Comment: Becoming my father
My dad was mad for the SNP, just about literally. He was a kind, thoughtful, cheerful, honest man, but he went mad in two situations. Firstly, when he was driving – the only time I ever heard him swear – and secondly, when talking politics.
George was an evangelical Nationalist and, like his Christian equivalents, there was, as far as he was concerned, no argument; and he was this disciple for independence as long as I can remember.
He claimed he had voted Labour once, which must have been the 1950 election, and after that he only voted SNP. I remember him being really, really pleased when the SNP held its deposit in a by-election, I think in Glasgow Gorbals, and there was no doubt that the Hamilton by-election was one of the happiest nights of his life – and one of only two times when I saw my mother drunk. For she too was a Nationalist; she was just much less interested in politics, at least of the democratic variety.
Anyway, George was voting SNP when they were getting two per cent of the vote, and died just before they won the Holyrood election in 2007, which is really sad. At his funeral, John Swinney (who is a kind and good man) said “George fought for the SNP in the battleground of West Lothian” and that fight was part of my childhood.
My father, by the time I was able to understand anything, hated the Labour Party and campaigned hard against Tam Dalyell, the very long-serving Labour MP for West Lothian, known popularly as ‘Tory Tam, the Labour man’ because he was a baronet who lived in The Binns, a big country house not far from where we lived.
Billy Wolfe, who was the leader of the SNP through the 1970s, was an adored friend of George’s, and my dad’s mission was to ensure that Kirkliston, the village where we lived, turned out to support him. In October 1974, Wolfe ran Dalyell pretty close, but lost by 3,000 votes, but Kirkliston voted for him big style. I stood at the polling place with my father, who knew everybody, and who said to each voter as they passed, “Vote SNP and the sun will come out.”
In West Lothian in that era the Tories were a complete irrelevance; it was Labour that he wanted ruined. That fight was really dirty. One time I went leafleting with my father in Winchburgh and in among the old miners’cottages I heard a shout saying, “Nat boy, we’re coming to get you,” so I dumped the leaflets and ran back to Kirkliston.
Being a Nationalist in those times suited my dad in another way – as everyone knows, the SNP back then had a number of identities: they were lefties in urban areas and ‘Tartan Tories’ in rural constituencies, all joined together into one movement for independence. If Labour was a broad church, the SNP was an immense cathedral, which meant that George didn’t need to conform to any left or right wing thinking and could hold fast to his own idiosyncratic preferences.
I think he didn’t mind paying his taxes, wasn’t keen on the aristocracy, was pro capital punishment and pro abortion too. He felt sorry for the poor at home and abroad. He wanted to advance the working man in the way that he himself had advanced, but he wanted the working man to be working, not unemployed. He loved nurses, was never – for a moment – racist, but he didn’t care for the church of Rome. He couldn’t stand Mrs Thatcher, but I think he quietly thought some of her ideas were OK. Labour were a shower, the Liberals were useless and stood for nothing, the Tories didn’t have a clue etc, etc.
As I advanced through my teens and became a student I told him, from my own wetty pink standpoint, that his politics didn’t hang together very well. I wanted to know where Scotland was going when it became independent, but he, in truth, just wanted us to be ‘free’. I expect he loved Braveheart.
Now yesterday I reached the ripe old age of… God, I can’t even write it down, because it is just impossible I’m that age. Just call it... 55. Anyway, here in middle age, locked down by this virus, I realise that I’m just the same as George. I always vote SNP, not the peculiar choice it was when I started voting, but really a vote for the established party of government. I do it, in part, because that’s how I was brought up – my mother once asked a visitor to leave the house when he said something mildly anti-SNP; he was a church elder who had come to collect money – and obviously I do it for George.
I was with him canvassing once in a by-election in Edinburgh and a man answered the door in Bruntsfield and said, “You people should be hanged.” So I do it because of that, but also because in some vague way I think Scotland would, in time, be a happier and fairer place with Nicola and her mates in charge.
I have to say, though, that voting SNP also means I can have my own set of peculiar views, which do not, in truth, conform to any political party and in this, as in so many things, I have become more like my father as I got older, which is no bad thing.