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Politics, Power and Parliamentarians


Politics is about Power: In democratic societies the use of legitimate access to power to alter the course of human affairs. It can use different devices, executive decision making and legislation being the most obvious, but other less obvious routes can alter the course of affairs. For example, elected parliamentarians are given a significant platform to change the way in which people perceive issues, problems and remedies (others would see this as influence rather than power as such).

Parliamentarians are in a much more privileged position (Don't misunderstand me, I am not inferring they are superior) than others in the political world, such as councillors, elected party officials or government advisers. We should expect more of them.

So what do you look for in politicians aspiring to be parliamentarians? This is a question I was posed by a friend just this morning who will be voting in a different constituency (unfortunately!) on Friday for her nominee as SNP candidate.

Let me start with an analogy from the days I used to teach a course on Judgment and Decision Making for the Open University. Say you are in hospital, and along comes the consultant to see you. If you are like me, you probably want two things.

First, a good bedside manner with an ability to empathise and communicate effectively.

Second, a skilled practitioner able to intervene on my behalf to make my life better.

Now ask yourself this question. If you can’t have a doctor with abilities in both, which would you rather have? The one with a good bedside manner but without the medical knowledge and skills to help you, or a doctor with the knowledge and skills but with a poor bedside manner?

My answer is that having the knowledge, skills and ability to intervene on your behalf are essential. Without those, you may die.

What am I saying regarding politics? Well, for me the essential thing to look for in a politician is an ability to use power and influence on behalf of you and such causes, such as Scottish Independence, that you jointly share. I think further explanation is needed.

Back in February 1974 as SNP candidate in South Ayrshire (I was very, very young of course!) I took to a number of platforms to debate face to face with the then Labour MP Jim Sillars. No quarter was given. In many ways, I still think it was more formidable than clashing with Prime Minsters, Chancellors and others as I frequently did in the Commons. There is going to be more of this as the election and referendum come along. We need effective politicians.

So the first thing to seek out in my view is someone who can take the heat in the kitchen, someone with the ability to take on the opposition with skill, passion and knowledge. For me, that is why I am so sorry to hear that Mike Russell is standing down at the coming election. He is never afraid to stand his ground and debate intelligently with opponents at every opportunity.

Of course that is not nearly enough. In using political power, look for a vision, a sense of purpose, from politicians. Without that, holding power can too easily become a matter of personal glorification rather than purpose. So, what areas of policy do they want to influence and how? Do they have clear ideas for the future, a clear vision of what they want to achieve?

I would add too, what particular skills do candidates have that they can use? Let me give you two examples from my days at Westminster. When two select committees got together to hold an inquiry into Sir Philip Green the committees asked Michelle Thomson to lead off the interrogation of Green. He appeared before the committee with a phalanx of advisers and huge bundles of papers. Michelle immediate threw him off his stride (by asking about his values) and proceeded to fillet him in public. Remarkable interrogation skills.

My other example is Joanna Cherry. She has been able to bring her formidable knowledge and skills to many issues most notably of course winning in the highest court of the land against the actions of Boris Johnston’s government. Another remarkable achievement.

So ask yourself this, what are the skills and attributes candidates have that they can deploy effectively in the world of politics?

I want to turn now to myself, perhaps in an unexpected manner. What is it about me that I think is valuable and positive but that is not as important as the characteristics discussed above?

The first is about being time served. I have served over 50 years in the SNP since a teenager. Although that does say something about loyalty to the cause of Scottish Independence, should it be a telling factor? I don't think so.

The second harks back to my doctor analogy. I am told (I should blush as I type this) that I have an easy manner and am able to engage and empathise with people. Do I think that is valuable? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that means I will make a good politician? No.

I think I had better move on before I give too many reasons for not voting for me!

My point is this. Politics is a deadly serious business. Our cause is a deadly serious business. We need serious politicians with formidable skills. Politicians, who can take the heat, enter the fray and win for our cause. That’s what I told my friend she should look for.

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