I have never been political. I have never joined a party, made a donation or been on a march. My political experience has been limited to a venture in a local action group agitating for an environmental improvement in a bleak district in the east end of Glasgow more than 40 years ago. I joined the group, took on a committee role, initiated public meetings, but after serial infighting, walkouts and continual constitutional crises, I realised that it wasn’t for me. So, politics has always been little more than a spectator sport and generally a pretty dull one at that. I never got around to cheering the home team or shouting at the opposition. It is not that I was, or am, indifferent to the issues it is just that I could never connect with the mechanism or saw that particular route as being a realistic way of effecting change or making a difference. Deep down I always felt that real power and real influence lay somewhere else. The forces to change things were not with politicians.
It was not that I despised politicians. Rather, I held them in high regard. My sympathies were more likely to be with the government in power at any given time, because I recognised they were effectively public servants and as such, deserved some measure of respect. It was not a position I ever envied and the job seemed an almost impossible one. I hated when people so easily rubbished, castigated and abused these civil servants. They could be called names and insulted like no other group. I remember the abuse heaped upon Harold Wilson and upon Ted Heath in their respective terms and I felt the abuse that Margaret Thatcher suffered was sometimes nothing short of shameful. In many cases, I felt the ire was directed against her especially because she was a woman. The fact that people held parties, sung “the witches dead” and danced on her grave, long after she had relinquished power and had any influence, showed how low it had all become. I was astonished, too, how quickly Tony Blair took on her mantle, and became the villain almost overnight. The people who cheered him in, cursed him out in a very short time. I am almost certain that, had Alex Salmond won independence for Scotland and stayed to be the country’s leader, it would not be long before he too would have suffered the same fate. Knocking the person in power is the easiest game in the book, and we keep playing it.
So it is inevitable that I am pretty sceptical about the new body politic, the new grass root engagement, the rainbow coalition, the enthusiasm for on-line activism and the involvement of the young. I am sure it is a good thing, maybe good will come of it, I hope so, but I have this sneaky feeling that in the long run it won’t actually make much difference. I hope I am wrong. I also wonder how long this extraordinary energy and mobilisation will last when it comes to the hard graft of working things out in practice and the nitty gritty of concessions and compromises. You only have to take a look at the diverse and contradictory interests represented by the 45 to see the mountains of concession and compromises that will be needed, to get even the most basic of changes through. Even Bevin had to make deals with the BMA to bring the NHS to birth. He had to “stuff their mouths with gold” to bring them on board. All of that takes skill and patience, determination, persistence and hard work and I am not sure if the wave of optimism will carry it through. Again I hope I am wrong.
Now, I know that making any sceptical noise or expressing any doubt or for a moment challenging the credibility of the cause will be seen as outright disloyalty if not heresy and treason but the thing is, time alone will tell. Time will tell if, what we have witnessed is the birth of a new body politic, when nothing will be the same again and great changes will be made that will affect the lives of our all our citizens and be a catalyst for similar changes throughout the world or, whether, it will simply be a riotous explosion of optimism that will fizzle out just as quickly as it has begun.