Election: Gay photographer Tommy Ga-Ken Wan on why he's voting SNP (Opinion)

2017-06-06
When I tell people in London that I intend to vote for the Scottish National Party, they are aghast. Even my friends there - like me, lefties, luvvies and lushes of various stripes - have a knee-jerk reaction to the word nationalism. It’s an understandable reaction, given that the poisonous ideas of the similarly-named British National Party continue to pollute the waters of our political discourse; but it is a reaction based on the failure to understand or to acknowledge that there are two kinds of nationalism. The first is is the kind that the BNP represented: chauvinistic, ethnocentric and impossible to reconcile with a belief in the equality of humankind; the kind of nationalism that sees danger and builds walls. The second kind of nationalism - the nationalism of the SNP - is one that sees opportunity and builds bridges: a civic nationalism that offers to its people a chance to rewrite the rules of politics and government, to build an economic system that is socially just, a society which is culturally inclusive, and a country which is small and peaceful. If that makes me sound like a dewy-eyed idealist, it may be because I am, but it wasn’t always the case. I remember well the optimism that buoyed Tony Blair’s first election to the position of Prime Minister in 1997. Six years later, I marched against the second Gulf War - alongside a million others in the UK and millions of others around the world - in what remains the largest protest event in human history. Within a few weeks I was watching Baghdad burn from the comfort of my living room. It was preceded by lies and spin, and followed by the erosion of our civil liberties. We knew that and we fought it, and in the end changed nothing. Any faith I had in the ability of people and of politics to change anything were, like Baghdad, in ruins. I remained pessimistic and cynical until 2014, when the possibility of Scottish independence electrified the country, and me with it. Critics would say that it divided the country, and this is also true, but Scotland buzzed with life: strangers and friends engaged in debate that was for the most part healthy and civil; our citizenry became informed and politically engaged in a way that is rarely seen in western democracies; pubs and restaurants, kitchen tables, bus stops and street corners were alive with discussions about who we are as a people, what kind of country and what kind of world we want to live in, and shouldn’t they always be? In the rest of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be offering real change, bringing to the table policies that haven’t been considered for decades because of an establishment that has sought to narrow the scope of what is considered acceptable or even possible. If I lived in England, I would be campaigning hard for him, but many of his appealing policies - a commitment to ending austerity; greater funding for healthcare free education; an understanding and appreciation of the benefits of immigration - these are already government policy in the SNP’s administration in the Scottish Parliament. As for the Tories: they have directly appealed to us to judge them on their record. They’re currently being investigated for electoral fraud on a massive scale, the NHS is a mess, the national debt has increased by £700 billion, police numbers are down by 14%, prisons have been privatised, disdain for the unemployed and the disabled, child poverty has increased, education has been cut by £3 billion. That’s their record. The ideology of conservativism is one with which I fundamentally disagree, but I understand it: it is not illogical or irrational. However, the Conservative party as it stands lacks any conviction or ideological consistency and is not being led by its brightest lights, something which I hope even those voting Conservatives can see. It is the belief of the Scottish government that the Scottish people are those who live in Scotland. It doesn’t matter where you were born, what your first language is, what the colour of your skin is: if you’ve chosen to make your life here in Scotland, then you are Scottish. The SNP’s record is by no means perfect, and it is important that we as citizens hold our representatives to account, but I believe that the people of Scotland have in the SNP a party which will stand up for their interests, and which offers the prospect of real change, a genuine revolution that we can effect at the ballot box rather than with bullets and bombs. That's why I’ll be voting SNP on Thursday. Words by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan More stories: Gay man pledges to keep ‘flirting with handsome men’ after London terror attack Review | Mighty Hoopla festival featuring Years & Years and Will Young