As I write, it is the day after the day after the General Election. Millions of people are even more deeply uncertain of their future than they were a few days ago.
Talking about politics can quickly lead us into clique-speak; lies and half-lies; and a bewildering confusion of isms. And talking about the politics which is played out in the British Parliament is like discussing another world, one where men and women who look a bit like us talk endlessly in a kind of code. It is a code which sounds like ordinary language but is full of words which mean the opposite of their ordinary meaning. Truth means lies; more means less; peace means war. And to make it much more confusing, sometimes a politician uses ordinary language correctly, and truth really means truth; more means more; and peace means peace.
Appearances are everything. Appearances are nothing. As we near another Christmas, a jolly fellow with fluffy hair is the new Prime Minister. He would make a good Santa Claus. Yet, as we often saw during the election, he isn’t all that jolly: often he scowls and growls and we sense that the glittering presents he promises may be something horrible wrapped up in brightly coloured paper.
Some things in life are a million miles removed from isms, from Parliament, and far removed from jolly chaps who aren’t really jolly. Things like: in Dundee, where I live, one in three children are growing up in poverty. Or, in London, in the very streets where the jolly new Prime Minister travels in a chauffeur driven car, thousands of homeless people are living and dying on cold streets.
People reading these words may not know that the man writing them was once a fighter who fought in some of the largest political battles of our times. Sometimes, I was simply an activist collecting money for strikers and their families. Other times, I helped to lead battles. If we could go back to the miner’s strike of 1984, a young version of me could be seen collecting money in buckets with Fife miners in the centre of Dundee. The unforgettable sight of an old woman, a pensioner who had very little money, dropping a ten-pound note into the bucket, and saying: “We’ll no let them starve.” And later, in 1993, I stood on the Timex picket line for a year alongside workers fighting for their right to a have a job with a decent wage. And there were so many other battles: fighting fascists (physically) on the streets of Dundee, Glasgow, and London; battling for years to defeat the poll tax – speaking at dozens of meetings, standing defending the homes of people threatened by sheriff officers – who took one look at our massed ranks and drove on by. I stood in elections, wrote articles, marched and hoped, celebrated the fall of Thatcher, and much later challenged another high Tory to debate his lies with me in Dundee. That was ten years ago, and Iain Duncan Smith is still in hiding.
Throughout those years, my battles were guided by an ‘ism’: socialism. It guides me today. It’s an ‘ism’ with different strands, like all ‘isms’. I have friends who are socialists who believe in different roads to socialism. My friend Tommy Sheridan, a former elected politician in the Scottish Parliament, is a socialist who advised voters to vote SNP in the General election. My friend Jim Malone, a former firefighter and trade union leader, stood as a Labour candidate in Dundee, for a party which opposed Scottish independence. My friend Philip Stott, a leader of Socialist Party Scotland, opposes the SNP but argued for a socialist independent Scotland, allied with millions of workers who voted for Jeremy Corbyn, calling on socialists in Labour to rethink their opposition to Scottish independence. All of these friends have stood together in battles like the Timex strike. All have been smeared by powerful, dishonest opponents. I listen to what other socialists say and do, and I offer help and solidarity when I can, especially when the darker forces in politics attack my friends in dishonest ways. Debates are fine. Smears and bullying are not.
My life took twists and turns away from Politics to helping people whose lives were damaged by political decisions: the many victims of Welfare cuts and mass poverty. For years, I helped souls on the edge of not existing at all. People who were hungry, homeless, in despair, people whose lives were so ravaged by drugs or by mental illness, that they were unsure who they were or what day it was. Yet, still – their benefits were cut, or they faced eviction from their homes, or they had no money for food or heating or a bus fare to the hospital. The decisions made by politicians mattered hugely to all of these people. Yet, the coded language of Politics and the clamour of elections was only heard as a meaningless background sound, or it wasn’t heard at all. I never became cynical about politics but I often saw politics as something very distant. Certainly distant from any exhausted soul standing on the Tay Road Bridge, staring at the swirling waters far below, feeling that death must be better than life.
What lies ahead? Fears. Hopes. Perhaps in equal measure. For me, a third life. First, I was a political fighter. Then, I helped people on a hard frontline. And next, I hope to be – mainly, a writer. They are all forms of struggle. And perhaps, my old lives will always be part of my future too. I hope for a better world, free from fear. I hope for great movements of working- class people who will change the world; when socialism becomes more than an ‘ism’, but is the end of poverty and injustice and war. When children and young people are free to grow and create and not be harmed by drugs, abuse, and the slow death of poverty. And if, along the way, we must debate and decide on issues, let us make a politics of hope which is not spoken about in coded lies. Hope for people in Scotland, and for all of humanity. To hell with fear!