My Family and Other (Political) Animals

So it is said that in such political struggles, even when there are violent political wrongs that should make it clear where oppression comes from, that families will be divided. My family is no exception, and I thought it might be worth sketching that out a little, as some families seek to never raise the question at all. I’ll start with one family member who, although probably the most passionate supporter of independence, will definitely not be voting in September.

I remember the last time that my father spoke to me about independence for Scotland. He was someone who had been taken in by the personal assurance of the former prime minister Lord Alec Douglas Home that if the Labour devolution package contained in the Scotland act 2012 was rejected, the Conservatives would bring forward a better version when they gained office. My father worked in financial services, for the Scottish Widows Fund, so was naturally ‘right’ leaning – but of course, when Margaret Thatcher took power, devolved government for Scotland singularly did not happen (although one can argue that she did much to pave the way not just for devolution, but even the rise in support for the independence opportunity that we have today). My father felt cheated and lied to by a party that he had trusted, and he never really forgave them for it. So when we spoke on the matter that last time, he said that although he would not see it, he was confident that independence for Scotland would happen in my lifetime. He died in 2005, two short of the SNP’s first Holyrood win, still angry at what he felt was a profound betrayal by the party that he had trusted in 1979.

My mother is a little different – although also ‘somewhat’ to the right, she, unlike my father, voted against joining the European community. This made her a bit of a special case, when it came time to try to fulfil Margo MacDonald’s challenge (delivered at the first September independence rally at Princes Street Gardens in 2012) for each of us to convert one other person to Yes. Margo’s rationale was simple – if all of us current supporters converted just one other person each to Yes, then we would win the Referndum at a canter. (Frankie Boyle’s counter-suggestion was that we each convert 10,000 people…) So my mother seemed the best target to go for. First of all, I got her involved in the Scottish Government’s online consultation exercise, and obtained a copy of the White Paper for her (she is 86, and neither a silver surfer nor Kindle-adept). What I have found interesting, is her instinctive rejection of Better Together representatives as untrustworthy, regardless of how much their position should intuitively fit with her beliefs. In the process, I have seen her drift away from ‘No’ – and Alistair Darling’s performance in the first debate was particularly effective in this regard. (‘They said he was Chancellor, but I don’t remember him – was he really?’ ‘Yes, Mum. He was the one in post when the banks went under.’)

In opposition to my mother’s drift to ‘Yes’ sits my sister, with weekly telephone calls to try and turn that tide backwards. A former (successful and long-serving) LibDem Councillor in Fife, she was shamefully stabbed in the back by a clique in her party during a deselection exercise, and was removed from the seat that she had held for years. She then went to work for a local LibDem MSP – just before the party’s near-total 2011 wipeout at Holyrood. She campaigns for a ‘No’ – and, in part, I feel that her campaigning is almost one last attempt to try to prove her loyalty to her party, so that they will take her back – but that may be unfair. In terms of reasons beyond that, she spoke to me once of a friend she had from Bosnia, who said that ‘there were no good nationalisms’. As much as I understand where her friend was coming from, my sister knew that I had done a fair bit of research on that part of the world and its history (ancient and modern), and it did not alter my perspective at all on the Referendum in Scotland. Ten years older than myself, I’m fairly sure that she understands that there is a distinctive Scottish political identity – she once joked with me that the reason that ‘the English’ tried to demean Scotland was because we had had an Enlightenment, and they had not. It’s certainly an interesting perspective…but as someone with political awareness I completely respect her opinion, even if I think it is misguided. She once told me she similarly respected Lesley Riddoch – so I (perhaps mischievously) got her ‘Blossom’ as a present for last Xmas.

Then there is my brother. He followed my father’s wartime footsteps by joining the RAF after qualifying as a chemical engineer, and has competed at sporting events under both GB and Scotland. But, realistically, a lot of people are subjected to the ‘British mindset’ in the armed forces, in a way that few are in the civilian sector, so seems less likely to be persuaded to ‘Yes’. (We’ll leave to one side the letter sent to all civil servants last week urging them that they had a responsibility to vote ‘No’.) Its true that he sometimes ‘Likes’ some of my more pro-independence posts on FaceBook, but that may just be the humour that appeals to him, so I’m not reading anything into it. We’ll see – I’m not going to raise it with him, and he is pretty unlikely of raising it with me, regardless of his personal decision. Fair enough.

So that’s us – 1 definite Yes, 1 definite No…and I’d flatter myself that I can manage to get that to 2-2. A family divided? Well – probably no more than many, and I doubt that it will have much impact on us long-term. I mean, at least one of us is going to be saying ‘I told you so’, regardless of the result.

And that person, I’m sad to say, is probably going to be me…


“Trust yourselves – we can and DO make good decisions.” (Kate Higgins, Women for Independence)

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