This blog is mostly about my forays into fiction writing, but you might have spotted it occasionally veers off-topic into important interests, like Eurovision and how unruly Ross Poldark’s hair is on the telly. I don’t often head into political territory, mostly because I subscribe to the Scottish maxim of ‘never talk about religion, politics or football’, and also because I tend to leave it to folk like Charlie Stross who can probably word it better.
That said, I’m making an exception today. Hope you don’t mind.
Like a whole boatload of people, I joined the SNP after the referendum. I wasn’t really a political person before, but it turns out that getting together with like-minded people and chatting to folk on the street about what really grinds their gears is actually quite fun. Before I knew it, I’d been to the 1000-strong Women for Independence meeting in Perth, the Edinburgh leg of Nicola Sturgeon’s 2014 tour (and I have the T-shirt to prove it!), the Radical Independence Conference and the Edinburgh WFI conference. And- a big deal for an ambivert verging on introvert- I’ve been out and about leafleting and canvassing. This politics business can be addictive.
Last week, my inbox told me the SNP were launching their manifesto, and that members could come along free. Being a filthy freelance I thought ‘eh, why not?’, and so it was that I found myself driving to a climbing arena several miles outside Edinburgh and wandering through a former quarry, half-expecting a Cyberman to jump out like some cheap 80s Doctor Who episode. I got chatting to a lovely lawyer called Graham who’d come down from Helensburgh; he’s somewhat of a veteran, having joined up in 1976. I was impressed by the scale of the organisation- we were herded in quickly, there was a big mountain of Danish pastries and the arena was nicely decked out for Nicola. Sadly, I’ll have to disappoint Twitter followers who hoped she’d abseil down the main wall to address the crowd. That would’ve been brill. Anyway, the place was packed, and to prove it I had to slalom round the cars people abandoned because they ran out of parking spaces shortly after I arrived. Cor.
Several things strike me about Nicola. For one thing, she’s a fantastic speaker. The polls from the televised leaders’ debates have seen her come out on top because of her easy manner and her lack of shouting. I rather like that she gives pretty good answers to questions; she has facts and figures ready to bring out, and she never seems ruffled by even the harshest questions. And while some were sensible and good-natured, including the one from ‘up and coming young Telegraph journalist’ Alan Cochrane, there were a few howlers. Exhibit A: The BBC reporter asking if she was a ‘hypocrite’ for railing against the right-wing government then ‘imposing your left-wing ideology on the rest of the UK’. A moderate rumble of disapproving grumbles ensued. Everyone respected Nicola’s request to listen politely to the questions, no matter how silly. There was no pantomime booing, if that’s what the press has been reporting. Just saying. I think Bella Caledonia’s take on it was about right for the sense of piling on poor Nicola got.
(Oh, and asking ‘why do you think the English are scared of you?’ got the answer it deserved, namely ‘I don’t think they are’ and ‘my inbox is heaving with people from other parts of the UK asking if they can vote SNP’. She talked of extending the hand of friendship, and as someone with an English husband I say hello England, I think you’re lovely and deserve a bit better than the current shower of cocks. I think Nicola’s response deserves this picture…)
You know what else was good? We have a woman in charge. It’s refreshing to watch First Minister’s Questions and see three of Scotland’s parties led by women. I might disagree with their policies, but so far Ruth Davidson has been polite and reasonable in debates, and Kezia’s been alright too. You get the impression they all go down the pub afterwards, rather than duke it out in the street. (The high point has to be the tennis skiving conspiracy on Twitter. Fab.) Nicola mentioned Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru today, and wouldn’t it just be fantastic to have a hung parliament with the two of them? Natalie can join in too, like in this excellent cartoon and this lovely picture from one of the debates…
Maybe that’s why the media and Westminster are so fearty. Women are finding a political voice, and maybe not everyone likes what they have to say. Which is a shame. I offered a spot of tongue-in-cheek Twitter commentary earlier, but I was pretty darn impressed today. I’ve had a wee read of the manifesto in the glorious sunshine instead of upping my Camp NaNo wordcount, and here’s the bits I liked:
- Anti-austerity measures, especially plans to spend the money currently used as a bedroom tax mitigation fund to end food poverty. Food banks are an absolute disgrace.
- NHS plans. I was pleased the plan is to restore the system to a public service across England and Wales. Privatisation utterly wrecked my local surgery down south, especially in matters gynaecological.
- More support for disabled people and carers, blocking plans to cut Disability Living Allowance and piloting carer’s leave. As someone with a disabled mother, this means a lot.
- Scrapping Trident. I spend half my fictional time in the 80s. I don’t want Threads or public information films like this to be an actual Thing.
- Investing in infrastructure for both Scotland and the north of England. As an ethnic Yorkshireman, I suspect my dear husband will approve.
- £100 million over 5 years for the mental health innovation fund. As someone whose brain occasionally goes splat, and with many friends in similar situations, this is vital.
- Spending a fairer share of the BBC licence fee on the creative sector. The creative sector always needs more love. The BBC can just cut back on Poldark’s hairspray, or whatever.
- Removing VAT on sanitary products. This was hiding somewhere near the end of the manifesto, but given that women’s bodies are still treated as if basic things like this are ‘luxuries’, I’d just like to mini-fistbump this proposal.
So all in all I think it was a very good use of a Monday morning. As an added bonus, my good purple-haired self probably got on half the TV channels, plus during a wander down the Union Canal towpath to kill time I had a cracking idea for the second book, so that’s a bonus. And in a tiny metaphor for my political existence, on my way back I wandered past a linen-suited hack and his wife, who gazed upon my tiny SNP badge and recoiled in horror; then the next person I met was a cheery lady asking for directions to the pub the hack was heading to. I clocked her rainbow-coloured CND and Yes badges, and there was a knowing smile exchanged, then we went our separate ways.
It’s a fine time to be a politically-minded woman. Oh yes.