If memory serves, it was the winter of 2013. The festive season. Although it didn’t feel at all festive. A midweek, mid-December afternoon which, despite the relatively early hour, was already dark with a depressing darkness that seemed to suck the cheering glow from the lights decorating Perth High Street into its dismal, smothering maw. And dreich. The ‘Perfect Dreich’. Every permutation imaginable of rain, sleet, snow, hail and biting, bone-chilling, skin-searing cold running in random, swirling cycles as if seeking the ultimate combination that might deter even the most abject slave to the annual consumer-fest that is Christmas.
Don’t ask me why I was out and about on such a day. I really can’t remember. But there I was, battling the elements as I made my miserable way along Perth’s main shopping thoroughfare when, through a sudden sheeting downpour, I spotted someone I recognised. There, in the middle of the street, stood Deputy First Minister of Scotland and then Finance Secretary, John Swinney.
The tall, slim figure of our local MSP was unmistakable despite the gathering gloom and the fact that he was unnaturally diminished in stature by being hunched against the cold, as if trying to withdraw entirely within his dark overcoat, and stooped as he attended, against the dull roar of wind and rain, to a couple of comparatively diminutive ladies.
It took no more than a brief glance to see that John was getting a bit of a hard time from the ‘little old ladies’. Fingers were being wagged in a way that made it all too easy to imagine the tongue-lashing he was having to endure without actually being able to hear a word.
In that moment, with an unexpectedness that left me momentarily confused, my heart swelled. Despite the wretched weather, I felt the chill of the day dispelled by a warm glow of something between pleasure and pride. I was struck by the sudden realisation of how much I cherish living in a place where one of the most senior political figures in the land isn’t being whisked around in a bullet-proof limousine, but is standing in the middle of a pedestrian precinct being berated by voters. A place where our politicians aren’t isolated from us behind a wall of stone-faced security and mealy-mouthed minders, but are as exposed to the slings and arrows of outraged citizenry as we all were to the foul weather on that grim December afternoon.
It dawned on me then just how much I value the kind of society that still allows our First Minister to go walkabout at the foot of the Buchanan Steps organising selfies and having a blether and being entirely at ease with the people she answers to and not an agitated political aide or concerned police officer in sight.
I became freshly aware of the preciousness of a political culture in which it is possible for politicians to feel sufficiently protected simply by the respect they earn.
I felt inordinately pleased that this was my country.
I may have told this story before. I don’t care. It seems particularly apt to tell it again now, as armed police and military personnel are being deployed on the streets of Scotland at the behest of a British political elite which insists that it alone is capable of protecting my country.
But this is not my country!
When I walk down the street in my country, I encounter a cabinet minister carrying a briefcase – not a man in a Kevlar vest carrying a Heckler and Koch. When I walk down the street in my country, I see people confronting their elected representatives – not people being confronted by soldiers. The sight of automatic weapons and military fatigues on the streets of Scotland isn’t a sign that the British state is protecting my country. It is proof that the British state has failed to protect my country.
I want my country back!
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