For too long, the politics of Westminster have been owned by the same type of people – the rich; the powerful; the right-wing; the “political”. The Westminster Politician speaks another language – although using the same words in similar assembly to ourselves, they combine in a way to convey as diluted content as possible; they go to different schools – fiddling and tinkering with the schools we use much as a child with a twig reforms an anthill. They talk of the “cost of living” whilst claiming expenses for travel, breakfasts and accommodation – what other people would call “bills”.
Of course it makes sense that a Parliamentarian from Lerwick has to be able to travel to Parliament; of course they deserve a salary to ensure that people from all backgrounds can afford to represent their constituents- but that isn’t what folk hear or see. We see people like Maria Miller wrongly claiming thousands of pounds in expenses and apparently escaping punishment by virtue of apologising and paying some of it back – while keeping her job as a representative of the very people who paid for her ill-gotten monies. We see Westminster Parliamentarians getting an 11% payrise while Doctors and nurses in England and Wales suffer yet another year of frozen pay-packets.
When the topic of conversation tilts to politics, people switch off – and understandably so. Politics is a business of intellectual combativeness; a bunch of people we can’t relate to arguing about things we feel we have no control over. However, when discussing the issues politics actually deals with – taxes, healthcare, wages – everyone has an opinion. A dissonance between what we perceive as “politics” and what it actually involves has become entrenched in our minds to the extent that we feel powerless and apathetic.
Very few individuals cut through this white noise, but when they do, it is often in spectacular style. Recently, two of the finest examples of this have departed – Tony Benn and Margo MacDonald. Though they had radically different political careers, they both had a sparkle that shone through the smog of Parliamentary business. They were lenses through which the blurry mess of politics could be seen in slightly greater focus and at a more human angle. Tony Benn stated upon leaving Westminster that he wanted to leave Parliament “to get more involved in politics” (paraphrasing). Margo fell out with the SNP to the extent where she simply left and stood on her own merit – and it was on her own merit she stood in the Scottish Parliament until her dying days.
Though Parkinson’s attacked her mind and body, her voice captivated halls and demanded respect. I had the privilege of seeing her speak at the independence March and Rally last year; though at times her voice faltered and her mind drifted, the crowd fed upon her every word. Put simply, politics needs people like Margo and Tony. They are the kind of people who made me want to get involved in politics in the first place (for better or worse, you might say). They were human, passionate, and broke the mould. There were no weasel-words or vanilla speeches. When Margo spoke, it was her alone that was speaking, rightly or wrongly.
As part of a generation which needs trailblazing, radical and inspirational politicians more than any other, it’s hard to point at people now in Westminster who hold quite the same calibre. Given so many of the most important decisions are still made there (regarding welfare, energy development and work and pensions etc), it’s hard to see where the inspiration necessary to change things will come from.
See, the challenges my generation face are a consequence of the abject failure of Westminster’s brand of politics. We have been left with debt, austerity, a low wage economy, and a saturated, turbulent labour market. The economy is more productive and wealthier, but wages have stagnated. Our Trade Unions are at the mercy of people like Jim Ratcliffe who base themselves in tax havens but hold livelihoods in Scotland in the palms of their hands. The vast student protest movements of the past are now met with police kettles, cops on campus, and, coming soon to Britain, water cannon. Our parents got the student grant – our friends in England get £9,000 a year student fees.
We will have to work harder than our parents, for more of our lives, to sustain even a comparable standard of living. Even if folk work 40 or 50 hours a week and live sensibly, most of us still run out of money before the end of the month. Whether you work in a kitchen, restaurant, pub or shop, bills keep going up but our pay doesn’t grow with it. The jobs normal people do simply aren’t valued. This isn’t the fault of immigration, or the EU, or disabled people- these are simply the people Westminster blame.
Nelson Mandela once said that “poverty is man-made”, and so we have to ask ourselves – if the economy is growing, but our pay is the same, what the hell is going on? I’ve seen my parents skip meals and the worry upon their faces when the mail arrived. My mum worked nights and my father days for much of my childhood but we still barely managed to pay the bills. There are millions of people in my generation who will never be able to afford to buy a home or pay off their student debt. I’ve lived through Labour and Tory UK governments and despised them equally and they don’t see the need, nor have they the desire, to enact the fundamental and radical changes needed to rectify the society in which we live. Tories offer us a trip down the neoliberal rabbit hole; Labour the missing shade of blue between social democracy and neoliberal hell.
We need change. We need more young voices, poor voices, female voices, non-white voices, LGBT voices, to be heard. For too long, the traditional brand of Westminster politics has been dominated by the rich white straight man, and the rich, comfortable, and powerful don’t legislate against their interests. One need only look at the front bench of the current Westminster Government to see the types of people running the Westminster show. Of course Holyrood is not yet perfect in this regard, no Parliament is (yet), but in order to succeed and address the challenges our generation faces, we need to take a titanic step away from Westminster convention and embrace change, not fear or resent it.
A Yes vote is a spark on the tinder of the imagination of the people of Scotland; carte blanche. Scotland’s electoral system is designed to force consensus; coalition, co-operation, dynamism, creativity – concepts utterly alien to the small-c conservatives, careerists and stagnant minds of Westminster.
The Yes campaign talks about fairness, justice, and equality. It talks about how we get rid of child poverty and nuclear weapons and forge a better life for ourselves and our children. When I campaign for Yes I campaign for these ideas and against the illegal wars, weapons and austerity of Westminster. As I write here now for National Collective, I ask you to simply imagine. Look at the Scotland in which we are now. Imagine the Scotland you want to live in. Plot the journey between the two, and choose your guide. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”