Well I'm finally sat down in Northern Ireland and think that I really need to let you know the end of the story which started to be told by myself and my travelling companion, Northern Irish Lib Dem Chair Mícheál Carchrie Campbell. So to keep everyone, especially my spy handler Chris Wilson*, in the loop here is the remainder of the tale.
Saturday was spent mainly packing and cleaning. Although there was a brief little bit of relief as Caron and her daughter Anna came over to deliver her Dyson for the use of Operation Evacuate. Mícheál, as they were leaving, asked Anna is she was a member of the Liberal Democrats. When she said no, he asked her if she wanted to be. When she said yes Mícheál asked for a form so I ran inside to find where I had them and handed one to them as they sat in the van to fill in. We then had the welcoming handshakes from local party representatives past and present and the Northern Irish chair.
Anna and Caron are going to be fostering my Conference 2009 hoopla won teddy, Bourne Ident Teddy, until I return to Scotland and Anna has a Bangor Bowling Club keyring which says, "Presented by Stephen Glenn" on the reverse of the club emblem, just so she doesn't forget who or where I am. As if!!
On Saturday evening Mícheál was having a meal with his mum's cousin and her son, who live nearby. While they were out the landlord came around for his final inspection while I was still mid packing and cleaning. But on Mícheál's return he said that his second cousin had asked at the table, "Was that Stephen?" then turned to his mother and said that was the Liberal Democrat candidate you got all those leaflets from. Apparently he would have also voted for me if he hadn't moved over to Edinburgh. I'm not which of my Edinburgh colleagues benefited though, that is a question I will have to get answered.
Well I spent most of Saturday evening and Sunday morning cleaning and little bits of final packing in van while Mícheál tried to get as much sleep as possible for the drive. The bathroom and cooker were sparkling by the time I was done.
We then set off at 7 am in the morning for the drive to Stranraer. On the way we honoured a challenge set by Caron to fly the pink jack out of the window. We did it on the way to the Varyag memorial at Lendalfoot. It is one of those memorials we have both driven past so often, either in a queue of traffic up from the ferry or in a rush to get to the ferry. This time we had time and used it to take a look and pictures of it.
After what was a smooth uneventful return trip we arrived at the port of Stranraer....
...yeah there is something about ports on this trip...
...initially the first queue at the port was up to the gate and a secondary one had started. The traffic warden told Mícheál that he could get in there, and he probably would have done if the traffic warden hadn't positioned himself in front of the wall that forms the gate to the entrance. There was a scraping noise as the traffic warden jumped over the wall to say you shouldn't have done that. This will add to #keygate as being #twgg (traffic warden gate gate) from the #operationevacuate family of hashtags.
We then proceeded up to the security check wondering if Alana and Peter's tale from Belfast on the way out would have got here before us. It didn't appear to have, but the security guards were happy to look in through the side door of the van before letting us proceed, straight into the hands of the law.
The police had just, it appeared, turned up for duty and decided before we had moved 2 metres further along to pull us over to the side. The proceeded to take details from us, search the vehicle (inside, underneath and under the bonnet). However, there were a number of issues with this that we are raising as a result.
Random stop and searches are illegal for a start and this one especially.
We were not given a reason of suspicion as to why we were being searched.
We had details taken from us and a request for photographic ID. Apparently a Northern Ireland Assembly Pass and General Election leaflet were not enough (you'd have thought alarm bells would have rung out then) so we had to reach for our passports.
I asked the data protection questions. Why are you taking my data? Who will have access to it? How long will it retained for? The answers were Prevention of Terrorism Act (not sufficient reason on its own as I pointed out above). Only for usage of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and not for any third party. I'm not sure I think it is for x** number of years.
After our details they let the dogs go into the van to sniff around and then check us out afterwards. Once all this was done the 'officer' (who was only wearing a security high vis jacket not a police one) who had opened the bonnet told us to shut the bonnet. Mícheál asked if he could do it for us he said no, then as Mícheál tried to push it down said, "No not like that, you need to lift it first." Too late not it was already bent out of shape. He then said we'd better get that shut or there would be a prohibition.
At this point Mícheál asked them for their identification numbers (which were not on display on their uniforms. The female officer was about to do so when her colleague with the bonnet said no we don't have to do that (actually they do if requested to provide). So we have no idea which officer we are to lodge a complaint against as they were not as forthcoming with information as we had to be on their say so.
As we trundled along towards the queue to our ferry we wondered which of our mobile phone contacts we should contact first. Mícheál's boss after all is the Northern Ireland Justice Minster, I had the Lib Dem Justice Spokesperson or the Secretary of State for Scotland in mine. Then again we both could contact the Deputy Prime Minster who is acting as Prime Minister as well.
Having experienced this at first hand we both think that the over reaction that our police have had (especially as this wasn't an international boundary) is far too excessive. This from two men who grew up with the constant daily threat of terrorism on their doorsteps everyday. For more frequently and more deadly that anything that currently exists, when security was tight but nowhere near as intrusive, humiliating or police-statest as this situation was.
We calmed down on the crossing. Mícheál started to compose his letter while I got my nose into the observer. Later on we got a postcard each of the ferry we were crossing on and sent the identical message to each other as we entered Belfast Lough facing our respecting home shores of Down (me) and Antrim (him). Then off we got and drove to Bangor where with the help of Sam O'Neill the 4th Bangor BB Captain and Cedric McBurney the BB/Scout Lib Dem team finally offloaded my stuff mainly into mum's garage.
This morning after some welcome recovery sleep we returned to van to McGladery's commercial hire and told Martin in the hire office the tale of the trip. We're waiting to hear the estimate for how much of our deposit we shall be losing, between the key and the scratched paintwork.
* Actually as he off to the Ukraine for the next 10 months he may be able to dig out my KGB file from 1990.
** The reason I'm not revealing this number is that Mícheál asked the same question and was not told so am not going to damage his own formal complaint.