I think the polite/honest/firm approach is particularly relevant when talking to or about politicians, after all politicians are there to represent us in a very public way, and thus should be questioned robustly to ensure that they do indeed represent the views of the people that they....represent. That is why I recently decided to enter dialog with my own local MSP, Fiona McLeod.
Again, anyone who has read this blog before will know that one of my passions is cycling (Really? You'd never know!) and making the roads safer for everyone in Scotland. Whilst I am willing to don Lycra and mix with traffic (though sometimes I don't enjoy it), I know that the majority of people think I, and others like me, are nuts. I've even had police officers tell me, 'you'd never get me cycling on the roads'.
That's wrong. It shouldn't be like that.
Thus, I wrote this letter to my MSP. I think it was a very reasonable letter, asking reasonable questions. In summary I asked if she agreed that politicians needed to look at the issue of road justice, and did she agree that more needed to be spent on cycling infrastructure to make the roads safer. Please take a moment to read the letter in full.
This was the reply I got.
Dear Dr Brennan,
I understand that Police Scotland have recently announced a focus on driver behaviour.
Government funding for cycling continues to increase and I am persuaded by the arguments and evidence for training as a way towards safer cycling. We have a significant example here in my constituency with the work being done by ED's Cycle Coop especially in Bishopbriggs where they have already exceeded the 20% target for cycling to school.
One of the consequences of the NO vote in the referendum is that the Scottish Government will continue to have their budget squeezed.
Fiona McLeod MSP
Strathkelvin & Bearsden
I felt that the reply was poor. It didn't address the main questions of my letter, seemed to miss the point, and suggested that spending on cycling was increasing, when it wasn't. Thus, I replied to Fiona. My reply is here, which I again ask that you read.
Yes, I was firm, but I think I was fair, asking fair questions and backing them up with a number of hard facts. I was hopeful that Fiona would read this and provide me with a more detailed answer.
Was that reasonable expectation for a constituent when writing to his MSP?
I didn't receive a reply so I sent a short but polite chaser e-mail. Shortly after that I received this reply.
Dear Dr Brennan,I think I covered all your points in my reply.Yours sincerely
Fiona McLeod MSP
Strathkelvin & Bearsden
That was it. A one line answer. Apparently my questions have been answered....
Umm....no. No they have not. In fact, if I'm honest, you've failed to answer any of them....at all.
So what can I take from this exchange.
Does Fiona actually think that spending on cycling is going up, when it isn't?
Does Fiona understand what the difference is between the police asking drivers to be nice and the police taking road justice issues seriously?
Does Fiona understand that the police asking drivers to be nice has hee haw to do with road justice issues with regards to the Procurator Fiscal?
Does Fiona really think that because there is a limit to the Scottish budget (there is always a limit, that's why it is called a....budget...) that this provides an excuse to further cut speniding on cycling and active travel, whilst telling us that things are improving?
Does Fiona really expect parents to send their kids to cycle training and then to feel happy sending them off cycling on the roads? Would she?
Or, does Fiona not just give a hoot?
I'll be honest, I don't have any answers for any of the above questions as Fiona has effectively refused to answer. I suspect (though as I have no answers I may be wrong) that there are two reasons for this refusal. Firstly, the questions I have asked are difficult to answer, mainly because of the poor record the government has on cycling. Shockingly poor in fact. Secondly, and perhaps more onerously, she feels that whether she answers me or not, doesn't matter.
The SNP in Scotland are riding on a post independence wave. SNP membership is significantly up and the SNP is doing well in polls. Labour is not the force in Scotland it once was.
Whilst Fiona is likely to be disappointed in the referendum result itself,you can bet that she and her colleagues now feel much, much safer in their respective positions due to the change in public opinion in Scotland. It would take some major upheaval within the Labour movement for politicians like Fiona to be ousted at the next Scottish elections. She feels safe and secure, at least, as safe and secure as any politician can feel.
So along comes a wee mouthy cyclist, asking awkward questions.
Hmm, what's my best option here.....try and answer the questions? Face up to the fact that the SNP is dead set on more road building at the expense of everything else and that we are sleepwalking the country towards further car dependence? Or......I could just ignore the annoying wee b......yes that's what I'll do.....And so I've been ignored as a nuisance.
Thing is, I'm a voter. Yes, I'm only one voter, but I am a voter all the same. I will not, under any circumstances whatsoever be voting for Fiona in the next Scottish elections. I will also be sharing this story with others that I know in East Dunbartonshire and perhaps they will also consider their future voting on what they have heard.
Let me make it clear, this is in no way personal. I'm sure Fiona is a lovely lady, but I for one see the future of transport in this country as a serious issue. Funding, or lack of funding for active travel has effects not only on transport policy, but also on health policy, and environmental policy and I now understand that Fiona just doesn't get this, even when faced with irrefutable facts.
Who will I vote for though? Well, I'll certainly be asking all prospective MSPs in the area on the run up to the Scottish elections where they stand on active travel. I'll also hope, that our area will see fit to put up a green candidate at the next election. Whilst I'm not saying I'd definitely vote for them, they'd certainly be in with a significantly better chance than Fiona.