled fears. There were the awkward No voters who came up to challenge us (easily spotted and rebutted) and there was the highly amusing (or insulting depending on your perspective) incident with the English woman (married to a Scot apparently) who told us she felt ‘offended to see saltires flying in her country’. It was politely suggested that if she wanted to live in England she was welcome to return there but the Scottish flag as the Scottish flag regardless of whether you were pro- or anti-independence. Interestingly she was wearing a No Thanks badge but was hiding it under her jacket when she approached us. She probably feels intimidated by the word Yes and the colours blue and white, though she seemed willing enough to put is in our place. One might speculate that she reads the Daily Mail and is the sort to be intimidated by Black men walking along the street (they’re all criminals, you know) or Asian women wearing head-scarves (suicide bombers in the making, aren’t they) and all the lower orders in general (scroungers, the lot of them). But it wouldn’t do to speculate, so I won’t.
So all in all, it was an extremely good day for the Yes campaign in Aberdeen. I really would like to thank Jim Murphy for taking the time to come to Aberdeen and spread the love for, without him, the Yes campaigners who turned out to speak to the folk of Aberdeen would all have been doing other things and we would never have engaged with so many potential Yes voters. I would like to award Mr Murphy the ‘Irony of the Day’ prize because Yes Aberdeen gathered 150 new signatures in three hours to add to the million plus already gathered throughout Scotland. Add that to the 500 I personally helped gather over the weekend you are going to have to forgive me for feeling just a little bit positive and hopeful about the prospects of a Yes majority on 18th September.
Thank you Jim! Won’t you join us and Vote Yes?
*I will allow that I have a certain (though limited) respect for Mr Murphy as a person for two reasons. Firstly, he is one of very few Scottish pro-Union politicians who is brave enough to step out in public and actually try and address ordinary people in the street and respond to their questions (we’ll ignore the fact that he rarely engages with many of these ordinary people as the bulk of his ‘crowds’ are either his own followers or complete randoms who wonder who this man shouting at them is) and I could see on his face that he was working hard. And secondly, when the tragic events unfolded in Glasgow on 29th November 2013, and the Police helicopter crashed into the Clutha Bar, Jim Murphy happened to be driving past and stopped to help those trapped inside. I was in Glasgow visiting family that day and I, like pretty much every person in Glasgow, had a personal connection to the events of that night. I saw Mr Murphy being interviewed on TV at the scene and it was absolutely clear that he was simply responding to the tragedy as a man and not as a politician trying to make political capital. That speaks well of the man, even if I find his politics distasteful.
** I hope that iScotland will retain the title of ‘First Minister’ for our leading politician and not go with convention and have a Prime Minister or President. ‘First’ implies first among equals, first to lead the way, first to shoulder responsibility. ‘Prime’ indicates someone above the rest, someone who sends others to do the work and face the music if it all goes wrong. ‘Prime’ is the general who shouts ‘charge!’ while ‘First’ is the commander who shouts ‘follow me!’ and risks all with their troops (if you will excuse the military metaphors). Having a ‘First’ rather than a ‘Prime’ minister will confuse the world I am sure, but they will cope. Germany has a ‘Chancellor’ (which to the Brits means the politician who tries to balance the books) and Ireland has a ‘Taoiseach’ (which is a word that means nothing to non-Gaelic speakers but means the world to the Irish) so we can cope with a First Minister I am sure.