Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Politics and being 17

I've been tagged by Mr Quist in the meme about what you had done politically by 17. I managed to have my 17th birthday in Thatcher's not Orwell's 1984.

I already hear you sigh, saying "Oh god, she's going to tell you the detention story again". It's ok, I'm not, but I can't pretend it didn't happen. If you are one of the few who have no idea what I'm talking about it, look here.

I'd also written a huge amount of envelopes for election addresses in the days before you could print labels. Of course, once we had the technology, we missed these long, laborious but great fun, chatty days writing envelopes so we had to bring them back in the late 90s. The blue was so much nicer than the business like brown ones with Election Communication in the corner, so much more personal.

I made canvass cards by cutting up the electoral register and gluing in onto cardboard. It seems almost primitive now when we can print off an entire constituency at the touch of a button.

I'd delivered lots of leaflets - the first one, ever, was, unwittingly to a Tory activist who barely drew breath as she took it from me and threw it on her bonfire.

I'd spoken at a public meeting with Alan Beith, Russell Johnston and Charles Kennedy during the 1984 Euro campaign. Again, I won't bore you with the details cos I've already told them here.

During that same election, I got into even more trouble than usual with my parents. We'd put out a flier for Highlands and Islands MEP candidate Russell Johnston which had a poster in the back. Obviously with my parents being Tories, there was no way that was ever going to go up. I did, however, completely by accident rest it on my windowsill which looked out onto the road at the front of the house. It must have been there, oh, a week, before anybody noticed. I got hell, but it was worth it at the time.

I'd spoken in school debates taking positions that I believed at the time but make me cringe now, being pro nuclear weapons and the monarchy.

Political life in the Highlands was much more gentle than elsewhere. I got quite a shock when I went to uni in Aberdeen and discovered, at the hands of the legendary Sheila Ritchie and Allan Knox
that not only could you deliver leaflets outside election times, but it was also desirable. We didn't do that much outside elections in those days, although, of course, Bob was working his socks off as MP.

I'd also learned that politics was a nasty business. Not in our party, of course, where everyone had been so lovely and welcoming to me. I made lifelong friends amongst both SDP and Liberals in Caithness and Sutherland. I think they found having a young person there, particularly one who wasn't too keen on nuclear power just down the road from an, er, nuclear power plant on which the local economy depended, quite amusing. The 1983 election saw Bob Maclennan standing for the SDP, having left the Labour Party two years earlier. Those who had stayed in the Labour Party were very bitter and I found their hostile attitude quite scary. Their antics were relatively mild compared to those of the Chesterfield Labour Party I'd face later, but unsettling all the same.

I also had the distinction of being, at the time, the most northern member of Scottish Young Social Democrats. I think I was a bit of a novelty to them as I hadn't really, shall we say, travelled extensively and when I finally met them all, including Debra Storr, at the YSD AGM in Edinburgh, it was my first ever visit to the city.

It's hard to believe that all this was a quarter of a century ago. By coincidence, my husband uploaded a picture of himself at 17 or 18 to Facebook last night, which was taken four decades ago. It doesn't feel like that long to either of us and we both still feel that we've kept a lot of our youthful outlook, although maybe we haven't retained the energy to keep up with it!

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