Three Shifts For The Cause (The Story Of Election Day 2016)

Hey Readers As you will no doubt be aware Thursday was election day as Scotland went to the polls to elect our new parliament.  As an active member of a political party in my case the SNP I decided that after I went out to vote I would go down to the hub and see what needed to be done.

On arrival at my polling station I was greeted by my two local Labour councilors and I enjoyed a political chat and personal catch up’s with Jim Coleman and Marie Garrity. I joked with them that the last time I saw the two of them together on the day of the 2012 council elections I ended up with such bad sun burn it was still with me till Burns night and beyond  and I think it’s  safe to say history has repeated itself and as yet again I turn a deeper shade of red than any of their party’s policies. Yes I know it’s a cheap shot but there is a strong possibility that Marie may be reading this which makes it too good an opportunity to miss.

On casting my votes both for the SNP I made my way to Parkhead to a very busy hub where our campaign manager and very own version of wonder woman Alexis Deans was ready to place me on polling place duty almost as soon as I arrived. Little did I know it at the time but this would be the first of three shifts I would undertake in the name of the cause.  Well Alexis did say I would be well used during the course of the day and believe me this is a woman who keeps her promises.

My first stint was at St Michael’s school in Parkhead which is just a five minute walk from the hub. I was sent there with another volunteer as intelligence had reached us that there were no fewer than eight Labour activists on patrol. This turned out to be ever so slightly wrong and there were actually no Labour activists at the school. You see the people concerned were actually members of the Unison trade union who were holding a picket line at the entrance to the school in support of school janitors or as its known in Glasgow Justice For Jannies. On assuring them that I as a former unison member would never cross a picket line on the grounds of principal I wished them well with their campaign and was now ready to start mine and leaflet as many voters as is possible during my time on duty.

My report card from this polling  station was that it was looking good for us and even in the early afternoon our supporters were confident of victory. During my short stint I encountered a lot of positive progressive Scots who have been greatly encouraged by the SNP and our vision of a better fairer and more inclusive society. Whilst on duty I also saw a couple of familiar faces who stopped to chat before going in to cast their votes and it was nice to enjoy a catch up with them before getting on with the business of winning more votes for my party.

It was during this stint that I had to deal as delicately as possible with comments from someone who described herself as a non voter. The woman in question said she wouldn’t vote for any party because immigrants were given all the jobs and were also given preference in housing allocation and that we were being flooded by what she referred to as these people.

Chatting on such difficult topics is always challenging and can be potentially explosive if you are in any way caught short with your answers or appear to be either aggressive or patronising in your tone. Fortunately however I listened to a woman who had experienced  her own hardship giving the chance to articulate  her views and then to the best of my ability attempted to give her the answers she sought.

I explained to her that Immigration was a reserved matter which was still under the control of Westminster. This I said was important as it meant Scotland had no control over our immigration policy. I then explained why immigration is good for both the economy and society and that the people who preach the toughest line on this are those who own our press and media many of whom live most of the year overseas.

As her initial comment was made about Syrians, I decided to make their story a wee bit more personal to her. I did this by explaining that as someone who has faced hardship herself, she would appreciate the difficult circumstances the vast majority of refugees found themselves in having to travel across both countries and continents to escape not only hardship but the horrors of war. Needless to say by the end of our chat the woman agreed with my sentiments especially when I pointed out that there is more than enough room in our country for all who want to live here and that austerity was not necessary but the deliberate choice of a Westminster government which would sooner make those on low income pay for the mistakes of the rich who they refuse to tax.

As we ended our discussion she said that she may consider voting after all as I had taken the time to explain things to her without talking down to her. This potentially difficult conversion was I think a triumph for my diplomatic skills and a vindication of the women for independence approach to politics that we do politics differently from men.

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Eventually however after an hour or so I was called back to the hub to be sent after being refuelled with coffee and cake for duty at a much larger polling place and that is it turned out was my local polling station St Bridget’s which is located in the heart of Baillieston and less than a five minute walk from my home.  During a busy a couple of hours in the mid afternoon sun I saw many familiar faces as they came to play their part in the democratic process.

It is I think interesting that an  older voter  asked me if I thought  it was right that to use their words weans at 16 should be able to vote. This is a question I have often been asked by this particular demographic group  and they are almost all universally shocked when I reply that they should and further enhance my support of the idea by saying that many of the young voters are far more clued up on the issues of the day than their parents and grandparents.

Now I don’t know why the majority of the older generation look stunned at this comment but in my experience the inescapable fact is that they do. I must stress however that this is my personal opinion and other people may have a very different story to relate.

To me, my support for this cause has been long standing and is due to the fact that I believe in the political evolution of our society, and the educational progress of our younger citizens. I say this in the sense that with a greater number of resources at their disposal including access to both smart phones and the internet this generation has a wider range of more effective educational tools with which to undertake their research on political and other matters and therefore the capacity to be far more politically aware.

As if to prove my point one of my highlights of a glorious sunny day was when a young voter challenged me on fracking saying the Labour Party said fracking was bad and they were going to ban it. I stated that I wasn’t 100 percent sure this could be done but that the SNP had introduced an ongoing moratorium which meant no fracking could be introduced whilst the moratorium was in place. On explaining this to the girl concerned I said that the difference between my evidence based answer and Labour’s empty slogan, was the difference  between a party of government and a party of opposition who had no real hope of winning the election and could therefore promise whatever they liked without ever having to worry about their policies being subject to scrutiny. This answer seemed to please the girl concerned who made her way to the polling booth where at an intelligent guess I would say she may have voted SNP in the constituency ballot and probably Green on the list. Of course I can only guess what she may do in the privacy of the polling booth but that would be my guess based on our conversation.

Though I was based at my local polling station one voter I didn’t see was my friend and flatmate Janette who as I found out later had went down to vote just after two o’clock which is it transpires was around the time I was told where I was going to be placed.
All things considered this was a very enjoyable shift and yet again I was very encouraged by the positive reaction as many smiling voters said they didn’t need a leaflet as they were going to vote SNP anyway. 

Shift completed I returned to the hub where I enjoyed a roll on sausage and another slice of cake
as I caught up with friends and fellow members of team Shettleston. Among the team members I spotted at this time were our brilliant branch secretary Laura Doherty, our amazing branch organiser Jennifer Layden,  and a number of faithful party stalwarts  including Bob Bothwell, May Findlay, my good friend Steven Tierney, and one of party’s rising stars Alex Kerr I also chatted to my two local councilors Austin Sheridan, and David Turner, Carlton councillor Greg Hepburn and the woman he succeeded as councillor after her general election success when she became the SNP MP for Glasgow Central The Right Honourable Alison Thewliss MP.

During my time with my friends and comrades  I sensed a team who were focused in our determination to get the best possible result for our candidate and our party. Believe me our hub was a good place to be as we readied ourselves for one last push in the early evening sunshine.

In the name of that push I was sent to Swinton Primary where I enjoyed a busy and productive shift and yet again bumped in to a few familiar faces. Chief amongst them was Jane Sharp who came to vote along with her husband Graham and her two dogs. Unfortunately the dogs were not to vote as their names were not on the electoral roll. Having heard a few of our activists raise concerns about turnout I was delighted that turnout at this polling station appeared to be brisk with many voters turning out in the final few of hours of the evening and many like Jane using their right to vote to give their dogs some much appreciated evening air.  In fact there was a period at around 8 o’clock when there were so many dogs in attendance I was waiting for the TV cameras to turn up to film an episode of That’s My Dog.  Honestly I saw more dogs in five minutes than I did Liberal Democrat voters all day.

It’s at this time of night that the candidates and their teams turn up to gauge voter turn out and how their party may have performed.  On this occasion I enjoyed good chats with Labour candidate Thomas Rannachen and his  Conservative counterpart Thomas Kerr. I found both guys and their teams to be very pleasant and a credit to their parties, though I have to say I found the Conservative far more confident of making gains when the results came in. Indeed the bold Thomas said that his party would hold Ayr, whilst gaining Eastwood  and Dumfries from the Labour Party and making significant gains on the list as he claimed the Tories were the only true protectors of the union. 

If Thomas Kerr was a new face to me his Labour opponent was slightly more familiar as we had met last summer when he was his party’s standard bearer in the Carlton by-election for Glasgow city council. As we shared some memories from that day, he informed me that my favourite member of his party (yes he does mean you Rebecca) had  been asking about me and  had been down at Reidvale school since 7 am or as the great Christy Moore would put it before I saw the light of morning.  I told Thomas to pass on my best wishes to a fiery wee fighter who is responsible for one of my most personal political poems and I believe that Jaffa Cakes And Sausage Rolls should be read by activists of political parties. Being the decent guy he is Thomas assured me he would send Rebecca my good wishes just as he’d delivered hers to me.

Just like the last time we met Thomas wasn’t short of company and amongst those who accompanied him on his tour of the polling stations was one Anas Sarwar with whom I enjoyed a cordial chat  on both the impending election result and the upcoming European referendum campaign on which I said we would be on the same side as we campaign for the UK to remain in Europe. Anas joked that though it would be good to have a cross party campaign we couldn’t have the Tories involved as the last time that happened it was quite problematic. Now I don’t know why but I couldn’t resist having a wee secret smile on hearing this. Anyway he wished me well and  said he hoped I enjoyed my dinner when I got home as campaigning is hungry work. Believe me never has my chicken balls , chips, and curry sauce ever tasted so good.

At ten past nine my lift came to drive me the short distance to my home and so ended my contribution to another election. Maybe it was because of the sunshine or the knowing smiles from the voters which suggested that a good result may be on the cards but this was an enjoyable day and a day on which I did three shifts for the cause.

On arriving home I noticed Janette crashed out on the sofa and remembered where my real priorities lay. As regular readers of this blog will know my flatmate and friend has severe depression and it is to give  a voice to her and others disadvantaged by a society which puts far too much emphasis on individualism and nowhere near enough on community that I joined the Scottish National Party to fight for a better fairer more inclusive nation. It is why I campaigned for the SNP for more than two decades before finally becoming a paid up member of the party in April 2010 just three months short  of my 49th birthday. I am and I’ll see this openly very proud of my party card and of the many fantastic people I have come to know as friends and as members of my SNP family.

I have no doubt that some of those names may be familiar to you, but for every one you recognise there are many others you won’t. Yet without this unseen army of unpaid volunteers my party or for that matter any party would be a shadow of the forces we are and democracy would be a privilege for the few rather than a universal right for us all.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X

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