Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Piecharts And Marmite Eck

Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Don’t worry, I’m not having delusions of grandeur. Rather I’ve been taking the refined air of Haddington, the ancient market town and capital of my home county. But the Shakespearean battle quote is somewhat apt; I’ve been waging a gentle, polite war on the streets on behalf of Scottish independence.

As a Green the prospect of Holyrood having control over foreign affairs and the welfare state isn’t usually what gets me out of bed in the morning but it’s the front and centre issue of the moment and we’ve picked a side. I say we but in fact there remain a range of views within the Green movement because it’s not our reason for being.

It’s been interesting getting involved with some of the local SNP foot soldiers, who are clearly a well drilled regiment. Of course at this stage the engagement with the public isn’t the same as during elections when an indication of voting preference is sought; at this stage we’re trying to begin two-way conversations with people about their current thinking on the issue, any questions they have and what information they would like to help them decide, assuming they already haven’t.

As a "Belter" fae Tranent I’ve always thought of Haddington as a well-to-do place. I mentioned this to someone from Gullane and they chortled. Ah yes, the social structure of East Lothian is a multi-layered and complex pattern, rather like the Argyle jumpers of the dapper golfers that pepper our landscape like mini-woollen wind turbines.

One of the three councillors for Haddington is a Tory and East Lothian has a Labour MP (the Tories came second) and a constituency Labour MSP. So, I was expecting a fair bit of pro-Union banter when I took to the streets but what transpired was genuinely amazing.

Over the course of a couple of hours most people were happy to take information and preferred not to discuss the issue - several commenting September 2014 is still a while away yet. Of those who said they had already decided how to vote most were No. When I asked why the reasons given were enlightening.
Graphics via the Bairn's Crayola Qwikflip Easel

I would say a quarter of them cited “Salmond - I don‘t like him” with another quarter saying SNP policies were putting them off. I did try explaining I’m not a cheerleader for Marmite Eck (you either love him or hate him) and I’m still planning to vote Yes, and I also tried pointing out grumbles about the actions of government were just that and not related to the referendum. If you don’t like what the Nats are doing to the health service, vote them out in 2016 and by the way in a Scottish election you get two votes with almost half the MSPs elected in a proportional way so your choices are more likely to be reflected than Westminster’s staggeringly unfair system.

Most of the Nos however gave frankly bizarre reasons. One woman said her grandkids lived in England and a vote for independence would turn them overnight into foreigners. It’s difficult to know what to say to that mix of emotion and illogic. I’ve got an uncle in Canada and I think of him as, er, my uncle. 

I was also intrigued by a couple of folk who wanted to know what “it” would be like. “It” being the future under independence. Not having a Delorian, a working flux capacitor and a spare gigawatt I was unable to definitely state what the future would be like but explained at least we’d have more of a say in issues that affect us, and what’s more we’d probably be involved in shaping a constitution. I got the distinct impression these folk struggled with the concept of the people deciding, instead being used to politics as something decided by men in smoke-filled rooms with decision communicated to them via the tabloids.

In much the same way that I found the Scottish election campaign of 2011 mostly about explaining to people HOW to vote rather than WHY vote Green I feel the referendum is still an abstract concept for most folk. At least the conversations I had in Haddington left some punters wondering about the possibilities. I can’t wait to head back unto that breach. 

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