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Angus Peter Campbell: Don’t let your age or your possessions dictate your politics

Beware of any coo moo-ving you to the right
Beware of any coo moo-ving you to the right

Mrs Thatcher knew fine well that there’s a direct connection between property and politics.

It was not through charity that she enabled council house tenants to buy their houses, for once you are part of “a property-owning democracy” the only way is up. Apparently.

Angus Peter Campbell

The accepted narrative is that as we grow older (and generally acquire more things) the more conservative we become, simply because we have more to lose by things changing. If you have a Jaguar at the end of the drive, only an ecological saint would exchange it for a bicycle.

The same with all our possessions. Who of us has not occasionally entered the loft and the cupboards and done a complete clear out and vowed to downsize, as they put it nowadays, yet before we know it the cupboards and all the clean empty spaces are chock-full again?

Goodness knows the world needs change

When younger we have much less to lose and should be impatient to see change – and goodness knows the world needs it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer; my children and thousands like them can’t afford to rent or buy a house in their own native Skye; obscene amounts of public money are wasted daily on non-existent ferries and very visible nuclear weapons; the government’s cronies get honoured and handed sacks of money while classroom assistants, care workers and essential delivery drivers earn a pittance for the most valuable work in the country.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher knew the connection between property and politics

Any child – and any adult – with any sense would want a revolutionary change to take place to reverse that unholy order.

That has been long recognised, and I could mention half a dozen folk, from Victor Hugo to Mark Twain who are said to have invented the following quote. For present purposes I will give it to Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th Century Prime Minister, who said: “A man who is not a Liberal at 16 has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at 60 has no head.”

He was Conservative Prime Minister. Twice – for a brief period in 1868, and then for six years from 1874 to 1880. He was, of course, over 60 when he claimed his own wisdom.

Time to clean out the political loft?

It’s a witty saying, even though it doesn’t stand up to any examination. For starters, there are plenty non-liberals under 16 who yet have a heart, not to mention the greater number over 60 who are not conservative and have the sharpest brains. But it serves its purpose, which is to say that liberalism and socialism are youthful and immature passing emotions while conservatism is a rational and thoughtful conclusion. One look at the current Conservative cabinet in London tells you that’s a complete fiction. Or as we put in the Gàidhealtachd, a lie.

Nae wonder big Karl put it this way: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.”

For both socialism and conservatism are ideologies. Or ways of looking at and interpreting the world. As something to change or as something to preserve. The challenge is to know the difference: whether to chuck everything in the loft into the rubbish tip or whether to hold on to that bottle opener that might, after all, come in useful one day. Or whether to ditch the European Union (or the British Union) altogether in pursuit of the dream of a dust-free, regulations-free, Brussels-free, Westminster-free political loft – which soon fills up again with the gathered, new rubbish.

Nae wonder big Karl put it this way: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.”

It’s all about the coo

So, the detritus and the weight of possessions. The political drag of property. It’s all about the coo (the cow) as the Doric man put it. The story goes back to the 19th century, when a provincial newspaper was discussing the new demand for land rights. Under the title ‘Property Qualification’ the paper argued that “give a Chartist a large estate, and a copious supply of ready money, and you make a Conservative of him.”

And then it goes on to tell about a determined Radical in Scotland, named Davy Armstrong, who left his native village. Many years afterwards, an old fellow Chartist met him and talked radical politics with him again. But Davy shook his head. His friend was astonished, and soon realised that Davy was no longer a radical, but a rank Tory. Wondering at the change, he asked why. Dave quietly and laconically replied: “I’ve a coo noo.”

Perhaps owning an Airbnb shack is the equivalent of having a cow nowadays.

I’m not sure if Margaret Thatcher knew the story of Davy Armstrong, but she certainly knew its import. Beware of any coo moo-ving you to the right.


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

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