I wasn’t quite sure what to make of John Tulloch’s letter in The Shetland Times last week. I think it was meant to be a compliment and not to suggest that I’m horribly old!
Nevertheless, it did make me think. The year that [SNP candidate] Miriam Brett was born I spent Christmas in Westminster.
To be exact I was bedding down in Westminster Quaker Meeting House and volunteering at a shelter for the street homeless in Blackfriars. I was 15 at the time.
I doubt that would be allowed today – health and safety – but it was the first of many Christmas/New Year weeks I spent there.
Eventually, I came to manage the shelter. That was the year I moved to Shetland.
The shelter had moved to Union Chapel in Islington, and policies and procedures had moved on. They had to.
In the early nineties, most of the street homeless were middle-aged alcoholic males. A lot of ex-army men who had taken to drink, lost their wives and found themselves on the street.
We let them drink in the shelter, unlike most other shelters in London, so we usually catered for the folk that had been kicked out of everywhere else. They were decent people at heart, polite until the drink took over, and predictable in their behaviour.
Yes, they could get angry and violent but you always knew they’d eventually calm down and fall asleep. And they had interesting life stories to tell.
But as the years went on, the shelter environment got more challenging. The guests got younger, their behaviour was erratic and threatening, drugs were rife and it was altogether a much more frightening environment. More frightening and much, much sadder.
We were working with young people who had never known what it was to have a settled life or a loving family. Their lives had been chaotic from birth. We banned the alcohol and policed the drugs but we alone couldn’t solve the problems.
It’s many years now since I worked the shelter but my father is still involved and I know things haven’t got any better.
I tell this story because when a lot of folk think of London they think of the Westminster bubble and a city of wealthy self-satisfied people, and it fuels the call for Scottish independence.
But when I think of London, I think of cardboard city, and a young woman, all small and yellow, dying of hepatitis, and two guys spending a night in the shelter doorway with bags of glue clamped to their faces, and a group of men thinking it would be funny to give a lad with mental health problems a cup of p*** to drink.
And I think, “that is my country too, and it is my responsibility”. I am never going to support a movement that only cares for Scotland when people the length and breadth of our tiny British Isles are left in poverty, vulnerable and struggling from day to day.
The SNP vision of an independent Scotland seems incredibly small to me. Six million people out of 60. It’s not enough.
And under a Conservative government nothing is going to change.
So, despite their well-publicised divisions and spats, I continue to stand for the Labour Party that brought us the NHS and the welfare state.
The party that believes in working together for the many not the few. The only party that can come close to challenging Tory dominance.
Problems aside, Labour values still endure and I’d back them any day over the SNP, who have no values at all, just an insular approach to life.
(Labour Party candidate, Orkney and Shetland)