This is my Dad, Stan Stratton. It is, amazingly, now 16 years since he died. As we take a deep breath and await the outcome of Thursday’s referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, let me tell you a little about my father.
The wonderfully named Eugene Stanley Stratton was born in Stenhouse, Edinburgh in 1932, one of the five children of Agnes and Edward Stratton. In study and work he did pretty well, eventually settling into a career with the BBC. He was well-travelled, intelligent and humane, with a wicked sense of humour which he could always turn on himself. He could also pour you a mean measure of whisky and liked nothing better than to settle in for a right good blether, invariably about politics. It is his political and personal legacy I want to write about here, just 72 hours before polls close on Thursday 18th and we go through that ‘long dark night of the soul’ waiting for the results to come in. When those hours finally come round, it will not have been two long years in the making and waiting; for us it will be the culmination of five decades of belief in the Scottish people’s ability to best govern themselves.
In 1962, he and a great friend, John Conway, established branch 67 of the S.N.P. at Strathendrick, West Stirlingshire, and worked tirelessly to promote the then very unpopular idea that Scotland should be an independent country. In 1979 Dad stood as the S.N.P. candidate for West Dumbartonshire – with about as much chance of being elected in such a Labour stronghold as the proverbial snowball in hell. As a child I was surrounded by political discussion and activism, alongside a strong sense of community, and self belief, and self-value. Of course the people of Scotland had a history to be proud of, a literature and music worth studying, a cultural life of worth! Of course we could run our own country! This was never in doubt in our household. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the ruling political parties at the time, nor those in charge of education.
Just as my two children have enjoyed “Yes spotting” if out in the car, so my brother and I would shriek delightedly if we spotted the weel-kent colours and graphics of the 1970s S.N.P. posters. I have two particularly strong memories of those times: firstly, eavesdropping on all the grown up chat one night, probably aged about 7, and hearing, with absolute, terrifying and total terror, the talk about nuclear weapons and what a nuclear explosion would do to a human body. I was so traumatised by this information I was struck dumb through fear, and was silent all of the next day until finally sobbing hysterically that I didn’t want to be burned to a shadow on the ground. Secondly, I remember in the early ’80s, with Thatcherism at its height and the Cold War still a looming threat, my Dad and colleagues going around the Faslane and Garelochhead peninsula placing big red and black signs along the road: “Warning. You are entering a high-risk nuclear danger area.” The Ministry of Defence didn’t much like this and someone wrecked the signs, breaking them in two and dumping them at the side of the road, much like we have seen being done to numerous Yes signs up and down the country in the past few weeks. My mum, Margaret, still lives in the shadow of the Faslane Base. Try explaining to a seven year old, right here, right now, in 2014, what nuclear weapons are, and that they are stored and carried just a few miles from your Granny’s house, to really get the referendum debate into perspective. In fact, I’d pretty happily use that as the yardstick for any indyref question: Mummy, why do so many people need foodbanks when other people are so rich? Mummy, why do some people not care about others? Mummy, what do M.Ps actually do down there in London? I’d pay good money to see anyone from Better Together give a face to face answer to my daughter’s questions. And all of this comes from my Dad. He was a man full of integrity, a belief in justice and the strength of character to act upon such beliefs. He instilled in me these values, and as we near the end of this referendum journey, I hope I am doing the same with my two children. And is this not what we would all want for our generations to come? Why on earth would we not want our children and our children’s children to grow up confident enough in themselves and their place in the world to go out and shape it as they see fit? And to do that by staying, by living here, in Scotland, not having to emigrate south for the chance of a better life, knowing that their democratic rights actually count for something? How can we do that by voting ‘no’ on the 18th? A no vote says we are incapable of all this. Explain that to my seven year old. Look your children in the eye and say ‘no’ to hope.
My Dad was a great lover of the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid and one of his favourite poems was ‘The Little White Rose’, encapsulating as it does the essence of both my dad’s love for, and exasperation with, his country and its journey to reclaiming sovereignty and independence.
The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart
It breaks my heart that he’s not here to see this, to mark his ballot paper and enjoy this fizzing hope we have all created. I do, however, have him to thank for all of this, that we are here, now, with the amazing chance to actually DO something about it, to shake the complacency of the political elite to their very core, to create a new national reality, to just cross a box and say that most affirming of words: yes.