The voice of the Scottish lion roared on May 7th 2015. The consequence was the election of 56 SNP MP’s to Westminster. That’s got to be a scunner for those who wanted Scotland to vote No to Independence in the hopes that we’d get back in our boxes and know our place. On our knees. Cap in hand.
Because we didn’t. The momentum started by the Yes movement spiralled out into Hope over Fear and saw SNP membership top 100,000 well before #GE2015. It has been history in the making.
And now, as we wake up in this brave new world, what should we do? We should hold their feet to the fire. Alec Salmond seems to be able to turn the soundbite into a useful tool – and we should use this tool to the full.
We now have Great Expectations. We expect those 56 ‘ordinary’ people; because that’s what most of them are (people who are doubtless somewhat amazed to suddenly be given an office in the swishy pile that is Westminster and a salary just shy of £70,000 to boot); we expect them to represent us and manage our hopes and fears.
It’s a bright start to the new dawn of politics. This isn’t ‘new’ Labour or ‘new’ SNP so much as ‘new’ politics. And we need to make sure it’s not just new but thoroughly improved. Already through the likes of Richard Arkless and Chris Law we’ve had a pictorial insight into the ‘corridors of power’ and hopefully they will keep up the use of social media as a platform for direct communication with the Scottish people.
It’s about time social media was used for good rather than ill. The ridiculous attempts by traditional media to smear Mhairi Black because of some youthful ‘tweets’ should be seen for what it is. I don’t think Mhairi herself is phased – she seems quite sanguine - if it’s news that any teenager gabbles shite on Twitter them perhaps the news should refocus – (is my paraphrase of her comments). She’s grown up and moved on. Perhaps it’s time the mainstream media followed suit and gave this 20 year old the respect she deserves.
My hopes for Mhairi are that she will grow into the shoes left by the doyenne of Scottish politics Margo MacDonald. I don’t want her to be a new Margo, she has identity and courage of her own in spades already, but I hope she’ll be somehow cut out of the same mold. And I suspect she is.
My fear for Mhairi, as for many of the 56 is that they fall prey to the ‘soundbite’ first coined by Lord Acton in 1887 "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
And what some Lord said in the late 19th century should be overhauled for the early 21st century. It should not be a truism. Not a soundbite we hold onto. But it is something we need to guard against. Of course we hope that our representatives are going to ‘hold their feet to the fire’ (The Tories) and shake things up. But most importantly we want them to work to change a corrupt system, not become part of it. And this is where perhaps we need to pause a moment and think what part we can play in all this.
Politics just got interesting. For those who only watch soaps or sport or post pictures of cats on Facebook I’m suggesting that perhaps it’s time we all became a lot more involved and a lot more active. I’m not saying you should join rallies, parties or stand for political office. But I am suggesting that we start using the internet, social media and the good old television for purposes other than ‘fun’. It’s time to get a bit serious, folks. Our lives depend on it. All our lives depend on it. We need to wake up from the cosy comfort of being conned that politics isn’t for the likes of us. We’ve just voted the likes of us in there and that doesn’t give us the right to cut them loose and go back to our own creature comforts.
There’s a lot of information out there after all. You can watch Parliamentary activity on TV via BBC Parliament or Parliament.tv . It’s easy enough to do – on TV, mobile, tablet… it could become the soundtrack of your life!? Here’s the link to today’s programmes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcparliament/programmes/schedules/2015/05/18
Previously I’ve always walked away angry from watching Westminster politics on TV, since I don’t like to see people on the pay grade MP’s have sitting around shouting and booing and jeering like primary school kids or football louts. Now I am hopeful that our SNP MP’s will not stoop to this level to get their points across. I am thoroughly looking forward to the first Prime Minister’s Question Time. I hope I won’t be disappointed. Looking at the schedule I can’t see it happening before the beginning of June but if you want the first chance to watch history in the making you should tune in today at 2.15pm when the first televised broadcast of events from Westminster with the new members happens – it’s the swearing in of the new Speaker. Next week on Wednesday it’s the Opening of the Parliament with all the pomp and ceremony. But there’s plenty of ‘business’ to watch too. And similarly in Holyrood. You can watch committees debating all the issues we claim to hold so dear, just about every day of the week. Maybe it’s time we changed our viewing patterns a bit.
My central point is. We need to get pro-active. And we need to hold everyone’s feet to the fire. We need to let them know that we care and we need to let them know that we are watching them. That we expect them to represent us with dignity and with integrity. That nothing less will do. We need to get interested and informed and stay that way. If we’re all in it together then we need to be all in it together. Many of the doors have been opened to us, but we do need to go through them from time to time.
Representative democracy too quickly degenerates into abdication of responsibility on our part. For too long our position has been - We’ve voted them in, it’s their job now – and then we moan at the results. That must change. We want the system to change so we must change too. We must get interested in the workings of Westminster and Holyrood – it may take some time and effort and not be as much ‘fun’ as posting silly pictures on Facebook – but the information is out there – www.gov.scot is a good place to start and then there is http://www.parliament.uk/ There is lots to learn. And we need to start learning. #team56 only have a small amount of time to feedback to us and we need to take the initiative and start opening the doors for ourselves, online.
I wish all the SNP MP’s – #team56 as they have become styled– well in their new jobs and I know that at this point in time they are aware they carry the hopes of a nation on their shoulder. I expect them to honour the trust we’ve put in them. But they should also expect a commitment from us to help keep them on the straight and narrow. Westminster is a dangerous place. Not only because ‘power corrupts’ but also the danger inherent in being part of an elite. If we cut them loose from us we cannot complain when they stop being able to see how to represent us.
And in this respect we also need to become a bit more mature. We need to think of Scotland first, not our own self-interest. Our MP’s (and MSP’s) are there to represent us as a people. Our individual concerns should not always be at the forefront of our interaction with them. We need to understand and appreciate that we all have personal issues and things that are vitally important to us as individuals, but we need to take a deep breath and see that the role of the MP/MSP is to make society work at a more universal level. Of course the individual is reflected in the universal, but if we drown them in the minutiae of personal grievance then we steal time they could usefully be using to deal with more important matters.
As I understand it we have elected them to represent our views on the big issues like health care, social justice, the nuclear threat and human rights (which appears to be becoming the first big battle ground). We do not need to bog them down with our petty concerns. If we can sort these out ourselves we should do so. If we really need help then ask for it, of course, but remember exactly at what level they are representing us. I want the 56 to work to get rid of Food Banks EVERYWHERE not just to keep me myself from needing one. I want them to begin a process that will see the abolition of the House of Lords and the removal of nuclear weapons. They can’t do that while they are being bogged down with thousands of constituents pestering them with personal gripes. We need to develop a sense of proportion.
Historically, Scotland functioned well with a sense of community based support. It may be out of date and increasingly inappropriate in a secular society to expect the kirk to fulfil this role but it is a model which worked well in the past. We should try to develop a secular version of this. Not the Big Society but lots of ‘wee’ societies. Care in the Community needs to be more than a ‘special needs’ agenda, it needs to be the very bedrock of Scotland. WE need to rebuild a Scotland that cares. And caring for each other within our communities is key.
The community we have created which has just stepped into the limelight of Westminster needs our support just as much as our local football or darts team. We need to step up to the plate as much as they do. We need to make sure that we are informed citizens, that we encourage them to stick to the Big Issues which affect us all, rather than drowning them in the minutiae of our everyday struggles. We need mutual respect to be key. They are doing a job for us all, and we are each one of us as important as the other – so each of us needs to be responsible in our use of their limited time resources. On average an MP represents 75,000 people. And they are paid £67,000. So they are paid less than £1 to represent each of us. Think about that before you demand thousands of pounds of their precious time. I want them to spend their time and our money (because of course it is tax payers money which funds them – so you could suggest that each of us pays only £1 for their salary) on more important things than my own personal problems.
Being an MP is not a job I’d want to do. Most of the 56 have made sacrifices to be in Westminster – yes they may be amply financially rewarded for these sacrifices but I’m guessing that for many of them the money wasn’t their prime motivator. Don’t let’s let them down. Let’s give them a reason other than money to stand up for us. Let’s give them our strong support and keep letting them know we are proud of them and will continue to be proud of them as long as they stick to the plan – but most of all – let’s let them know we care, that we are watching and that we’re going to be with them every step of the way. It’s time for every wee cat in Scotland to dust itself off and roar like the Lion Rampant. It may be a long way from Independence but if we don’t start on the journey, if we don’t rebuild confidence and if we don’t start to get engaged then we will only have ourselves to blame if things go wrong and instead of being the proud Scottish lions, we will be feeding the 56 to the traditional fate of those thrown into the lion pit.
Why not start today. Make a date with BBC Parliament TV. 2.15 to 3.30pm. Then branch out. This week alone you can watch Welfare Reform, Independent Living, and on Wednesday at 2pm there’s a ‘debate tabled by the Scottish Labour Party on the future of Scotland’s Economy. Tell me that’s not must watch TV?!
(If you’re in Wales or Northern Ireland they have coverage of their parliament/assemblies too) There’s also European action to do with Digital Single Market and Migration. What’s not to love eh? We have claimed to be interested in all these things – let’s see how many of us have staying power post ballot box. Why not make your licence fee start working for you? And you can pick most of it up on iplayer afterwards if you are ideologically opposed to paying the licence fee. There really are no excuses not to get informed – Be part of the change you wish for. The Revolution is being televised. Are you watching?