What follows is all, I admit, very self-indulgent. It is just that when I was delivering leaflets the other day – from one of our councillors protesting against the potential closure of local rail stations – my thoughts went back to my first time out on the stump. This was well over fifty years ago and for a council election in Esher, Surrey. To my shame, I cannot remember who was standing or the result (perhaps someone out there will be able to tell me?). I have a suspicion we took the seat – if so, that was no mean feat with only six Liberal MPs at the time – but, whether or not, what really impressed me was that our candidate seemed to be acquainted with almost everyone we met. This personal touch was one I tried to emulate (not always successfully, having a fickle memory for names) in my own later political activity.
That took me through student days in Dundee and on to electioneering in my home base of Glasgow Maryhill, with the occasional foray to by-elections around the UK. Two of these were successful (Liverpool, Edgehill and Kincardine & Deeside) unlike personal attempts to get elected at any and every available level. One of the worst moments was forgetting the imprint on a handout and spending hours stamping it with a John Bull Printing Kit. One of the best was when the Labour Party got rattled enough to put out an eve of poll attacking us. Then, of course, there was that first saved deposit!
Meantime, we weathered the Alliance and the merger and, despite initial scepticism about the latter, in Glasgow, Liberals and Social Democrats blended seamlessly together. There were stints on the Party Executiveas well, a role in redrafting the Federal Constitution and in chairing our local Party from time to time. I’ve just stood down from another go at the last of these and am currently relishing my status an ordinary member.
Of course, in between, I did finally manage to get elected and to the European Parliament no less. That was a fascinating and highly fulfilling ten years – even if specialising in fisheries did not seem the obvious choice for someone whose previous day job had been teaching legal theory and comparative law.
It was not, however, the Liberal commitment to engaging with Europe that took me into the Party in the first place – although I rapidly became committed to that cause. Home Rule for Scotland, proportional representation and co-operatives were the key. Things have moved on considerably in relation to the first two – though not without some hitches en route! And a recent pronouncement from the Deputy Prime Minister suggests that the last has not been quite as forgotten as I had thought.
Like many others of a social liberal persuasion, though, I have concerns that we have begun to lose touch with some of the principles underlying these policies. So, foot soldiering from now on shall be confined to delivering my own leafleting walk. The question is whether I can recall enough of my old philosophical training to start putting useful words on paper rather than just through people’s doors.