A DECADE or more ago, I was in a bar in Aviemore with a friend after a long day at an SNP conference. My chum, a ferociously enthusiastic supporter of the Labour Party, had spent the day on what she considered hostile territory and we were talking about the impact of political division on people’s lives.
To me, never a member of any party and able to find good and bad in most, which party someone belonged to didn’t make much difference, but to her, it was of central importance. She could not, she explained, go out with a Scottish Nationalist. Nor did any supporters of the Conservative Party have a chance with her.
Being a hopeless romantic (yes, really) I was appalled by this. What, I wanted to know, about the overwhelming power of love? Would she really give up on the chance of happiness with someone special just because they happened to support a different political party to her?
My friend looked at me, not for the first time, as if I was an idiot. There would be no kisses across the barriers as far as she was concerned.
I’m please to report on this Valentine’s Day – and if you’re the sort of person who likes love and happiness, I hope you’re able to spend it with a fellow enthusiast – that, over time, my pal’s position has softened. She could not, in good conscience, wear one of those dreadful “Never kissed a Tory” T-shirts these days.
But while my friend may have decided that love can sometimes bridge the political divide, an increasing number of people feel differently.
A YouGov poll this week found that the number of parents who would be “very upset” if their son or daughter was to marry someone of whose politics they disapproved has more than doubled in the past eight years.
Among Labour parents, 10 per cent – up from just 4 – would find their offspring’s decision distressing, while the proportion of Tory voters who’d be similarly unhappy about such a state of political affairs has risen from 2 to 6 per cent.
The numbers soar when we remove parties other than Labour and the Conservatives from the equation. Twenty-eight per cent of Labour supporters would be unhappy to have a Tory son or daughter-in-law (compared with 19 per cent in 2008). Tories are less tribal but still almost one in five – up from one in 10 – would find it hard to welcome a new family member whose loyalties lay with Labour.
Responding to this news, Labour MP Stephen Pound said that, while he was the “least sectarian of people”, he would disown his daughter if she came home with a Conservative, which seems an unforgivingly sectarian position to take. For Pound, love means never having to date a Tory.
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, on the other hand, said that, while his eldest child was only currently eight, if they were to grow up and marry a socialist, he’d be “absolutely fine with that”. Not only, then, is Rees-Mogg a decent guest on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You, he’s an old romantic too.
Perhaps this survey shouldn’t surprise us here in Scotland, where our politics is more polarised and more rancourous than ever before. Sometimes, it can seem we’re a nation of furious tribes.
It’s time for some people to get a grip of themselves (before they’re left with no option but to do only that).
A policy on redistribution of wealth or membership of the European Union will not keep anyone warm at night, will not bring light to our darkest times. Without love, what’s the point?
At a wedding reception some years ago, I sat at a table with MSPs representing Labour, the Conservatives, and the SNP. These were grown-ups, who understood that politics was one thing but love quite another. They spent the evening carousing together, dancing, drinking, toasting the (then) happy couple. I doubt very much whether the political persuasion (barring extremes of left or right) of any of their children’s partners would trouble those people, who remain decent, open-hearted sorts, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that some of Holyrood’s newer members, who barely acknowledge the presence of their political opponents in the parliament’s canteen, feel differently.
If you are lucky, you’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day with someone you love and who loves you, for all your faults (including your tiresome insistence that Valentine’s Day is a cynical wheeze dreamt up by greetings cards companies). If you don’t have that love today but yearn for it, I hope you still believe that it can happen at any time because, of course, it can. Just look at some of the folk you know who’ve managed to find happiness. If that lot of misfits can do it, then you can too. You’re a much better catch than any of them.
Sustaining a relationship is not, I know from experience, always an easy thing to do. I’m told (and I try to remember this at all times) that compromise is a crucial element in making things work. Surely, with that in mind, we can accept the possibility that partners might not have precisely the same opinions about everything.
In fact, isn’t a little disagreement a good thing?
When I walk into a pub or a café, and I see a couple sitting side by side rather than across the table from each other, I wonder if they’ve run out of things to say to each other. It seems to me that a good way of hastening that crushing reality is to start out with someone who thinks exactly as you do.
A parent who’d disown a child because of the politics of whoever they love sounds exactly the sort of person one should strive to avoid.
Love picks us up when life knocks us down and anyone who’d try to thwart a son or daughter’s chance of finding that happiness and security is a damned fool. «