Monday, April 6th, 2015
It was Good Friday and I set off for Fort William for a public meeting organised by Lochaber Greens a group which was only set up in January. I thought the bus ride would give me a bit of time to read the newly released Green Party Manifesto and generally prepare myself for two intensive days. However as soon as I’d finished reading the manifesto I was asked by the young man sitting opposite me if I was a Green Party campaigner. When I said I was a candidate, ears pricked up across the packed bus! He asked me how he could join the Greens and what our policies were and got off the bus with a copy of Greenprint and some vote green badges. The leaders debate the night before certainly seemed to have sparked some interest generally.
I was met off the bus by Gwyn who took me to the food bank where I spoke to Alex, Marie and the rest of the team. It was a quiet morning and they had only had one client as now people are getting some temporary mainly low paid jobs in the tourist industry. However in the winter they were very busy. They had people arriving with literally nothing and were very grateful for donations of Christmas presents for the children as otherwise they would have had nothing for Christmas. Alex felt that the need for emergency food has always been there but maybe in the past neighbours rallied round but now people do not know their neighbours. However the scale of the problem seems to have grown significantly with the rise of sanctions and the increase of zero hours contracts.
Following this we did some canvassing in local mainly social housing. Most people were undecided about who they would vote for. Several had watched the leaders debate and were impressed with the three women including Natalie Bennett. We were steered away from some sheltered housing for people with learning difficulties by one of the residents who seemed to be a self appointed policeman. He was however able to talk about putting a cross in the box to choose a person. It did raise the issue of how to engage groups like this who are being very negatively affected by the cut in the Independent Living Allowance with further measures likely if the Torries have a second term. How can we make sure they are able to vote without unduly influencing them?
We interspersed our canvassing with meeting the trains and handing out cards about putting railways back in public hands. There were a lot of positive responses to this idea, though inevitably a large proportion of railway users on Good Friday were tourists.
We drove to Caol Community Centre (I kept being reminded that this is pronounced ‘Cool’. The local group stall was in pride of place together with the literature they had put together and Scottish Green Party flags, so the centre was transformed. The two ladies who ran the centre actually seemed very impressed.
I started with a speech explaining my journey from concerned citizen through campaigner with Friends of the Earth and Community organiser for Transition Black Isle to Green Party member and now candidate. I also set out our campaign for this election and this was followed by questions.
I was followed by John Hutchinson, who gave a very interesting run down of the story of Land reform in Scotland, particularly how local groups such as Eigg which he had been involved with had achieved community buy outs and been transformed as a result, which was very inspiring.
John Finnie rounded it off, filling in any gaps I’d left and inspiring everyone with the Green message. Moving from the SNP to the Greens he says feels like coming home. He pointed out that if people are opposed to TTIP (the transatlantic trade and investment partnership), Fracking, want the railways back in public hands and want serious action on Climate Change the only party to vote for is the Greens as none of the others will be able to deliver this.
Three of us had a not particularly Green but nonetheless tasty curry afterwards and a rather late night after much interesting conversation with the member I was staying with. I woke up to a stunning view.
There certainly can’t be many constituencies with such breathtaking scenery. More canvassing met with mixed responses as not everyone considered 10am as a sociable time on a Saturday morning! We then went to the stall in the main square which is now a weekly feature and was a good base to reach out to passers by. It was not always easy to distinguish between tourists and locals but the conversations with tourists could be equally fruitful for the Green vote generally with good conversations with people from Bristol, Northamptonshire and the Isle of Man (sadly no Green Party there).
Two rather inebriated locals did engage and later one of them insisted on interrupting our meeting over coffee to introduce me to the wife of the ‘Harry Potter Train’ manageress. I’m not sure if his intervention was appreciated by her, but it was a nice gesture!
I had a lift back with David and Julie who had travelled from the Black Isle to lend the local group support. The journey back again allowed me to experience magnificent scenery. This view is just along from a potential pumped storage site in the background. It would be great if tourism could be combined with balancing our electricity needs in this way.
All in all a very interesting trip. I feel I’ve learned a lot and hopefully the couple of hundred people I’ve spoken to will at least be aware that they have the choice to vote Green.