The Political Is Personal

Mac_Millan_R R McIan

A romanticised illustration of a MacMillan clansman by Robert Ranald McIan, from James Logan’s The Clans of the Scottish Highlands (1845).

Today marks the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. Such an important moment in Scotland’s history, one that is romanticised, misunderstood, and reappraised seemingly every generation.

How did I spend it? Putting envelopes through scores upon scores of doors, asking people to Vote McMillan.

Much of the time, politicians keep their politics and their personal lives apart. For all the vigour and sometimes venom of the chambers in Holyrood, Westminster, or the council, a lot of people from different political parties actually get on with each other. Some of them go out, even get married. They can look at what the other party is doing and – somehow – get over it.

You’ve heard the phrase “the personal is political“? For me, the political is personal too. I have friends and family who I later found out voted No, and who vote for unionist parties in elections. It should be no problem for me – after all, I have friends from many different religions and none, ethnic and national backgrounds, philosophical and philological, from all across the financial spectrum. Yet for some reason, I can’t get over the political side. It could be because I’m still relatively new to the game: I’ve only been actively political for a few years. Yet every time I’m out canvassing and someone says to me that Scotland shouldn’t be independent, and that they’re voting for one of the unionist parties, I do feel it. Every time.

Yet, I wonder, do I want that to change? Do I really want to become used to the idea that some people will vote for the Other Party after all those years wasted, squandering their voters’ loyalty and good faith? That I should just shrug when I meet one of those rare Coalition Party voters, knowing their party would rather have a known and proven liar and a coward than no representative at all? That even after everything the UK government’s party does to everyone outside the elite of the elite, I should just accept that some people will vote against what is surely, empirically, demonstrably against their own interests?* Perhaps it makes me naive, ill-suited to a career in politics, where I would have to work with people whose party has demonstrably ruined lives. I think I can live without that.

I was never really cut out for a life in politics. I couldn’t be an MSP, an MP, or a Councillor. I couldn’t trust myself to be civil, knowing that I would have to work with members of parties that waged illegal wars, facilitated horrendous crimes, and engaged in the destruction of civil liberties – much less knowing that they probably think similar or even worse things about the party I belong to. I’m bad enough at debates and hustings, what would I be like in committees or consultations? I guess the blood of Jacobites still runs through me after all. Yet even if I don’t think I’d make a good politician, I’m happy being an activist, researcher, campaigner, and all-round advocate for the political causes I believe in. I’m a soldier, like my mammy & granny: not for me the admiral’s hat, the centurion’s vitus, the chieftain’s torc.

The arena may have changed, but the trappings of war are still in evidence in modern politics. The very word campaign is derived from a military context – only the ironclad hosts that formed campaigns in the past are replaced with volunteers, brandishing leaflets instead of blades. Our “war chests” are to fund posters, newspapers, and flyers, rather than military supplies or siege equipment. The flyting before the battle has been replaced with hustings and debates – though in many cases you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference!

Every day I’m out, I think of all those who drained their dearest veins for our cause. I think of Wallace, de Moray, the Bruce, Douglas, and all the commanders of the Wars of Independence. I think of Isabella MacDuff, Black Agnes, Flora MacDonald, Lady Mackintosh, all the Women for Independence in an age before universal suffrage. I think of all the radicals, the troublemakers, the revolutionaries, and the unnumbered unnamed who believed. I can only hope the 1.6 million who carried their cause through pen and ink rather than blade and blood will see us through.

It seems fitting, then, that I spent the anniversary of one of the most poignant, torrid, and bloody episodes in Scottish history campaigning in a peaceful manner. The way we fight may have changed since the time of Wallace, the Bruce, even the Bonnie Prince – but the cause hasn’t, nor have the emotions and desires altered over the centuries, even as the ghosts of Culloden watch us through the veil between worlds.

*Understand that any contempt I have is not, and never will be, placed upon the voters, but on the parties themselves. They have taken the mandate of the electorate which was given to them with the trust and belief that they would represent their interests in the political sphere. If a party which formerly enjoyed a massive mandate for decades now finds that it is struggling to keep above 20% in the polls, then they have only themselves to blame for losing that trust.


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