With just over a month to go until referendum day, the dates in my diary are beginning to thin out. The few months I have spent on the ‘Yes’ campaign trail have been nothing sort of a complete surprise to me. I never in a million years thought I would ever been a part of something like this. I feel greatly honoured to have been so. Win or lose, it has been a privilege to finally have the chance to play an active part in the democracy of the land where I live. For the first time in 53 years on the planet I have found finally something to truly believe in: something worth going out to bat for.
In a way, this can be seen as almost tragically sad and I think it shows the extent to which the endless pettiness, nastiness and mediocrity of party politics has all but killed our democracy. It seems to have become a broken system that treasures blandness over all else. Our leaders are required to be little more than cardboard cut outs. No longer are they allowed to be old. Their appearance is deemed to me much more important than their intelligence and their passion. They are allowed no skeletons in the cupboard and they have usually never lived anything resembling a normal life. They come from public schools and Oxbridge and they enter politics the day after they graduate.
How can anyone possibly be inspired by such grey people? Our democracy has evolved into a desperate wilderness where a man of magnificent flaws such as Winston Churchill would never stand a chance of making it to the top. He was an old, overweight, chronic alcoholic who had a god given ability to put his foot in it. He was the kind of unpredictable maverick our spiteful media now hates with a passion. They would have destroyed him with the cruel pleasure of a vicious eight year old pulling the legs off a spider.
This has been the true beauty of the ‘Yes’ campaign. It has risen far above the soul destroying sameness of party politics and become a place for everybody and anybody willing to share the dream of creating something better.
This is the main reason why one of the dates left in my diary stands head and shoulders above all of the others.
Friday 29 August, 2014.
The Memorial Institute, Moniave, Dumfries and
It is the night when I will achieve my biggest personal ambition in the campaign – I am going to share a platform with my friend Tommy Sheridan.
It will be night to remember for me and I hope it will also be so for everyone who comes along on the night.
It is probably worth starting with some background. A few weeks ago I represented the ‘Yes’ side in Moniave in a debate against Russell Brown MP and Elaine Murray MSP, both of whom are professional Labour politicians. My wing man for the might was Richard Arkless, a Stranraer businessman. It was only when I arrived at the Craigandarroch Arms that the back story to the event was explained. The whole thing had been arranged by Tim, the pub landlord. Why? Because every night the punters in his bar were debating the Referendum to exclusion of all else. So Tim took it on himself to arrange a formal debate in the pub. The night was brilliant. Seventy people turned up which represented over 10% of the population of the village. The night was warm and most people had a pint in their hands.
flew and things got pretty tasty at
times, but nobody got thumped. For me it was the very essence of what
grassroots democracy is supposed to look like. People were fired up and engaged
and nobody was pulling any punches. The word was that everyone who came along
really enjoyed it. Sparks
Tim certainly did and he was immediately in the mood to arrange another date. I told him I knew Tommy Sheridan. How’s about I see if I can get him to come along for another debate? It was a done deal about a second after the suggestion left my mouth.
To start with everything took shape pretty quickly. Tim booked the nearby Memorial Institute which can seat 200. He got himself a licence to make the sure the audience won’t go under refreshed. He got a mate of his who has a bus company to lay on a coach to ferry people to and from
Dumfries for £3 a head.
And then we both embarked on the task of securing some opposition from the ‘No’ side. How difficult could that be? Surely there would be plenty who would jump at the chance of a bit of grassroots street fighting against the man who has become the star of the ‘Yes’ campaign.
The ‘No’ side kept on saying ‘No’ until last week Tim received an official e mail from ‘Better Together’ explaining that they have a cast in stone policy of never sharing a platform with Tommy Sheridan.
Unbelievable. So much from democracy! Here it is by the way
I guess it must be the whole going to prison thing. It is amazing how many people who have challenged the British state over the years have found themselves in jail for all manner of charges. Check this out for a list of utter wickedness – Mahatma Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta, Charles Stuart Parnell, Jawarharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah…. the list rather suggests that taking on
rule can land you behind
So it was on to Plan B. I will be the warm up guy and then Tommy will have the chance to give a full length speech before we both answer questions from the floor. No matter what anyone might think about Tommy and his politics, few would be churlish enough to disagree with the fact that he is one of the very finest public speakers of his generation. For a while it seemed as if the art of great oratory was in danger of disappearing. The media gave up on showing full speeches. Instead they cropped them down to twenty second sound bites which could be easily slotted into the endless loop of the 24 hour rolling news channels.
The game changer was Barrack Obama. Here was an orator of the old school who demanded more than a lousy 20 second sound bite. So Barrack put his speeches online and millions upon millions logged on to hear the whole thing. And so it was that Barrack followed in the footsteps of Gladstone and Churchill and Kennedy by using his speaking brilliance to defeat all before him.
The ‘Yes; campaign has offered a similar platform for Tommy. The last time I looked, his most popular YouTube speech from a meeting in Kirkcaldy had been watched over 140,000 times. I guess that the sum total of all of his online speeches must have risen over a quarter of a million by now. Nobody else from either camp has come close to such a figure. Why is this? Well of course Tommy is a maverick figure with a whole bunch of charisma. And of course he exhibits the kind of genuine burning passion that we hardly ever see any more. But probably the main reason for his speeches receiving such a jaw dropping number of YouTube hits is the fact that he is seriously bloody good at it.
In my experience, getting the chance to watch somebody who his genuinely world class at what they do live is very rare. Most of the times when I have been lucky enough to witness sheer brilliance in the flesh it has been through watching sport. I saw Johan Cruyff give a master class at Anfield in 1976. I was at Old Trafford in 1984 to witness Viv Richards make his unforgettable 189. I followed Seve Ballesteros around a gale swept Royal Lytham in 1988 when he scored a 67 which beggared belief. Outside of sport? Watching Tommy Cooper doing his stuff was some experience.
Well, I would put a Tommy speech in the same kind of bracket. From a purely technical point of view, he has the lot. So it really doesn’t matter if you are a ‘Yes’, a ‘No’ or an ‘Undecided’, you should come along simply to watch one of the very greatest exponents of the art.
And it is a very fine art.
I have been delighted to watch the way Tommy has become the sell out star of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Everywhere he goes he fills every seat in the room. To date something like 15,000 people have turned out in halls across
listen to him. Oh and how the Establishment must hate it! They really must have
thought they had managed to get rid of him for good when they packed him off to
HMP Barlinnie. Well, unlucky guys. He’s back. It is impossible to say much
about the whole perjury thing as it is very much a live case and good old Andy
Coulson is due to be shipped north from prison in England to be questioned about his part in it all. Scotland
Hindsight surely must make most people question the chain of events that took Tommy from being a thorn in the side in the Holyrood Parliament to a disgraced convict in Bar L. I think I am safe enough in pointing out that the thing came down to whose word was to be believed.
Was it Tommy, a member of the Scottish Parliament?
Or was it the News of the World headed up by Andy Coulson?
Let’s just say that I never had any problem in remaining firmly in Tommy’s corner and I am very optimistic that my confidence will be proved to have been well placed.
Back to Moniave on 29th August.
Things kick off at 7.30 and it looks like all seats will be taken. For the last few months, First Base has been receiving hundreds of donated bread rolls every week from the Little Bakery in
The owner, Kerr, is a huge ‘Yes’ supporter as well as being a prize winning baker
of pies. He is creating a unique ‘Indy’ pie for the Moniave night and everyone
who comes along will get one.
So there you go. A Tommy speech, a packed village hall with a licence, and a free ‘Indy’ pie. Surely grassroots democracy doesn’t get mush better that! There will be a bus to ferry people from
and back for the sum of £3 a head, so book yourself a seat if you fancy a few
beers. It leaves Whitesands at 6.30pm and returns at 11.30pm. You can call Tim
on 01848 200205 if you want more details.
I hope to see you on the night.