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Angus Peter Campbell: We’re creatures of habit but the election brings opportunity for change

Even though there are loads of coffee shops to choose from, we still lean towards the familiar - even if the coffee isn't great
Even though there are loads of coffee shops to choose from, we still lean towards the familiar - even if the coffee isn't great

We’ll be going to the polls again in a few weeks time to elect a new Scottish Parliament and I suppose it will be the usual dilemma: whether to vote the same as ever, or whether to take the plunge and change allegiance.

As far as I’m aware, all the evidence about human behaviour suggests that we’re terrible creatures of habit. A CalMac full Scottish breakfast for some, even when they’re holidaying in the Med (remember those days?), otherwise the day is not worth facing.

Angus Peter Campbell

Even though there are loads of coffee shops to choose from, we still prefer the one we’re used to, with the comfortable chair in the corner, though it’s dearer and further away, and besides, the coffee is not that good anyway, but it’s where we’ve always gone and…

Churchgoing is particularly challenging. Isn’t it odd that if we’re going to a music concert we want to be as near the front as possible so that we can see Daniel O’Donnell (or whoever your own particular hero might happen to be) close up and personal. The best seats are always in the safe middle, which get booked first, and if you’re late off the mark, there you are, far far away, up in the gods, with no binoculars either.

But in church it’s the other way round. The most desirable seats are always at the back, apparently. I suppose in case the good minister or priest catches your eye as he makes that appropriate reference to the book of Romans, Chapter Seven. And woe upon woe in some kirks if someone dares to sit in the seat you’ve always sat in. And not just you but yer faither and yer faither’s faither.

If it’s porridge or nothing, then porridge it will have to be

I knew the late great Reverend Jack MacArthur of Lewis and Skye well, and he told me once of a church he was ministering in where about half a dozen would come to the evening service. And, of course, they each sat where they (and their ancestors) had sat across the generations: one here and one there, scattered apart like greylag geese on the machair. So the good man cordoned off most of the church with a red silk rope so that the small congregation could sit together, except that the first person who came into the kirk looked at the set-up, louped over the cord rope, and sat in his accustomed seat. The others followed suit, seating themselves in their old familiar places.

I’m not telling you whether I’m preparing to climb over any particular political ropes on May 6. I have my own allegiances of course, but still retain enough sense to look as objectively as I can at all the candidates (which is not necessarily the same as the parties) and make up my mind on their individual merit.

That will of course be a matter of judgment, as all choices are. Even though sometimes there is no choice, or the singular choice of necessity, which is no choice at all. If it’s porridge or nothing, then porridge it will have to be.

A sweet meadow for some, a choppy sea for others

It all depends how you look at it. Of course it does. The Irish saint, Scuithin, for example, used to walk across the ocean to Rome in the old days and then return the same way the next. One day, there he was skimming across the Irish Sea when he met St Finbarr of Cork coming the other way in a boat.

“Why are you travelling over the sea in that manner?” Finbarr asked him, and Scuithin promptly replied that it was not the sea at all “but a flowery shamrock-bearing meadow: and here’s the proof of it”. And stretching his hand into the ocean, he took up from it a bunch of purple flowers and threw them across to Finbarr in his ship.

But, immediately, Finbarr also stretched out his hand into the water, from which he took up a salmon and threw it across to Scuithin. And so, the Life of the Irish Saints says, the dispute between the two good men remained undecided. Like a 1-1 draw between Ross County and Inverness Caley, which satisfies everyone and no one, depending on how you look at it and who you support. It’s a sort of glass half full, glass half empty kind of thing.

Maybe (or maybe not) the coming election will be like that. A sweet meadow for some and a choppy sea for others. And maybe a political rope to keep us in or out. Or to climb over, according to tradition.

Angus Peter Campbell is an award-winning writer and actor from South Uist

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