Apparently there are millions of undecided floating voters. I suspect that most of us are undecided drowning ones….
A long time ago, in Queen Street, Edinburgh, as I was walking back to the BBC from lunch in the Beau Brummell with Jack McLean and Iain Thorburn, the chairman of the SNP, Willie Wolfe, crossed my path. Unlike everyone in the party, I never knew him as Billy; to me, he was Willie Wolfe, probably for the alliterative quality of the name. The photograph they printed of this admirable man when he died recently did him no favours. It showed him looking faintly ridiculous, attired for some tartan gathering.
‘Kenneth,’ he said, ‘for all the times you’ve interviewed me’ – and it is true that I interviewed him a lot; it was the era of ‘Scotland’s oil’, or so the SNP claimed – ‘I have absolutely no idea which party you support’. I took that as a high compliment, although it may have been something of a fishing expedition. Mr Wolfe and I went on meeting in a friendly way in that cramped basement in the New Town where the SNP had its headquarters before the Sean Connery money started arriving and where one or two bright people, Donald Bain among them, worked at the time. In those days I still had residual but well-disguised loyalties to a certain cause. Now I have none. As I write this an hour after the polls opened, my vote is still up for grabs.
All this is a roundabout way of saying that I have these leaflets – ‘election literature’ as the bumph is sometimes called – in front of me and that I am being asked to vote for one of four candidates. We do not run to Greens or fascists or monster loonies in these parts; we are an under-privileged lot. The alternative to voting for any of the four is to scrawl ‘None of the above’ along the bottom. In this election perhaps that should be adapted to ‘Nick of the above’ on the grounds that it is extremely bad form not to agree with Nick, even as you disloyally resolve to spoil your ballot paper.
What, then, do I have here in Central Ayrshire, possibly the most boring seat in Scotland? What is my choice, exactly?
I have a front and back A5 job from the Scottish Conservatives promoting the interests of Maurice Golden. If he wins Central Ayrshire, we are pointing to an unparalleled Tory landslide, the end of the Labour Party, and the emergence of Maurice as the Golden Boy of Scottish politics. On the back there is a mugshot of a white-shirted David Cameron, a floating head against a white background, frowning prime ministerially. I have just noticed a slight dimple, a useful place to keep one’s secrets. There are about 400 words in this leaflet – a masterpiece of brevity or a model of evasion depending on your point of view. No mention of public expenditure cuts or increased taxes, but ‘responsible behaviour will be rewarded’. I wonder what Dave means by ‘responsible’. There are times when it is our duty to behave irresponsibly. Much of the progress in society has been made possible by irresponsible behaviour. It worries me that Dave is unaware of this.
The colour scheme in the Lib Dem leaflet is schizoid and the candidate, Andrew Chamberlain, is photographed outside a golf club in Troon. What is so Liberal Democrat about that clubby, exclusive, male environment? I don’t get it. Inside, they promise me that my tax bill will be reduced by £700 but don’t tell me how this is possible or why it is desirable. Again, no mention of cuts in public expenditure. Labour’s record of shame includes ‘closing thousands of local post offices’. If that is the third worst crime committed by the ruling party, the last 13 years haven’t been so bad after all.
The SNP’s John Mullen invites me to ‘elect a local champion’. Modest John means himself. He has ‘opposed the closure of Post Offices across Central Ayrshire’ but to no avail in my own village where, despite John’s efforts, the post office closed anyway. They do have a thing about post offices, don’t they? ‘We will give Scotland a stronger voice in London’ – but the banking collapse which started, inconveniently from the SNP’s point of view, in Edinburgh fails to rate a mention.
Labour’s Brian Donohoe boasts the highest word count. His ‘top priorities’ for Central Ayrshire are: more jobs; more affordable housing; more schools; more police on the beat; more locally-produced energy; more trains; more buses; more leisure facilities; more motherhood; more apple pie. Actually, I made up the last two top priorities. Brian boasts of being a ‘part-time community cop’. Sure enough there is a photograph of him in uniform ‘wearing one of my other hats’. He is also to be seen shaking the hand of Lord Adonis, whoever he is. No mention of spending cuts or increased taxes. It’s more of everything.
I ask in a spirit of genuine inquiry: how is it conceivable that these parties distributed election leaflets to the constituents of Central Ayrshire without a single reference to the economic crisis facing Britain or their proposals for dealing with it?
Yes, all this is literature in one sense of the word. It is a form of fiction, but not the sort Carson McCullers would have understood. I am reading her at the moment. She wrote with concision and a haunting beauty; she knew how to use language. These parties have no respect for language or the ideas language communicates. I can forgive them the bad writing and the amateur photography, the forced smiles, the strange haircuts, the infinity of platitudes, but the wilful absence of reality is staggering. As we crawl to the polling booth, we suspend our disbelief by putting a cross against any of these purveyors of cheap make-believe. Better to do the dirty deed drunk and, if intoxication allows, holding one’s nose.
Apparently there are millions of undecided floating voters this morning. I suspect that most of us are undecided drowning ones.
Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.