Council elections are a chance to elect politicians who will actually listen – Christine Jardine MP

I had a stark but welcome reminder this past week that not everyone's life revolves around the noisy arguments, points scoring and often petty politicking that is Westminster, Holyrood or council chambers across the country.

Politics, in its purest form is about helping people (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Politics, in its purest form is about helping people (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

That there are those for whom politics is about the lack of care and provision of facilities which should be basic but instead is a daily, frustrating and unacceptable blight on their already challenging lives.

So it was a relief to be released from the sleazy, sickening discussion at Westminster over Angela Raynor’s legs, sexual harassment and ‘Porngate’ allegations to experience the sort of event that I sincerely wish more politicians could benefit from.

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When I accepted the invitation from the organisation Enable Scotland, I expected to be going to another carefully managed election hustings where politicians from all parties rehearsed our well-thought-out policies in the hope of persuading any waverers in the audience to vote for us this Thursday.

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But I was wrong. This was so much more than that. There was no room for misogyny, self-serving virtue-signalling or the cheery but often vacuous photo opportunities we all indulge in on the campaign trail.

This was simply a room full of people whose democratic involvement has somehow become indirect, their needs secondary, and the outcomes decided for them with little consultation.

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And all that they ask is for their politicians to listen. Sadly there were only three of us there to try.

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One Conservative, one Labour politician and myself, coincidentally all from Edinburgh West, sat and listened as each individual in turn told us how their lives have been affected by shortcomings in the care system.

We heard from people who, because of care shortages, had been forced back to live with elderly parents already facing their own health challenges, and the strain it had placed on all of them. People cut off by the pandemic from the community facilities which are vital to their emotional well-being and are yet to be restarted or that have been lost.

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And we heard about the need to find some way of supporting those who must travel across the city by bus but often find they have to let several pass because their wheelchair cannot be accommodated or who are stranded at home by the lack of someone to accompany them.

I apologise now to any of those who feel I am not sufficiently communicating the urgency of the issue but it is difficult to recapture in print the raw emotion they displayed in that forum.

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It was not politically motivated, or aimed at one individual or party but a genuine, heartfelt and completely justified demand to be listened to. For recognition that our care service is broken, unfit for purpose and letting down those who most depend upon it.

Most frustrating for me was that two of the parties whose politicians are in a position of power and can make a real and immediate difference did not attend.

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The Scottish National Party – in power at both Holyrood and the outgoing City of Edinburgh Council – and their Green coalition partners in the Scottish Government were not there.

That is not to judge them individually. All parties and politicians have been in the position where circumstances have made it impossible to attend a hustings.

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But in this case it was a seriously unfortunate omission. They might feel that they already know the seriousness of the situation. That they have read the reports and are conversant with the statistics.

But what we were privileged to hear on Thursday evening was the reality of the lives behind those numbers. The impact on people of those statistics.

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As I listened, I thought about the number of times I have stood in Westminster and argued that the UK Government’s funding of social care was fundamentally lacking. Or told TV audiences that the Scottish Government’s notion of a national care service was little more than an ill-thought-through, politically motivated centralisation which would work no better than the centralisation of our police, fire and ambulance services. That what we needed was investment, and now.

And I wished that it had been those individuals that I was hearing who had been there to make the case instead of me. Or that it had been some of those who contact my office every week because the council has been unable to find them accommodation that meets their specific needs.

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Or those who find the Scottish Government’s policies don’t address their problems or whose Westminster benefits have been inexplicably and unjustifiably reduced.

Perhaps then those in power might share the determination which I felt as I left that hustings and the anger that I felt for those who had shared their evening, and their experiences with us.

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Politics, in its purest form is about helping people. About taking time to fight for change. Sadly to be most effective at that you have to be in power.

Yes we can all, and most of us do, make a case to power and use whatever influence we have to persuade and cajole those who hold the purse strings.

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And there are times when that desire, which all good politicians share, to make a positive difference brings us together in common cause.

I shared that on Thursday evening when we made a commitment to inform Enable of who our new councillors are after this Thursday’s election so that they can be effectively lobbied by the group.

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Because if there is a moment which defines politics, it is when individual members of the public enter the polling booth. In that instant we all have the power to effect change. To choose representatives who will listen to our needs and act.

This Thursday is one of those days. Let’s use it well.

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Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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