A while back, I did a post talking about some of my SNP heroes. Since it’s Mother’s Day, what better time could there be to talk about the single greatest influence on my politics?
Mam told me how she joined the SNP. When Mam became old enough to vote, she wasn’t sure which party was for her. Most of our family was the Other Party, as you’d expect in Inverclyde: many of her fancier friends were part of the powerful Liberal electorate. My father’s sister was SNP. When Mam asked her why she voted SNP, my aunt replied “because they’re the only party for Scotland.” That simple statement was all it took: every other major party was UK-wide, but Mam always felt Scottish. Mam grew up loving the stories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and couldn’t understand why her peers were so blase about their own history. So, in 1979, Mam joined the SNP. I wouldn’t be born for another 5 years.
I was a wee guy when I first encountered another SNP member from outside the family. Mr MacGillivray was a lovely gentleman who came around to our house every so often to take my mother’s membership fees. Mam was always very happy to see him, took time to talk about how things were going with “the party,” how the campaign was doing, talking about how they might even get 20% of the vote if they worked hard. I had little conception of politics – or anything that didn’t involve dinosaurs, trains or turtles – back then. But I did know this was something that would be important in my later life.
As I grew older, I started talking with Mr MacGillivray when he visited. Still a bit too young to truly grasp the nuances of politics, but enough to pass the time of day. I could recognize some politicians through their dopplegangers on “Skeetnitch Puppets” (what I called Spitting Image). I preferred the puppets: they were less terrifying. I could tell there was a certain camaraderie between the gentleman and my mother, one that was different from family, friends, colleagues at the salon, the other single parents at Gingerbread. It was distinctive, mysterious, and fascinating – in the 1980s, almost clandestine. The Scottish political scene then was dominated by two parties fighting over who were the real champions of the working man, squabbling away ineffectually while the actual government devastated communities and their own children’s futures. All through this, the SNP kept on even through disappointment after disappointment, always with the same ultimate goal, even with what was then a very small core of supporters.
Eventually, we fell on hard(er) times, and Mam left the party. She was fiercely dedicated to the cause, but she didn’t feel confident enough to put herself into a position of greater influence: it never occurred to her to become an office bearer, much less a Councillor or other elected post. With two weans to look after and tons of other responsibilities, she reluctantly left politics to the background – though she always kept the fires burning. I probably learned enough about politics from Spitting Image anyway.
I was never a very contrarian child: I often shared interests, beliefs, and ideas with Mam. Even as a teenager I didn’t really rebel – mostly because she was a bit of a rebel herself, a proper punk in her teens and twenties. So I quickly became quite fond of the idea of independence – even if it seemed fanciful and unlikely back then, and my favour for a wonderful beneficent Union that never really existed was not yet sloughed away. It was, as they, say, the dream. I got excited when I saw Alex Salmond on the TV, even if I never believed he’d get a chance to lead the country. Come 1997 and the opening of the Scottish Parliament, things started to change for the better – but the aftertaste of Blair’s betrayals, Iraq, and the Hutton inquiry left me thoroughly disaffected with politics for most of my teens and twenties.
My Mam and I got back into politics together. We were both very excited about the independence campaign, especially the Edinburgh agreement.We got friendly with the local SNP – Stuart McMillan’s children went to the same school as our niece, several folk we knew from other pursuits were members, and we found Mr MacGillivray’s wife was still very active in the party. It’s amazing how welcome we felt by the party, even though we didn’t join at that point – it was enough we supported independence, and were ready, willing and able to campaign for it.
We joined up, signed the Yes declaration, and, well, you’re all up to speed now. Everything I did for the Yes campaign, she did – in entire orders of magnitude greater. She delivered leaflets until she couldn’t walk. She canvassed until she couldn’t talk. Even I, half her age, couldn’t keep up with the hours she put in every day for years – continues to put in. Out of all of us at Yes Inverclyde, she kept it together the most on the 19th of September: still put on the brave face and broad smile, knowing that she had nothing to be ashamed of. For the entire week after the referendum, we bumped into people genuinely appreciative of our efforts – even No voters, who acknowledged and understood how hard Mam worked. When she dropped our niece off at school, all the parents sincerely applauded her. Every time she passed a window with a Yes poster and someone was there, they gave her a wave, and put their hands over their hearts. More than a few who voted No thanked Mam for her dedication, even if they didn’t vote the same way.
But the dream lived, and there was still work to do. I joined the SNP, and Mam rejoined too – she loved that they had plastic membership cards now! Mam threw herself into the General Election campaign with equal vigour. We did our damnedest to make history with Inverclyde’s first SNP MP, even when the referendum experience meant most of us were convinced it would be a close contest – we refused to be the only constituency not to turn gold. So Mam got out, chapped doors, delivered leaflets, talked in checkout queues, anything to make sure our man got in. And we’re doing exactly the same all over again, this time for Holyrood. Ma thinks of herself as Zim from Starship Troopers (her favourite film, which entirely makes sense if you know her, but wouldn’t imagine it if you didn’t): she’s the footsoldier, not the general. She gets out and does the work. So when the council elections come around, and whenever indyref 2 comes along, she’ll keep on doing what she’s been doing now for years. We keep thinking: why didn’t we do all of this sooner?
Mam’s been many things in my lifetime. She’s been a hairdresser, a psychologist, a scout leader, a TARA convener, a community councillor, an SNP Women’s Officer. She’s been involved in all sorts of campaigns, from the independence movement, to anti-sectarianism, local history, equal rights, feminism, justice for Willie MacRae, the William Wallace Society, and much more. And through it all, she’s been my mammy since I was born. She’s quite remarkable.
I couldn’t be prouder to be her son.