Our precious votes
It would be a strange person indeed whose sense of perspective has not been changed, even temporarily, by recent events around the world.
To see whole towns destroyed by the tsunami in Japan, to see thousands of lives erased in moments, is to be faced with something to which it is hard to find an appropriate response. All of our troubles, our fears and our complaints become trivial when held together in the same thought as the devastation suffered by that country.
Similarly, as we watch the struggle for democratic reform in Tunisia and Egypt, in Libya and Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, we are forced to re-evaluate our own concerns. Our leaders are far from perfect, but they are also far from the tyrants who have ruled some of those nations for decades.
The protests in the Middle East and North Africa remind us that we are fortunate to have the right to vote. Though our choices may feel limited, they are better than none at all. And each time we exercise that right we should remember just how precious it is.
Next month, the Scottish election will be made more interesting than usual by the inclusion of an independent candidate in Shetland, Billy Fox. Best known as a campaigner against the Viking Energy windfarm (and as a photographer, of course), Mr Fox is wisely standing on a much broader platform than this single issue. And with the rest of the field made up of non-local candidates (and a Tory), this is set to be a straight race between him and the incumbent, Tavish Scott.
Tavish may not be worried about losing his seat in May – this is, after all, one of the safest seats in the country – but it would be wrong for him to imagine that he is unbeatable. The truth is that Mr Scott is more vulnerable now than he has ever been.
That vulnerability is not his fault alone, of course. His Liberal Democrat colleagues in Westminster have successfully eroded support for the party across the country by wholeheartedly and unashamedly propping up the Tories in government. Voters who gave them a chance in 2010, in the hope of a different kind of politics, have instead witnessed the corruptive influence of power. The party’s leadership have happily discarded all the principles they may once have had in exchange for a shot in the passenger seat.
A few weeks ago, Nick Clegg was recorded joking to David Cameron that, by the time of the next UK elections “we won’t find anything to bloody disagree on”. Few Lib Dem voters (or MPs, I suspect) will have been laughing at that. With the threat of massive cuts looming across the country – including the potential loss of the coastguard station in Shetland – the party is due for a kicking at the ballot box.
But nobody should vote for Billy Fox just because he is not a Liberal Democrat – and certainly not just because they agree with him about the windfarm. Any such vote would be, frankly, undeserved.
Similarly, those who do support the Viking Energy project should not discount Mr Fox as a candidate. For one thing, our next MSP is unlikely to be able to influence that particular decision; and for another, a vote should never be decided on a single issue alone. It is possible to disagree with your elected representative and still to feel represented.
If Shetland’s inexplicable addiction to Liberal Democrats is to be broken, Billy Fox has a lot of work to do. He will have to prove first of all that he is both competent and confident, and he must present a convincing set of ideas on a wide range of topics.
More than this though, Mr Fox must be able to show that he can overcome the divisions that have emerged within the community over the past couple of years. Those divisions are damaging and undesirable, particularly in this time of changed perspectives. It is not necessary to pretend to have no opinion on the windfarm, as Tavish Scott apparently believes, but it is important to move beyond the strident rhetoric of that debate.
If Billy Fox can do that – if he can reach out honestly and openly to people across the community, and show that he is able and willing to represent all of them – then I think he may well be worthy of our votes.