Following the disastrous results for Scottish Labour after Thursdays elections, a number of Labour bloggers have been giving their thoughts on what went wrong and what we should do next. Being not only mental but also political, I couldn’t let the events of the 5th of May pass by without comment albeit a uniquely mental, parental type of comment.
Fellow Scottish Labourite and blogger J T Smyth raises a point that resonates particularly with me “ Personally I know I did not do enough that I could have done to help the party”. Other than donating some of my (massive) collection of corex boards to my CLP, erecting a “Vote Labour” garden stake and sending a brief but heartfelt text to a friend standing in the election- I did nothing during the campaign.
Why? I don’t feel any less affiliation with the core values of the Scottish Labour Party than I did, I still think that the Scottish Labour Party are best placed to govern Scotland but I spent the campaign in a kind of election-less bubble, avoiding Scottish newspapers, skipping over tweets about the campaign, ignoring blog posts and generally just making myself unavailable. I did this for several reasons but it’s taken me a while to figure out what those reasons were.
Lack of confidence is probably the main reason I hid from this campaign, sure I blog and I tweet- without the cover of anonymity but it’s one thing being “seen” on screen, it’s a totally different facing people- people who know what happened, people who witnessed my “fall from grace” as mental ill health tightened it’s grip. At times I wish I hadn’t been so “brave” (as people are wont to call it) about my mental illness, it would be so much easier to return to my previous activities if nobody knew just how mental I’d been. I haven’t seen many party colleagues since I got ill and now that my daily interactions are mainly with health professionals and children, I don’t think I’d have that much to say to them. Even I can see that I’m no longer that rather loud, outspoken, energetic, informed activist I once was- and it feels raw, I have no desire to accentuate my failings by exposing myself to situations that amplify those feelings of being different.
Lack of stability is another reason I avoided the campaign- stress is my poison- good stress or bad stress, it doesn’t matter. I know myself well enough to know that the exhausting excitement of the campaign trail would’ve sent me reeling. Whilst this may have turned out to be “interesting” on the doorstep, I couldn’t risk the potential humiliation- for me or others. Don’t misunderstand, I’m actually really stable at the moment, manage day-to-day without the massive mood swings of the past, but only because I lead a quiet life and the most stress I encounter is a long queue at Morrisons or a six year-old demanding to use the garden sprinkler every time the temperature struggles over 10 degrees.
My other emotional Achilles heel- shame has kept my profile low for this election. During the last election campaign (May 2010 for those that have blocked it out) I went from PPC (prospective parliamentary candidate for the non-politicos) to psychiatric inpatient- the details are all on this blog somewhere. I don’t think I am ashamed that I spent time in hospital when I look at it in isolation but when I look at in relation to the circles I mixed in before I became ill- then I am ashamed. I have campaigned with and worked with party members and other politicians from all backgrounds, but I don’t remember any of them “confessing” to ever having suffered from a mental illness. Some backgrounds are favoured in politics- working class, parents, community activism, union involvement, university education but I can’t see any political party clamouring to attract those of us who have experienced mental-healthcare provision first hand. Do I think this should be different? Well of course I do. I still feel as though I have the same things to offer as I did before mental ill health got the better of me but now I have a whole new area of “expertise” to help shape policy. The question is will I ever have the confidence again to offer my views?
The good news is that I kind of got my mojo back in time for the election. In the morning, whilst driving my car to the garage again (see Twitter for the MOT saga) I wept silent tears as I tried hard not to think about the election, my past and my future in politics, I was struggling for breath at the mere thought of walking into the polling station as a simple voter as opposed to collecting turnout figures or greeting people at the door, I was mourning the previous camaraderie of election time. Fortunately I got a grip.
On Thursday, I voted (both votes Labour, yes to AV) and I smiled at the activists on the door and suppressed an overwhelming sense of grief that I did not recognise the Labour activists manning the polling station (I later rationalised that they were probably drafted in from the university so I probably wouldn’t have liked them anyway- see here). I went home, did the domestic stuff, parented for a bit and sat myself down in front of Tweetdeck. I was still there 23 hours and several lost politicians later and I enjoyed every minute. I didn’t enjoy the absolute drubbing we got from the SNP but I had forgotten how much I like an election. Via Twitter I was able to vicariously attend counts, sample ballot papers, speak to candidates and generally just have a good taste of what was going on outside my own four walls and more importantly outside of my head.
So here comes the political bit! The results of Thursdays election were shocking but perhaps not surprising. From my perch on the periphery I could see that the Scottish Labour Party were offering nothing to the electorate, our campaign was negative and mainly centered around the ever present threat of being a victim of knife crime, as James Mackenzie put it (in an article I now can’t find and therefore can’t link to) “you are going to get stabbed”, hardly the stuff of promise. We eventually decided to adopt the SNPs promise to put a freeze on council tax but beyond that we offered very little. The Labour Party has a proud history of standing up for and representing the Scottish people but we have failed this time. As I previously mentioned I had a garden stake……