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When all politics isn’t local

On Thursday, 7 May, we went to vote. It was my first time voting outside Ireland and the first election since the twins were born, so we had a lot to think about. We went to the polling station first thing in the morning before work.

My wife was delayed a bit while they checked her ID and card, so I took both the twins into the booth with me. I was to get an interesting insight into their politics. My son, I reckon, is a born anarchist as he immediately did his best to pull the booth apart and successfully managed to remove a wooden panel. Before he had the chance to destroy any more British democratic institutions, his mother came and took him off me. The girl was up in my arms. I had previously explained to her we were going to vote; this wasn’t enough for her.

“I vote. My do it.”

I handed her the little pencil and pointed her to the box I wanted ticked. She did one line and I made it into an X. She was delighted with herself. She giggled. I explained which party we had voted for. We left the booth and she went up to the policeman and returning officer at the desk.

“I voted for Ed.”

So much for a secret ballot.

She’s at that point now where the first thing she says every morning is some sort of recap of what happened yesterday. On Friday at 6:45 she said: “I vote for Ed. Ed.” When we turned on the breakfast news, it appeared she was about the only one who had.

Alas, Ed Miliband. We hardly knew ye.

Politics and elections here are quite different. We got two flyers through the door (from the Labour candidate). The only candidate I met was the Green Party one while out walking on a Saturday morning. We didn’t have a single person call to the door. There were no posters on lamp-posts, but the week before the election they put up very small signs on the grassy verges of major roads with the party and candidate name on them. This was far more conducive to the visual amenity than ugly feckers in cheap suits gurning down at you from every pole in the town. Maybe it’s different in swing seats (ours is safe Labour) but I did form the general impression that people were weighing-up the parties and their policies as a whole rather than wondering who might fix the road.

It was far more conducive to the visual amenity than ugly feckers in cheap suits gurning down at you from every pole in the town

The UK system of ‘first past the post’ is deeply unfair. Regardless of how odious they might be, the fact that UKIP got four million votes and only one MP is outrageous. Although the Irish system of proportional representation is undoubtedly fairer, it did occur to me that multi-seat constituencies are at least partly responsible for a lot of the crap politics we’ve seen in Ireland. It means if you’re running for FF or FG, you’re often not running against any other party, you’re running primarily against the other FF/FG candidate(s). This is why the clientelism is so embedded in those parties. It’s not that you’re going to make a political argument against your true opponent because you’re both running on the same manifesto. So, in some instances, it becomes a case of ‘I got your uncle that planning permission and the medical card for your cousin’.

Of course, the big story of the election here was the landslide vote for the Nationalists in Scotland. The difference between the two countries hasn’t seemed this stark since the days when Jimmy Krankie dominated Saturday night TV viewing, to the bemusement of the good people of England.

Currently, Official Scotland exudes confidence, looking progressive, excited and resolutely to the future. Official England on the other hand, with its rekindled love affair with the royal family, government of old Etonians, interminable BBC nostalgia fests and ubiquitous, irritating ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters (which were actually not widely used during WWII, as the public found them patronising) can appear by contrast to be harking back to the past. This is at odds with my experience on the ground of this wonderful, optimistic country.

Yet it’s hard to escape the feeling that what’s going on in Scotland is somewhat illusory. As we know only too well in Ireland, of all the challenges faced in Europe since the end of WWII, nationalism has never been the answer. Plus, voting ‘no’ in the referendum and returning the SNP in a landslide six months later feels like a fella pretending to start a fight in a pub, saying ‘hold me back lads, hold me back’. Other complex issues of national identity will be debated in the British EU exit referendum, which could make my family and I illegal aliens overnight.

It’s going to be a stormy few years.

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