Thoughts on the Eve of the Scottish Referendum

Over the past year, I’ve witnessed the people of Scotland in meaningful debate about what kind of country it should be. In the pub, in living rooms, at the grocery- wherever I go people are talking about the referendum.

While national pride plays a part in the Yes campaign, it is not jingoistic. It’s not about hating England or English people. It’s not so much about a collective identity; rather, from what I am hearing, it’s the things people care about- such as the storage of nuclear weapons in their back yard and the preservation of a public National Health Service. They strongly feel that the UK government is too London-centric, funneling a disproportionate amount of money into it while a record number of food banks are opening north of the border.

From the No camp, I hear that uncertainty seems to be the big motivator. They wonder, for example, what a small independent Scotland would do about its currency and finances-whether it would keep the Pound Sterling, for example, or whether it would be able to fund pensions. The future is unknowable, and therefore, scary. Some No voters told me they simply don’t like First Minister and Yes leader Alex Salmond, and feel a Yes vote is a vote for him personally.

I’m getting conflicting messages from south of the Border. An English friend who lives here told me that some of his friends back home are “cheesed off” with Scotland, and I have seen some cases of Scot-bashing coming from the South. For example, at least one radio station in England started a campaign to ban all Scottish music. As well as a bad publicity stunt, it’s a sad and telling commentary that some English don’t think Scots deserve a say in their own affairs. However,  I know English folks who live on both sides of the border that are fervently pro-Independence, or, if they would like to maintain the Union, at least feel the Scots deserve their day at the polls. (At any rate, such bashing displays certainly don’t help the Unionist cause as, at the same time, famous artists attempt to “love bomb” Scotland and Prime Minister David Cameron comes up to literally beg for No votes, saying he would be “heartbroken” if it leaves the Union.)

With a whopping 97 percent of eligible voters registered for the Independence Referendum, there is massive and grass roots political engagement. The campaign has been acrimonious. Accusations are flying. And while there have been strident debates on social media, heated words between neighbours, a fair bit of mud flung and the odd egg thrown, this has been a nonviolent process. In a world full of political war and genocide, here, democracy is taking a refreshingly peaceful course.

As I’ve documented the campaign around Oban, I see that the Yes camp has done a right better job in getting the word out. There has been an active Yes shop in Oban for months, but the No shop opened only last week. While many homes and businesses proudly display prominent Yes signs, I see fewer “No Thanks” signs. I’m not sure this will reflect what happens on polling day, but Yes is definitely more visible here. (disclaimer: I am not eligible to vote)

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A Yes sign on the island of Kerrera looking out over the bay from Oban (in fog)
A Yes sign on the island of Kerrera looking out over the bay from Oban (in the fog)

The Yes campaigners organised a full day of activities on the Saturday before the election and I could not resist seeing history in the making. While I was not there for the entire day, friends documented it extensively on social media. Accompanied by hundreds of supporters waving placards and flags, folk legend Dougie Maclean led a rousing sing-along of his iconic anthem “Caledonia” at the town square. The crowd paraded down the main drag with signs and banners, then loaded in decorated cars for a 200-mile cavalcade down the West Coast and back.

My neighbour Liam constructed a colourful ten-foot Loch Ness monster proclaiming her support for independence that has been gracing his yard for months, and he mounted it to a trailer for the parade. His wee grandchildren waved out the window chanting “Nessie says Yessie!”

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Hours later, the procession landed back at a Saltire-festooned pub, where musicians played and the crowd danced an impromptu céilidh on the lawn in the glorious 75 degree sun, at which point I arrived.

Spirits were high as folks enjoyed a well-earned pint, then migrated to the Yes Shop to grab a bite to eat and listen to more live music before the evening céilidh and buffet at the town’s dance hall.

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There was hardly time to gulp down supper before the festivities kicked into high gear. Bands played Scottish folk tunes and battle songs, people gave inspirational speeches, and in between sets a duo played dances for the seemingly inexhaustible crowd. Everyone was buzzing with adrenaline, with hope and with purpose.

The Lush Puppies
The Lush Puppies

I feel privileged to witness this moment in history, no matter the outcome on Thursday. I am proud of this wee country that I have chosen to make my home for now. I share the voters’ hopes, as well as their fears, and as the day approaches, I have knots in my stomach too.

When I was a kid, my favourite poet and author was Robert Louis Stevenson. His “Prayer for Success” comes to mind, and it is my dedication to all of us in Scotland today as we hold our collective breath and step into history.

 “Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere…Give us courage and gaiety, and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.”

 

 

 

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