We make out of the quarrel with others, politics, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry” —W.B. Yeats

The previous post is a re-blog from Mute Swan with which I was particularly impressed because it asked politicians to rethink their verbal mud wrestling and reconsider what the people who gave them their jobs might actually want them to do. I interpret that as:

  • following a set of fundamental principles
  • being clear and consistent in your beliefs
  • being active and articulate in pursuing them
  • treating with respect others who do the same


While there are neither training sessions nor spot-checks on politicians, they should abide by a set of principles—things that are fundamental to both their own morals and activities. Such principles are applicable to all—it’s in beliefs that we differ.

It is obviously convenient at times to elude or even dispense with these principles. But the measure of integrity is to avoid doing so. For an example of principles in practice, it is hard to surpass Zinneman’s film of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons.

  1. We live in a democracy; however inspired or daft, the voters’ decision rules
  2. People are fundamentally decent and well intentioned—even those who may disagree with you
  3. Election requires that you actively represent the best interests of ALL those living in the area without fear or favour
  4. Where such interests may clash, you make your best evaluation of the will of the majority and put your head above the parapet to explain to the rest
  5. If promoted to a portfolio position, 4 above now applies for that service across the whole council/country vs the general interests of your ward/constituency
  6. You are not in it for the money, nor to exploit opportunities on the public purse: anyone who thinks they are is in the wrong job
  7. However venal it may seem, everything you do outside private property is public and liable to publicity
  8. Behave as if your parents were watching your every move: make them proud


Although I’m a physics graduate, one of the more interesting classes I took was Moral Philosophy from Professor Acton. Far from the steely certainty of Maxwell’s Equations, Plato, Kant, Spinoza and Mill all vied for my understanding and received shifting interpretations.

It was my introduction to the shifting moral morass of the real world and the need to move beyond W.C. Fields (“Everybody’s got to believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.”). You may share some beliefs with others but, generally, this is the meat and drink of political debate.

  1. Scotland is a country because its people say it is.
  2. Democracy is the method by which it should be ruled (Churchill said “democracy is the worst system of government—except for all the other systems“)
  3. The best future for the people of Scotland can be achieved through independence
  4. The best future for the people of England can be achieved through Scottish independence
  5. Nuclear weapons have no place in Scotland and nuclear power should be phased out because of the unsolved problem of waste disposal.
  6. Anyone can choose to be Scot simply by living here permanently; we are a welcoming country that enjoys our diversity and we are not full up
  7. Nobody has a right to anything, other than citizenship, by virtue of their birth
  8. That said, The Queen is the best, hardest working, most indefatigable Head of State you could want, coming close to defeating my republicanism all by herself
  9. Scotland is a small country and needs friends: England, EU, NATO, in that order
  10. You can’t have 2-way communication with 5m people: local contact is the real arena of politics (Tip O’Neill, former House Speaker said “ALL politics is local“)
  11. As regards local, the abolition of burgh councils was a mistake because it severed the roots of local democracy—’our’ council became ‘that’ council.
  12. On the other hand, major public services should be city-region based
  13. No part of public services in Scotland should be privatised, although temporary expedients like ALEOs to take advantage of the law may be implemented
  14. Major decisions on shaping & maintaining our towns (e.g. planning, tourism) should be taken at community level
  15. A community is anywhere that thinks it is but a model size would be a high school catchment area
  16. The rewards for hard work and ability should mainly accrue to the individual
  17. A measure of any civilisation is its commitment and ability to support and protect its vulnerable
  18. With provision of support/protection comes an obligation not to abuse it.
  19. A mixed community is a healthy community—mass estates, especially gated ones, are recipes for social unrest, if not disintegration
  20. Of all the public services we need to get right, Education is prime because it will shape the future
  21. After three centuries of Anglocentric foreign policy, Scotland needs to re-think its international contacts, especially with Scandinavia


All such principles and beliefs come to naught if you spend your time watching reality TV instead of getting your ass in gear. Quite apart from engaging with friend and foe alike on the above (incomplete) list of beliefs, the bulk of a politician’s day is taken up by committees, meetings, community events, etc. How those are handled will have a major impact on how effective the representation is, principled or no.

  1. Make yourself available: shop local, use the high street, attend events and get yourself known if you aren’t already
  2. Beware of bias; be wary of joining clubs, especially when there are two, to avoid being seen as partisan
  3. Go to the spectrum of local civic meetings, even if only sporadically
  4. Maintain a friendly and regular channel to local press and radio. Even if they’re biased, there is no upside to falling out with them
  5. If in Administration, articulate your achievements outside of the regular PR channels because most will not know about them. Don’t boast—communicate
  6. If in Opposition, select a few key (preferably vulnerable) issues and point out both shortcomings and your own (hopefully superior) alternative(s)
  7. Treat colleagues with respect and avoid public disputes in which all will lose
  8. Treat opponents with respect, especially ‘off-duty’ but avoid craven posturing in the hope of crumbs from the Administration’s table
  9. Avoid unnecessary public expenditure, especially in these straightened times. Sending Christmas cards to all your constituents at public expense may be legal and above board, but it will damage, not enhance, your image
  10. It’s easy to be ‘in the paper’ but if it is not for some serious or social issue relevant to your residents, it may damage, not enhance, your image
  11. Build your contacts throughout officials in your organisation. Favours are far more often granted to those who have built bridges and are not strangers.
  12. Build your network outside your organisation, whether in the party, other councils or, especially, other public bodies & quangos. Speaking at conferences is a particularly effective way to do this. Scotland is a village; conferences are the village pump round which you make friends and get the gossip

OK, so I didn’t make it in 1,000 words (typical bloody wordy politician!). But the above is a distillation of why I am in politics (beliefs), what guides me (principles) and how I go about it (practice) after 20 years as elected something. This is not meant to challenge but to explain. Nonetheless, comments and feedback—especially from Mute Swan—would be welcome.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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