Today is my birthday. I can barely bring myself to say the great age I’ve reached, but it does mark a significant milestone for me. Three decades ago today, I joined the SDP.
I hope you’ll forgive the narcissistic indulgence, (and if you can’t, don’t read any further, because it’ll be five minutes of your life you won’t get back), but I thought I’d share with you 30 brief snapshots, significant moments of my life as a party member. I’m grateful for the wonderful friends I’ve made and the battles we’ve fought together and am raring to go for decades to come. Thanks to all of you who’ve been part of the story so far, celebrating the joys and supporting through the heartbreak. I hope they’ll trigger good memories for you, too.
In no particular order, although I’ll start at the beginning:
1. Walking into Alliance HQ in Wick as a 15 year old during the 1983 election for a manifesto and leaving with a bundle of newspapers to deliver. Almost the very first one was thrown on the bonfire by an irate looking woman who turned out to be the local Tory Chairman. It didn’t put me off. In fact, in that campaign I ended up getting detention for skipping school to go canvassing…
2. The 1983 election result – what was that about? At least someone close to my age was elected in the neighbouring seat, but, really, only 23 seats when Labour had 2% more and had 186 more. And the Tories tightened their grip on power with fewer votes than 1979. But we won well in Caithness.
3. That first day, in May 2008, leafletting in sunny Cowdenbeath with Andrew Reeves, Elspeth Finlay and Willie Rennie. Andrew had only moved up to Scotland the day before. There was a lot of laughter involved that day. We didn’t know we’d only have him for 3 years.
4. A dark Friday night, all of us on the Shortlisting Committee were tired and grumpy after a gruelling schedule of interviews. We had to wait for another hopeful to arrive. His CV was the most boring thing I’ve ever read that wasn’t a phone book. He was worth waiting for. He blew us away. His name: Nicholas William Peter Clegg.
5. My first council by-election in Aberdeen in 1986. We won!
6. My first ever hangover. The day after #5.
8. Doing front of house in Chesterfield, as apprentice to the mighty Paul Holmes, during the 1997 election. Huge amounts of fun, progress made and we were well looked after by the Italian restaurant next door. Lovely meals on proper plates with actual cutlery.
9. Meeting the legendary Pat Wainwright for the first time at the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election in 1995. We spent our Summer holidays there and met lots of people who are still friends now.
10. First ever conference – Paisley 1986. I made a speech, on drugs, which was quoted in the Press and Journal. I think the headline described me as an all-over problem.
11. First ever UK conference speech – Torquay 1993. In favour of allowing Cabinet ministers who weren’t in either Lords or Commons. Lots of people said it was good, but it would be almost 20 years until I tried it again, on secret courts this Spring.
12. Seeing a notice up at conference in Harrogate 1992 asking me to go to registration. My mother had been trying to contact me for 2 days to tell me that my lovely niece Laura had been born 6 weeks early. Her 21st birthday is on the Saturday of Conference this year.
13. 1997 election night. Two people watching tv at the count in Chesterfield. One was Tony Benn, who was eating a white chocolate Magnum. The other was me, blubbing tears of joy because we’d get a Scottish Parliament.
14. Being part of the Cix online community of Liberal Democrats, which has given me lifelong friends. I even posted in there when I was in the early stages of labour.
15. My contribution to the last stages of the 1999 Euro elections? Driving home from hospital with new babyAnna on polling day in a car emblazoned with Liberal Democrat posters.
16. The following Sunday night, lying in bed with said snuggly baby, finding out that the East Midlands had elected its first Liberal parliamentarian since 1931.
17. Winning a by-election in Deepest Bolsover on an otherwise sad day, when John Smith died.
18. Gathering with many others in the sunshine to celebrate Jo Swinson’s election in East Dunbartonshire in 2005.
19. The Dunfermline by-election in 2006. Willie Rennie winning in Gordon Brown’s back yard was truly spectacular. It was a great campaign, sharing an office with Ed Maxfield, getting through piles of casework. Four years later, we lost, which was horrible, but getting an 8% swing towards us when everyone in Scotland was clinging to Labour like a security blanket was pretty significant. I think we made a difference to people’s lives in 4 years and will always be proud of what we did there.
20. The rollercoaster of emotion in May 2010. Heartbreak at losing Dunfermline, Chesterfield and not winning Edinburgh North and Leith and South. Our parliamentary party would have been so enriched by the presence of Willie. Paul, Kevin and Fred. Reeling from that, there was the tension of the Coalition negotiations. Surely we weren’t going to end up in Government? I couldn’t quite work out how I felt about it all, but was overcome with pride when I saw Nick walk into Downing Street.
21. Thinking that I might try out this blogging lark – my first post in 2006.
22. It was 3 years before Liberal Democrat Voice let me loose on its pages, though. My debut covered the Church of Scotland’s debate over gay ministers, which involved a good friend of mine.
23. The slippery slope led to a day’s guest editing, a weekly gig and, finally, to my great surprise, being asked to be co-editor this March. My thanks go to the long-suffering team who put up with my ditsiness and frequently save me from myself.
24. Being made the first ever honorary life member of Liberal Youth Scotland. See, I am still young. It’s official. And to be a small part of an organisation that is so awesome makes me very proud.
25. My first ever live TV interview, at Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference last year. Very scary, but enjoyably so.
26. Still no idea how it happened, but being elected to the Federal Executive last year. It’s been an illuminating experience and has given me more ideas than I have time to put them into practice. But I’ll have a go anyway.
27. The Livingston by-election, 2005. A busy campaign where we were the story – the BBC’s Brian Taylor pointed out that we had held on to our General Election vote in the face of a squeeze from Labour and SNP. And two of our helpers ended up getting married.
28. All my life, LGBT equality has been important to me. Seeing our people deliver equal marriage, and Willie Rennie and Nick Clegg support it with enthusiasm has been special.
29. The heartbreak of 2011, the worst year so far by a long way. Seeing many friends losing their seats in the Scottish Parliament was very tough. The only bright spot in a horrendous day was sitting on Buchanan Street in the late afternoon sunshine, having just done a BBC Radio Scotland interview, finding out that Willie Rennie had won in Mid Scotland and Fife.
30. Fast forward to polling night in the Eastleigh by-election. Scottish Liberal Democrat HQ was packed to the gunnels, as it had been through the campaign, with activists phoning. The best thing about this party is that when there really is a crisis, we work together and we deliver the goods.