How do you lose?

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How do you react to political defeat?

Do you accept the result with good grace? Do you congratulate the victors and ensure that you work as hard as you can to make your country better? Do you look at how well you have run your campaign, how close you came to victory and how you increased support for your cause dramatically in a short space of time with a degree of satisfaction? Do you look at how you can use your momentum to continue to win hearts and minds to your cause by reasoned arguments, building a stronger, more concrete case as you do so?

Or…

Do you attack those who you were unable to convince as “cowards”? Do you look for as many scapegoats as you can, boycotting businesses and services, labelling them as “traitors” and biased? Do you look at the worst elements of your political opponents and attach their actions to everyone you disagree with? Do you come up with wild, unfounded conspiracy theories about vote rigging and demand another go? Do you refuse to interact with those who didn’t vote or campaign with your point of view and risk the subsequent divisions holding your country back for years to come? Do you throw your toys out of the pram, risking the good work you’ve done to this point? Do you turn your back on solid,, reasoned argument and replace it with bitter recrimination?

Well? What’s it to be?

Imagine

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One week to go. The longest political campaign in history, the Scottish independence referendum, started a mere 47 years, 6 months and 17 days ago (give or take a day or so) and we finally go to the polls next Thursday.

I’m voting, but I’m not telling you how. There have been enough posts, articles, debates, leaflets, stalls and soap boxes doing just that to last for the lifetime of a giant tortoise. I’m not going to bemoan some of the backbiting, insults, division and misleading crap which has come from both sides either. We all know there’s been plenty of that and I hope we’re mature enough to get past that after 18th September.

This morning I was on the radio. The breakfast show on BBC Radio Solent were looking for people who used to live in Dorset (which I did for 11 years) who now live in Scotland to talk about the referendum and, by random chance, the presenter found me on Twitter and, next thing I knew, I was broadcasting county wide. 400 miles from home.

The last question I was asked was what it was like living in a place where the referendum was the main topic of conversation. That was an easy question to answer. There are plenty of people who are fed up with it, with the anger shown by some and the time it’s been going on for. However, everyone is talking about it. Everybody has a view, even if that view hasn’t yet led to them making a decision over how their vote is going to be cast. Everybody cares.

About politics!

People who I have never heard express a political opinion have been vocal, have researched, have tried to come to an informed choice, have discussed and debated, and, in some cases, have actively campaigned.

This is amazing. At a time when more people than ever are massively dissafected with politics, politicians and political systems, the man and woman in the street are actively engaging with an important political process. They are driving the agenda in the streets and via social media and over 85% of them are expected to turn up to vote.

Ordinary people feel genuinely empowered. Within 24 hours of a You Gov poll putting the Yes campaign in the lead for the first time the three main Westminster party leaders dropped everything to come up to Scotland to campaign. The people spoke and the political leaders acted. Politicians have been constantly reacting to genuine concerns of ordinary voters, for the first time I can remember.

We need to keep this going. The politicians keep saying that we have a unique opportunity,  and they’re right. Whatever the result we have a unique opportunity to take the political process away from career politicians and back into the hands of normal people.

A no vote will not kill this. If everyone who has been mobilised by this campaign continue to speak out, inform and discuss the important issues, if we continue to engage with our politicians and put real pressure on them, if we continue to play an active role in local and national politics then we will see a change. We will see politicians listen to people, not corporations. To the less wealthy. To us.

However, if there is a Yes vote then Scotland has the chance to create a new, fairer political system. One which can start to clear out the corruption and self-serving nature of Westminster and move towards a system which has the interests of all the people at heart. If we can do that then our friends in the rest of the UK can see the example and, hopefully, follow it. It can be the start of real hope, not the end of it.

As John Lennon said, you may say I’m a dreamer, but we can do this. It won’t be easy, it won’t be smooth and it definitely won’t be perfect. But, if we don’t just go back into our apathetic, ignorant haze and become really involved then we can make something better than we have right now.

We all care about something, we all want things to change. It’s up to us to do it.

Two open letters about Scotland’s independence referendum

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Dear Better Together,

If we get a Yes vote we will not all fall into a deep economic precipice. Businesses will find it far too expensive to relocate all of their Scottish offices and fork out millions in redundancy pay. Alex Salmond will not necessarily rule for eternity. People’s pensions will still exist. We will have a currency – even if it’s not the Pound. A lot of Scots actually want to leave the EU. If people disagree with you, stop attacking them as liars. We are fed up of the negative campaigning by so many of your online folk (although most of the normal activists are fine and rational in the way they campaign).

We need you to do better.

Thanks.

Dear Yes campaign

If we get a Yes vote foodbanks will not suddenly disappear overnight. We will still have a degree of austerity. People voting No are not traitors.  We will still be ruled by politicians who are more interested in themselves than the people who vote for them. We probably won’t get to keep the Pound, be honest. A “No” campaign will, naturally, have at least a little negativity, live with it. If people disagree with you, stop attacking them as liars. We cannot guarantee never having a Tory government in Scotland, things change. Westminster are not “stealing” the oil, its the UK’s oil, that’s how things work. Please stop the negative, personal attacks by many of your online activists (although most of the normal activists are fine and rational in the way they campaign).

We need you to do better.

Thanks.

I have many friends and family who campaign for both sides and I respect them all and the way they have handled themselves. The above is not aimed at them. It’s aimed at politicians and cyber activists who do Scotland a disservice with their conduct and are causing so much division and polarisation that I genuinely fear for the country regardless of the result of the referendum. I fear that some divisions may never be healed unless we do something about it now.

If we don’t then the result will be that the worst fears of the losing side may well be realised as the people of Scotland fail to work together, but keep fighting among themselves about the result after the event.

We need to ensure that, whatever happens next month, we move forward together and make the best of our future. For Scotland’s sake.

Another man’s shoes

In July 2005 my family and I moved from Swanage in Dorset, a lovely seaside town on the south coast with quite a tight knit community, to Larbert, a town just outside Falkirk in central Scotland. I had been married for 10 years at that stage to a woman who was born in Falkirk, moved to England when she was 3, and always fancied moving back again. So, on holiday, I went past a branch in Edinburgh of the bank I was working for at the time, popped in to enquire whether they had any jobs going and, six weeks later, we moved with our three young children.

It was an exciting time. I love Scotland. Its culture, its scenery, its history, its people and its incredibly strong sense of identity (as well as its haggis and Irn Bru!) are all so inviting and friendly. There was, for me, one concern, though. How would the Scots take to me, an Englishman, living and working here.

I knew that there was a strong rivalry, especially where sport was concerned, and that there was an increasing level of support for independence. All of the views which were presented to me, some by members of my wife’s family, suggested that there was a large anti-English feeling in Scotland. Most of this was media inflicted, either by a nationalistic Scottish media or an aloof, condescending English media, but it was evidently there. It worried me that, as soon as people heard my accent, I would be the subject of vitriol for some. I was scared that I may not be allowed to settle comfortably and that maybe my children would be the target of anti-English bullying at school.

In the end, these fears were totally unfounded. The people I live and work with, the children my kids went to school with, and everyone else we’ve encountered here could not be friendlier, more welcoming and more inclusive. Yes, the rivalry is there, but it’s friendly rivalry. Yes, the anti-English media sentiment is there, but it doesn’t extend to a dislike of the English people. In fact, I have found myself joining in with critical ism of many quarters of the UK media who don’t seem to see north of Hadrian’s Wall or, in most cases, the Watford Gap. This country is home to me now. I have many Scottish phrases in my own speech, hold a season ticket to my local football team, Stenhousemuir, I’m a Church of Scotland member and refer to the people of Scotland as “we”. I love it here.

It took me living and working here for me to appreciate the people and the reasons any rivalry may be there. I can even see why many want independence, something I couldn’t even fathom 9 years ago.

This is the case for all of us. There are many people living in situations we can’t begin to fathom. People living in poverty, abusive households, living with addiction, different political views, different nationalities, different religions, social isolation, different social class, different pressures and expectations to our own. We find it all too easy to view these lives through the prisms of our own circumstances and experiences. This can all too easily lead to lack of understanding, fundamentalism and fear.

What do we think of the 45 year old drug addict, squatting in an empty flat? Do we look down on him for getting himself I to that situation, or do we ask what drove him to drugs and what could help him back off them? What about the 19 year old single mother of 3 who lives off benefits in a council house? Is she just an irresponsible scrounge, having kids to sponge off the state? Or is she a caring, loving mother, raising her children in the best way she can so they have a better chance in life? What about the public schoolboy with convictions for driving under the influence of drink and drugs? A spoilt brat with no sense of responsibility, or a young man who finds it impossible to live up to the expectations placed upon him and has found the wrong outlet for his frustrations and insecurities?

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee wrote this,

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Few things are more true than this. We cannot hope to understand until we have made the effort to do so, until we have taken the time to step into the shoes of people in situations different to ourselves. We need to listen and talk, to visit and, if called to do so, live in places alien to us. Only when we break down the barriers which exist in society and within our own heads will we start to understand, empathise and make a positive difference.

Jesus did this all of the time. He hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, beggars, Roman soldiers, Samaritans, adulterers and even (shock, horror!) women. He did this to set us all the ultimate example. He didn’t say that He condoned people’s life choices, but He did this to understand so that He could show them a better way. THE better Way.

One of the most famous examples happened in Luke’s gospel, and Jesus explained why He did this,

“Then Levi had a big feast in his house for Jesus, and among the guests was a large number of tax collectors and other people.  Some Pharisees and some teachers of the Law who belonged to their group complained to Jesus’ disciples. “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and other outcasts?” they asked.
Jesus answered them, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick.  I have not come to call respectable people to repent, but outcasts.”” (Luke 5:29-32 GNT)

We are all outcasts, in one form or another, and Jesus comes to call us. He also comes to call all those who we may see as outcasts. Shall we condemn and fear them, or do we take up Jesus’ call to show them the way, the truth and the life He brings. It is understanding and love we must show. To all. It’s not just what Jesus would do, it’s what He did. What He does. What He asks us to do.

A prayer about the Equal Marriage Bill in Scotland. And beyond.

Today, the Scottish Parliament debate and vote on the Equal Marriage Bill. This is a bill which has seen divisions widened in Scottish society and the Church as well.

For Biblical reasons (which I may expand upon at another time) I support the bill. However, there are many within the Church who, for equally valid, Biblical reasons, oppose it.

For this reason, I have a prayer. Not one that the Bill passes or fails, but for what I hope happens during the debate and beyond.

Loving, Heavenly Father

Today our politicians will decide whether or not to extend your gift of marriage to same-sex couples.

I pray that the debate is both impassioned and reasoned. That facts, evidence, thoughtful reflection and, above all, love are demonstrated by those taking part.

I pray that the mudslinging and name calling stop. That fears are not stoked. That people, not prejudice from either side, are accounted for.

I pray that your will is done. That it is done in the debating chamber, in the vote, in the reporting, in the reaction and in the whole of society in Scotland. Whatever the outcome.

I pray that we can move on from this to address the true, pressing needs in out society today. That we realise that the urgent priority is not in who can marry, but in poverty, injustice, loneliness, homelessness, hunger, inequality, religious division, racial hatred, sickness, alcohol and substance abuse, people struggling with parenthood, child neglect and abuse, disengagement, materialism, greed, exploitation, mental illness and many other things which make your people suffer.

Let us not become a people who argue over two people in love. Let us be a people who bring sight to the blind, hope to the poor, freedom to the captive and good news, your good news, to our country and to the world.

In Jesus’ name

Amen