Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Let me tell you about my brother...


Kenny "Leather" Stephen with the comrade brother, Donald Crichton

I met an old friend at Central Station, Glasgow, this morning who looks likely in the next 48 hours to become an SNP MSP for the South of Scotland region.

For most of us election day is a cross in the box, but for the candidates it is to be a life-changing experience, the end of a long campaign, the kernel of an idea, or perhaps the culmination of a career ambition.

It is, as my brother Donald said, the longest job interview of his life, in public, with the result broadcast to the nation.

Donald is standing for Labour in Na h-Eileanan an Iar, the Western Isles constituency, where the SNP lead with over 600 votes. He is coming from behind, but he is marching like General MacArthur back up that beach with his claim for Labour.

Domhnall has worn out the shoe leather and the handshakes in this campaign, almost matching the efforts of his totemic footsoldier, Kenny Stephen, the wispy-bearded warrior who has taken the Labour message from door to door, from Butt to Barra, over the last six weeks.(Who would have thought Labour would get a endorsement from ZZ Top?)

The Labour Party doesn't need my endorsement, but I can't let this week pass without backing my comrade brother.

So who is he, this boy from Point, that peninsula of Lewis that has forged Labour politicians in a red line from Malcolm K, to Calum Macdonald and Alasdair Morrison?

Though he's just turned 40 my brother has been a butcher's mate, a cobbler's boy, an apprentice joiner, a public sector administrator, a political officer, a mature student, and now a health service official.

He has a breadth of life experiences that make the hinterlands of some political candidates look like very narrow furrows indeed.

It's his own experience of having his joinery apprenticeship interrupted, when a local building firm went broke in the late 80s, that directly informs his (and Labour's) number one campaigning priority - to create work for young people at home.

He is rooted in the island he grew up on, the place we call home. While he has lived in Britain's cities he thoroughly and instinctively understands how the islands tick, how their people are threaded together in common cause and face common challenges.

He shares the frustration of many others in seeing time and opportunities to improve the chances for the islands slip away without proper political leadership at a national level, while the population ages and the schools empty. I think, if elected, he would be quite determined to remedy that, to fight for the place and its people.

Of course, he is a socialist, if growing up in a household and a community that fostered the values of equality, of fighting poverty, and creating opportunity for everyone defines you as a socialist.

He's not a nationalist, small n or big N, and not for tribal party reasons. Like me, like many, he does not want to create divisions where none exist, he does not believe that to be constructive or progressive 21st century politics. Others are entitled to their opinions but stronger together, weaker apart, is his plain approach to question of national identity.

As he said himself at the beginning of this long campaign politicians should use the powers they already have to alleviate and improve the lives of their constituents. That's why he's in the game.

He is a realist, a pragmatist, I don't think he will wish problems away, or ignore issues in the hope that they will disappear, or promise solutions that cannot be practically delivered. I think, if elected, he will roll up his sleeves and work with everyone, for the islands.

He is is deeply wedded to the idea of public service, following the example of my late father, John Crichton, and his life-long involvement in community politics.

I think that's really what has driven Domhnall to seek office and has sustained him on the long road to this week's ballot.

He shares his father's passion for wanting to improve the lot of his community, impatient to get things done and prepared to stick his neck out to do so. Domhnall's slogan is the right one for him; it is "a time for action".

He's a Christian, and has been from his teenage years. Sometimes in the Hebrides that appellation sets you apart from fellow islanders. But Domhnall, as far as I can see, is embraced by all parts of the community and maintains a wide circle of friends from all walks of life.

We sometimes disagree on interpretation but not really on principle, and he is refreshingly modern in his approach to life. He's never expressed a judgmental view on my life choices, which are quite different from his. I can't see him treating anyone else any differently.

Most of all I am convinced that he's up to the job. This has been a long life's voyage for Domhnall but he has approached this campaign with relish, he makes an easy, confident, connection with people, and he has a conviction that he has embarked on this endeavour for the right reasons.

There is always a choice at elections but I think that with Domhnall there is something different on offer to the constituency. Domhnall's values are informed by the place he comes from, and he embodies the best aspects of the islands.

I think he will stand for jobs, for Gaelic, for the cultural and technological initiatives, and for a spirit of optimism that is needed to move the islands into their next stage of development.

When it is boiled down I think he'll make a good political representative because his ethics, his Labour values, inform what he does. His approach, his instinct, is to stand for everyone, while his main opponents really stand for only one thing. He is just the right man for the job, my brother.

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