Getting Wet and Saying Yes! To AV
The Yes to Fairer Votes campaign had its official launch on Bonfire weekend.
Up in Edinburgh we played our part. This is the story of what we did.
Our plan was to mark the occasion by making our way down Princes Street from Waterloo Place to Bute House on Charlotte Square, official residence of the First Minister of Scotland.
Waterloo Place stands in the shadow of Calton Hill. Calton Hill is the site of the Monument to the Scottish Political Martyrs, 5 men who campaigned for Parliamentary Reform and were transported to Australia for their trouble. Calton Hill was also the site of the vigil for Scottish Devolution. For me, Calton Hill resonates with a calls for greater democracy and the trust that the ordinary man and woman can place in themselves when they govern themselves.
In Waterloo Place stands a statue of the Duke of Wellington. The Iron Duke, so called not for his iron resolve at Waterloo, but for the iron shutters he had to fix to his windows when he opposed the Reform Act of 1832. Wellington was no friend to Parliamentary Reform. I like to think he would have hated to see us gathering there. Despite being Prime Minister twice, Wellington never even stood for election to the UK parliament. I don’t know what we do the No Campaign by Christ, we’d frighten Wellington.
Whilst we were waiting for a few final folk to arrive the rain came on. Came back, for despite the day dawning bright and clear and full of autumnal glory rain had settled in during the afternoon. The kinds of low, cold, grey rain that marks November in Edinburgh. Were we downhearted? No, but we were wet and keen to be in the pub at the other side of town. Laden with thousands of flyers, two large banners, two big speech bubbles, balloons, purple glow sticks, badges, stickers and rain-soaked coats we set off.
We made our way up Princes Street, clad in purple, waving our flags and banners, chanting and handing out leaflets. An earlier joke about the large YES! Banners and speech bubbles being useful for a silent version of When Harry Met Sally added a risqué touch to the procession. Shouts of “I’m getting wet for AV” and “Yes, YES YES!” Mixed in with more prosaic “Yes to voting reform” and “Make your vote count.” Looking at us I realised we are a grassroots organisation. One of our banners had been made by volunteers in London. I’ve seen photo’s of them doing it. I’m in touch with some of them on Facebook. The other was made in my living room by Frank and Steve and my wife. I know these people. Our banner wasn’t made in some sweatshop in China and bought in. We made them, we carried them.
What strikes me still is how little awareness there is about the issue. The majority view at the moment is not Yes to AV or No to AV but What Referendum? I hope over the next six months we can raise awareness enough to have a proper debate about electoral reform. I would like to win the referendum. I think AV is a better system than First Past the Post but most of all I want a proper debate. I don’t mind losing to an informed decision but to lose to ignorance and scare mongering would hurt.
We arrived at Bute House in the dark. Gathering round the doorsteps of our First Ministers home we unfurled our 3 meter wide banner “Edinburgh Says Yes!” and listened to a few remarks from Stuart. He reminded us why we were campaigning for Fairer Votes. He reminded us that the No campaign would use all the money and dirty tricks at their disposal to deny the people of Britain access to democracy, just has reactionary forces have always done, since Guy Fawkes through Wellington to the current No Campaign. He reminded us that what we had in the Yes Campaign was genuine grassroots support with all the strength that we can draw from camaraderie, common purpose and hope for the future. We campaign to upgrade our democracy for all not to limit democracy for selfish ends. Standing in the rain, in the wind, in the dark in the middle of Edinburgh with dozens of like-minded people I believed we can win.
After Stuart’s speech and a few photographs we knocked on the door of Bute House and delivered a Yes! Leaflet to the Right Honourable Alex Salmond MSP PC, First Minister of Scotland. I’m not sure what he makes of the Alternative Vote but I’m certain he knows people in Scotland care about it.
Whilst we were milling about getting ready to go to the pub we were approached by a pair of policemen. They wanted to speak to the person in charge. Full of trepidation I made my way forward and confessed, it was me. Once they had satisfied themselves that we were not drunk nor insane they engaged us in some conversation. They seemed genuinely interested in the issue and keen to engage with us. I wish I’d had the stomache to stay and talk longer with them but by this point I’d been standing in the rain for two hours. I have to say it was one of the best pieces of policing a democratic demonstration I have ever seen and I was proud of Lothian and Borders Police
Then it was time for a well-earned pint. Thanks to excellent and appropriately named Indigo Yard for taking in a wet straggle of Yes Campaigners. We shrugged our way out of our wet outerwear and wrapped ourselves round a drink. A few us even got chatted up by a PR convention from London. Maurice has lovely legs apparently and I am smooth, though I’m not sure it was quite meant as a compliment. Who says electoral reform isn’t sexy.
So, what did we achieve. We raised awareness. Thousands of people will have seen us. We lobbied our elected representatives. Alex Salmond can be in no doubt that Electoral Reform is an issue in his patch. We joined up some purple from Glasgow and I hope we’ve helped get their campaign off the ground. We met up and took action, together. We put names to faces and shook hands. It was all in all a good start to the next six months.
What’s next? Next we plan how we are going to win campaign over the next six months.