Andrew Wilson: Politicians need to be less selfish

POLITICAL parties need to ditch selfishness and find salvation, writes Andrew Wilson

It is clear from the current shift in politics that the two party system is on its last legs. Picture: Getty

THERE is a lot to be said for quiet contemplation with a clear and open mind. Reflecting about the large and small things in life is just, well, good for the soul.

It requires solitude which has the property of hen’s teeth in my set up, save at the end of the day when babies are asleep and dad is often too tired to do much more than follow them.

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Stepping out of the daily noise is a treat which I was afforded this week on a big family celebration in Perthshire. Beautiful skies, snow still capping the hills, some of the best trees in Britain and whisper it, some stolen time to myself. A friend gave me a very short book of a speech (Congratulations by the way) to graduates at Syracuse University in 2013 by the American writer George Saunders.

Syracuse gave 35 souls to the carnage of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 as I was just commencing my university studies in St Andrews. I visited the memorial to them in 2000 when I was a guest of the US government as a child politician. Hard not to cry imagining what their parents would give to have gone to their graduation and listened to just such a speech.

Find it and read it today. Really very simple, but also completely profound.

His thesis is that as we all age we become kinder and more loving and less selfish. Parenting can kick start this, experience should ram it home. Selfishness is our sickness, life is about pursuing its cure. When we find it we are enriched.

He quotes their city’s great poet Hayden Carruth, who said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly love, now.” I hope I am a long way from the end of my time but I feel precisely what Carruth and Saunders mean.

Saunders’ closing entreaty to those ambitious young graduates was: “Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.”

I think this is true of people. I also think it is true of society. In turn it must be true of those to whom we look to lead our society.

Rather than each generation going through the personal life-cycle surely our civilisation process as we mature as a people, country and society must take us in the same direction collectively? It makes sense. Obviously this can have set-backs where the ego is pre-eminent but over the course we must become gentler, less selfish, more loving.

How do we translate that into our politics and the choices we make at moments like this as an election looms? I am fortunate to know quite a bit about how politics works and also many politicians from many countries and parties. The older I get the more affection I feel for all of them because I realise the motivation and the sacrifice.

What I observe right now in the way of politics and especially this election is that its mores are out of date. It lags significantly behind the state of the development and civilisation of society overall. And know what, the best political strategists and leaders agree.

Too often it is mean-spirited and hungers for polarity and difference where there is little. The opponent is to be diminished and their ideas lampooned. Lies and misdirection are everywhere. Ludicrous faux outrage and hypocritical attacks abound.

The two party system is on its last legs. The voting system will now probably change. The culture and conduct of how business is done must change.

We ache for greater civility, mutuality and respect. The politicians that get there more quickly will succeed. Those that cling to old ways will rest content in ancient habit, and then fail.

The system is resistant to change, of course it is. But catalysts such as the surge in support for SNP voices at Westminster can help reform and improve not just Scotland’s position but the UK overall.

The last place to look for a sense of how the parties can work together, formally or informally, is in the heat of an election campaign.

While Labour MPs in Scotland fulminate at the idea of working with the party that threatens their fiefdom, the people who elected them rather like the idea. Their colleagues south of the border find political alignment with the SNP on many, many policies.

In another life Nicola Sturgeon would have comfortably fitted in a Labour party cabinet, in fact she’d probably sit easier as leader than any of the current alternatives.

These are the realities while the politicians campaigning rage, rage against the dying of their own light. I can understand this.

But to mature politics, like people, needs to search for the cure to selfishness in which it will find its own salvation.

With a very few exceptions I remain on very warm terms with most of the politicians I have known from all of the parties. Treat people with respect and, groundbreaking thought, back it flows. It is our nature.

Privately almost all of them agree with me on all of this and know they must get there eventually. My entreaty to them all? Hurry up. «