I’ve been a political geek for a long time now – certainly back to my early high school days in the late 1980s. As with most people my parents’ political persuasion played a part in where I put myself on the political spectrum – but I quickly found my own path. My first event was a hustings for the Moray electorate during the 1992 UK election campaign. I was there to cheer on Margaret Ewing, wearing my SNP badge – and probably thinking about how clever I was. I asked a question – about higher education if my memory serves – and from there I was hooked.
My time in student politics, as Depute President and then President of the University of Abertay Dundee Students’ Association was the highlight of my political career. It coincided with a place on the National Union of Students (Scotland) executive committee, an eye-opening experience that I remember fondly even now.
Some of the people I worked with went on to become elected politicians in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments – but I could see the writing on the wall from early on and knew it wasn’t for me. For a start I was just too bloody opinionated. And I just couldn’t maintain – or wasn’t willing to commit to – party lines. I found my niche, as someone who could work with all sides and come up with a workable compromise. I’m still very proud of the work my fellow independents and I did to break the Labour domination of the elected positions at NUS Scotland, however briefly. But most of all it was fun.
Age hasn’t changed me, of course. I’m still the same and proud of it. It certainly doesn’t make me better than anyone else, and I wouldn’t claim thus. It does make me less blinded than a decent portion of society, particularly in Scotland. And that’s where it gets really interesting – because I’m something of a Pavlovian political prole.
From my earliest days I’ve been a Rangers fan and that doesn’t sit well with my political beliefs for a lot of people. They were my first love after Tina from Blue Peter and Rentaghost – and have lasted longer than both. I had a season ticket for a few years and even now, 17903.84kms from Glasgow, I still get up in the early hours of the morning to cheer them on. They’re as part of my identity as swearing and XXXL t-shirts. Rangers also comes from my parents – in this case my dad’s side of the family who were Ulster/Scots protestants. But none of that mattered to me. They were my heroes and I didn’t believe in any god – and I certainly was no fan of the assumed unionist politics of the 45,000 who packed Ibrox every week. I once stood outside in the snow rather than watch Rangers being beaten 5-1 by Aberdeen in the mid-80s – that’s how bloody minded I was. Okay, I still am.
It wasn’t until I was a bit older than I realised it was naive of me to think I could separate the two. You can’t, no matter how hard you try and no matter what your stated beliefs are. And that’s because Scottish society is, ultimately, divided. Religion, politics, football, favourite Beechgrove Garden presenter – it doesn’t matter where you draw the line you’ll get division. And it gets even more complicated than that – there’s an old joke that says if three Rangers fans were marooned on a desert island there would be four Rangers Supporters Clubs before the end of the month.
And there’s a kernel of truth in that – because we (as a society) allow our differences to define us rather than focussing on what unites us.
I’m still a paid up member of the Scottish National Party (SNP) because I strongly believe that an independent Scotland in Europe would give Scottish businesses the best hopes of success and allow a Scottish government to prioritise the welfare and care of all our people over tax breaks for the most wealthy in society. That’s a political position and, of course, that’s up for anyone to shoot down, disagree with or argue against. But try having that debate between politial parties, football fans or just between a handful of people in a pub and it all goes to shit.
In the last few months I’ve been called both a cybernat and a yoon – both descriptions used to try and play the man and not the ball (as if there wasn’t enough sport references in here already), unsubtle attempts to belittle an opponent.
I’ve been told I can’t be truly left wing, republican and a supporter of independence if I’m willing to publicly support Rangers. I’ve been dismissed because I tried to call out a prominent SNP supporter for repugnant statements on the Hillsborough disaster and his deliberate misgendering of Chelsea Manning. I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’.
And I can’t be a Rangers fan if I support the SNP. Check out any political posting on FollowFollow.com and, as Billy Connolly once said, I’m as welcome as a fart in a space suit. (And by mentioning Billy Connolly I’ve now proved to those same Rangers fans I can’t possibly be a Rangers fan because Billy supports Celtic. That’s how it works.) And I’ve been told that ‘the other side do it too’. Sounds familiar, right?
It’s bizarre, insidious and, honestly, I’m sick of it. Another independence referendum in Scotland is bound to fail because not enough people will be willing to actually engage in the arguments and make a decision based on them. What do independent economists tell us is most likely to happen? Why are we so unwilling to give up the pound for the euro? Why do we believe it when we’re told we’re not big enough to go it alone when there are other, smaller, more successful countries than us with less resources open to them? No, people will blindly support one side of the other because they’re protestant, catholic, Rangers supporters, Celtic supporters, misognynists, racists… the list could go on and on.
My anger and angst over this has been prolonged due to the despicable Brexit campaign last year (the very definition of a factless argument, way more so than the Scottish independence referendum campaign) and the hastily-called UK election in early June. It’s time that our political leaders – both on this side of the world and in Scotland – did something about it. Because they have to be the ones who make the first steps. It’s their angry rhetoric that helps drive people to embrace the division. Disagree, and debate but do so while keeping what binds us at the forefront. And this applies to politicians of all sides – no-one can claim the moral high ground here.
And the same is true for those who are willing to dismiss someone’s entire being solely on the basis of sport, religion or favoured name for a morning roll (everyone knows it’s a buttery). I embrace Celtic fans who support independence even though I don’t like their football team because to do so would be idiotic. I embrace Rangers fans who don’t want independence for the same reason.
This, of course, does not apply to people for whom hatred is their raison d’être. We see this reflected today in the racism and xenophobia of the right in the USA, UKIP and even in the likes of the dog-whistle politics of Winston Peters in New Zealand. That needs to be called out at every single opportunity and not be allowed to be ignored by the likes of Labour, both here and it the UK, because politically it’s an acceptable move.
I wrote earlier that I was naive – and from everything I’ve written here you’ll see that I still am. Because I don’t think there’s a political or societal will to do what I believe is right for most people. There’s too much money and too much of our identity bound in it for people to take a step back.
And, ultimately, we’re all going to suffer for it.