On the election tomorrow

We’ve a Scottish parliamentary election tomorrow. My good wishes to all candidates – I know what it feels like to be a parliamentary candidate. You enter into this strange other worldliness where nothing else matters.  The focus narrows and all you know about is the task in hand and the team that are hopefully working their socks off around you. It is intense, it’s physical, you meet more people than you can remember and you have to speak coherently in public at odd times of day. Its all a bit like putting on Holy Week.

I was a Liberal Democrat candidate in 2005 in a Westminster election and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot and was surrounded by great people who, bemused as I think they were by my day job, taught me more about mission and outreach than anyone ever did during my priestly formation.

I don’t campaign any more – when I came to Glasgow I realised that this job was a choice which ruled that out, at least for a time. I needed to concentrate on the task at hand and that was a good choice though I know that it did disappoint some folk and I can’t say it wasn’t made without sometimes wondering what might have been had I taken another path. It was widely known when I came here in the congregation what I’d been up to, so I’ve never felt as coy about talking about my own politics as some clergy do.

Not surprisingly, I feel for Liberal Democrat candidates this time around. People will have been working intensely hard, campaigning for years for a seat which a year ago might have seemed almost with their grasp, only for everything to fall apart as national disappointments about the current national Conservative – Lib Dem coalition have reached fever pitch. People feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats over the tuition fees debacle and tomorrow is very likely to be payback time.

The last year has shown that the Liberal Democrats were barely ready for government. We might have guessed that by the run of silly gay sex scandals of a while ago in the Westminster parliamentary party and the lack of any really well developed economic policy. The disappointment is terrible, particularly for those who were looking for (and were promised) something different and have found politics to be business as usual but with an added dose of ideological right-wing cuts being rolled out in the name of conquering the all too real economic challenge.

“So,” people say to me, “how will you vote now?”

Well, I’m as disappointed as anyone else in the year that is past. So, I’ve made it my business to read the manifestos of the parties and made my decision based on them.  (If you want a quick shortcut, the Scottish Vote Compass will give you a quick quiz and then tell you which party you are nearest to).

So, who am I supporting now?

Having looked at everything that is on offer, I’ll be supporting the Liberal Democrats. It’s not a vote in support of the Coalition – I’m no more supportive of that than I was on day one. Its because I’m still a liberal at heart and policywise, that’s the party that I’m closest to. I didn’t become a Lib Dem because of Nick Clegg nor any personality. I didn’t become a Lib Dem because of success – indeed the idea of Lib Dems in government when I joined was, well, pretty unthinkable. I became a Liberal Democrat because of policy. Indeed, when I did apply to be a candidate, it was policy which carried me though – that and a humdinger of a mock speech, which I’ve still got knocking around somewhere.

So its clear where my vote goes – it goes with what I believe in not with the failures of individuals. And there are going to need to be people around to carry the liberal vision when this current Orange-Book liberalism which is in the ascendency at the moment, collapses in the face of its own contradictions.

Well, it’s clear where it goes on the Regional List ballot paper tomorrow.

The constituency vote is another game altogether.