Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Potted Scottish Politics

Next week Scotland goes to the polls and I have a sad confession to make. I have not registered to vote. I know, I know. I come from a country where, in my lifetime, blood was spilt for this most basic right. I have always criticised voter apathy in first world countries and yet, here I am... well... apathetic.

I think it has something to do with not having a particularly clear view on how I would vote if I had registered. The major political issue in this election seems to be around Scottish independence, which requires a bit of a history lesson.

Many years ago Scotland was independent. In 1707, the Act of the Union formally brought Scotland into union with England but was not popular with the vast majority of Scots, who had been painting their faces blue and fighting like heck to prevent this from happening for quite some time. The Act was largely pushed through by wealthy landowners who needed to ensure their businesses were propped up by exports to England.

The inital thinking was that the Scottish would be made English but the descendants of William Wallace were not going to relinquish the right to wear tartan skirts , play bagpipes and consume haggis without a fight. This made more sense to me before I lived here and discovered the following:

  • Scottish men only wear kilts on special occassions, like at ceremonies. At these functions they often sit on stages with their legs spread in international manly posture, thereby destroying the mystery of what lies under the sporran. It's scary, very scary.
  • Well played bagpipes are an uplifting and wonderful thing. Most bagpipes, however, are played badly and make a long, high-pitched farting sound at the end of each musical attempt.
  • Haggis tastes, well, like haggis, which is to say like a bunch of innards mixed with oats.
Anyway, Scottish tradition and pride is a powerful thing and in 1997 a poll in Scotland revealed that 63% of voters still believed themselves to be either totally Scottish or more Scottish than British. 290 years was clearly not sufficient water through the lochs to convince the Scots that they couldn't do it all better themselves. So, in that same year they voted overwhelmingly in favour of devolution.

This was a smart move. The terms were fantastic. They would have their own parliament, which would determine policy on a wide range of issues and have a vote in English matters through representation in the English parliament. Of course, the English would have no representation in the Scottish parliament and would subsidise Scottish services to boot. So Scotland became overrepresented and overfunded. Sweet!

But here begins the problem for me as an outside observer with the potential to vote. I really like Scotland and the Scots and honestly think they're onto a good wicket with things as they are. But to keep the status quo for Scotland one would have to vote for Labour who have recently taken to supporting the American policy of world politics by force. This has not been popular with many Brits and, throughout the UK, Labour's popularity has dropped. So what are the alternatives?

Well, leading in the polls is the Scottish National Party (SNP) whose big manifesto target is Scottish independence. So that would be a vote for normal representaion and underfunding.

Then there's the Liberal Democrats who are for 'safer streets, local healthcare and the environment'. Frankly, I have no beef with my streets or my healthcare but I do have an environmental issue - the amount of glossy junk mail I've received from the Lib Dem's. At least the Green's print on recycled paper.

And show me an English speaking white middle class South African who went to UCT in the 90s who could put a cross next to the words 'Conservative Party'.

Then, dangling at the bottom of the party political food chain, come the plethora of other alternatives, all making big promises based on little experience and no backing.

So, thanks for giving me a vote, but no thanks. I'll stay home on the 3rd of May and hope that this little corner of Scotland stays just the way it is.

No comments: