I’m a middle-aged father of two who’s lived in Scotland for almost twenty years. For the last ten years I’ve worked in the public sector. Before that I’ve had a variety of different jobs in catering, haulage and retail. I’ve been flush and struggled to make ends meet. Unlike a serving politician, I know how hard it is to survive in the world today. Job hunting is getting harder and what’s on offer is getting less. While I adjust my belt accordingly, I am sickened by those who have never wanted for anything telling me that cuts to education, the health service, looking after elderly and the like are necessary.
I got involved in politics during my teens and carried on – I’m the guy who stays up all night to watch the results at election time. Lets face facts, I’m a political junkie. If forced to pin my colours to one political position, I would say I’m on the left of centre. I see no reason why society can’t look after everyone, not just the ones who can afford to pay. To my mind, a society is as weak or as strong as its most defenceless member. Even my children understand that – the big ones look after the small, the tiny look up to the tall.
At heart I guess, my beliefs are a mixture of libertarianism and anarchism. I believe in individual liberty, especially freedom of expression and action. However, that freedom does not come lightly. You need to take responsibility for your actions – how they affect yourself, other people, society and the environment. As Suzanne Moore wrote recently, anarchy is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you are using it as a lazy shorthand for people causing disorder and upheaval. An anarchist is somebody who, while advocating the abolition of government, wants a social system based on voluntary co-operation. We look after our own, or so I was taught by my family as I was growing up.
At the same time, we all need to take responsibility for our situation and do what we can to help ourselves and others. All for one and one for all I guess, to borrow a phrase. Society needs safety nets to catch people when they fall, but not ones that make the individual reliant on the support. If the safety nets create a false sense of security and deprive people of the need and realisation that they can and have to improve themselves, society is failed just as much as if the protection didn’t exist. A lack of opportunities creates a depressed and easy to manipulate population. Without hope you constantly look at the glass as not even half empty but as no worth replenishing.
Society needs an educated population. Not necessarily one with qualifications and letters after their names, but people who understand that with power comes responsibility. People who can see there are causes and effects. For instance, if you alienate children and young people, demonising them as hoodies and thugs, they will reject what you offer. If we want the next generation to respect us, we have to respect them. That doesn’t mean agreeing with everything they say or do, but likewise it doesn’t mean flinching or cowering as they walk past. Respect is earned, not given freely, it is a two way street. I will treat a nurse or a teacher, for example, in a way that befits their job, but I won’t respect them as a person unless they can prove that they deserve it. If you act in a way that makes me feel belittled or ignored, of course I’m not going to treat you as an equal.
I also believe in the idea of noblesse oblige, that with wealth, power and prestige come responsibilities. While some may jump on this as big society, I think of it more as public service in the widest possible sense. The UK Government now contains more multi-millionaires than ever before. They tell us how we should react and that we are in this together, along with other trite phrases. Yet these people, who earn over three times the average UK worker, expect us to agree to pay freezes and other ‘austerity measures’ while they submit expenses claims for travelling to work. Nobody pays my bus fare home from work, no matter what time I start or finish. Why should they expect to receive reimbursement for it then? If you wish to serve your country in such a position, you should not profit from it. I’m not saying you should not receive a wage for helping to govern the country, but that you help set an example to others through your actions and behaviour.
I’ve volunteered for different organisations over the years, from BTCV to the Terrence Higgins Trust, from Shelter to Edinburgh’s Forest Café. At the moment I’m involved with the capital’s branch of Yes! To Fairer Votes, who are campaigning for a change to to the Westminster electoral system. Thanks to my parents I’ve had a good start in life so I want to help pass that on to others. If that means giving up some of my time, then that’s what it takes. Giving money always helps charities but giving your time gives you an opportunity to see the difference they make. Through helping others I believe we help ourselves as well. I’ve learnt about the world we live in, how other people live and about myself through volunteering. I’ve met people I would otherwise not have talked to and heard about their lives and histories, beliefs and culture by giving up my time. Time spent helping and learning is never wasted, it is part of developing as a human being.