Sunday, 17 May 2009

The cost of politics

As a political activist, I have had been on the receiving end of many an insult (and even some threats) over the years. Ranging from the drunk man who approached me in Dundee city centre, asking me if I wanted ‘a punch in the face’, to the woman in Perth who shouted at me ‘you people should be shot’. There was the man in Livingston who told me he would like to take me ‘round the corner’ and do some unspeakable things to me... and then the young man in Glasgow who grabbed my leaflets, and then told Jamie (who came to my assistance) that he would leave him ‘in a pool of blood’. Then there is my personal favourite – the man who strode towards me, and informed me: ‘I wouldn’t p*** on Alex Salmond if he was on fire’. I must say, if I saw Alex Salmond in said state, it wouldn’t be my first instinct to relief myself on him either!

So what is the point of this stroll through memory lane? No, it’s not to panic my mum.

The point is, my experience of being involved in politics is a mixed one. On the one hand, I get a huge amount of personal satisfaction by working towards something that I feel passionately about, I have made a number of very good friends through the SNP, I met my husband through the SNP, and through campaigning I get to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t. On the other, I spend pretty much all of what should be my spare time on politics, which means I don’t get to see my family and friends nearly as much as I would like, it costs a pretty penny (all that travel to various by-elections, stamps, envelopes, SNP raffles, etc), I manage to wreck my gloves on rusty gates each winter and politics can be a very frustrating business.

There are times, such as now, that being involved in politics is particularly frustrating. The whole saga regarding MPs’ expenses has left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths – and mine is no exception. There is no excuse for spending taxpayers’ money like water – recession or no recession. While it is clear that not all MPs have abused the system, many have taken advantage and a few have clearly cheated the system. I just can’t comprehend how anyone could square these claims with their conscience.

And it’s not just the money. What also worries me is the mindset of these MPs, and just how detached from reality some of them seem to be. If the rest of us want something, we have to pay for it ourselves. It really must be easier to spend other people’s money...

What will be the legacy of this whole affair? Will it put some people off getting involved in politics and standing for election? Will it turn some people off politics and voting altogether? I think it will.

As a candidate myself, I find it more difficult than I would as an activist to talk to people on the doorsteps about this issue. As somebody standing to become an MP at the next election, I am aware that some people will now be thinking, ‘Is she for real, or is she just in it for the money...’

And what can I say to people? ‘I’m honest. I wouldn’t claim these expenses.’

Why should people believe me? Would I believe me?

I don’t blame people for being cynical at all, and only hope that I am given the opportunity to prove myself.

As for MPs’ expenses, they need to scrap the whole system and only allow for the minimum of expenses. In my current job, I have to travel down to London and I naturally incur additional expenses as a result, for which I am reimbursed. I can claim for my train fare (with a receipt), lunch and dinner (up to £12 with a receipt) and overnight accommodation (with a receipt). Not a bad system.


Math Campbell said...

I agree.
Possibly being I somewhat foolhardy to such concerns, I recently put my name down to be the Party's candidate in the upcoming Inverclyde by-election. We won't find out who gets the honours till next week (after the members have been balloted, which doesn't give us long till the election on the 18th of June), but I am glad to have taken part even if I'm not selected. The only thing that daunts me, as you say is the reaction of the voters to the antics of the London crowd. Hardly seems fair to us, does it?

By the way, my apologies for not commenting on your blog much in recent months. You may recall you were my first contact with my party, just over a year ago when I first joined the party, and I was asking you if you had any advice. Thanks again :)
I would have commented more since then but I lost your blog address in a system crash :(

Maybe I'll catch you in the EU election events, or failing that, I'm sure if you're there I'll see you around the Glasgow North East by-election we'll apparently e having in September!

Julie Hepburn said...

Hi Math

Good to hear from you, and I'm really pleased that you are enjoying being so involved in the SNP. Let me know how you get on in the selection process.

I will no doubt see you in Glasgow over the summer. Hopefully you will still be thankful for my initial advice and not hold me responsible for the gradual erosion of your social life!

Math Campbell said...

I have a social life?
Yippee!! :)