“Why do you want Scotland to be independent? You’re English!” These words were spoken to me by my 99-year old Godmother, Auntie Margaret, who has known my Glaswegian mother for the past sixty years and me ever since I was born (including the five years that I was a student at Glasgow University).
“It seems as if you see Scotland as an awkward appendage, something you’d like to get rid of!”
Mildly astonished by this assault on my motives, I pointed out that with Scottish parentage, I had the right to claim Scottish identity if I wanted to. My desire to see Scotland achieve nation statehood was entirely for positive reasons.
Auntie Margaret, like me, had an English parent. In her case, it was her mother, but unlike me, she has lived on Scottish soil all her life.
I probably wouldn’t feel this strong sense of identity if it weren’t for the fact that when I was six years old, with my father unemployed, we had gone to live with my maternal grandmother in Fife, on the east coast of Scotland, only two hundred metres from the sea shore. Living in a village like Elie, with its sandy beaches, friendly, close-knit community and wide-open spaces was wonderful for me, but it didn’t last.
Dad didn’t find permanent work there, and after a year, the family moved south of the border to London. As an adult, I have always been told by English people that they feel no antipathy towards Scots, but I have experienced it first-hand, so I know it exists.
I must have cut an odd figure with my east coast Scottish accent, but nothing could have prepared me for the hostility I met. Beaten up regularly, I was told by my classmates in east London that I should “fuck off back to Scotland” on a daily basis. Generally, I was known as ‘Scottish bastard.’ This was the seventies, and I remember a Sikh boy who joined the school and was taunted because of the way his hair was tied up. If anything, he may have had it worse than me, but I don’t think he understood English.
I had ventured north of the border to visit my elderly aunt a fortnight ago, soon to celebrate her hundredth birthday. But while in Glasgow, I wandered around, visiting pubs and cafes in the city, trying to gauge the mood on the debate about whether Scotland should be an independent nation or not.
The momentum seemed to be in favour of a yes vote. Everywhere you went, you saw people with Yes badges, lots of windows had Yes posters, and nobody I asked admitted to being a No voter.
Unemployed at present, I’m surviving on over-burdened credit cards and need to support a wife and two young children. I should be looking for work at home in London.
But I am drawn to my maternal homeland, and return to Scotland on the day of the vote. I resolve to ask as many people as possible for their views, starting with the piper on the corner of Princes Street in between his tunes. “Yes!” he says.
Walking towards the Scottish National Gallery, there is a collage of paper and various textiles where people have given their reasons for how they’re voting. Almost all of them give reasons to vote yes.
Jocky Watson says he’s supports the campaign, “Because Scotland should be governed by its own people. All the stuff they’ve come out with recently about giving us devo max..I’ve heard it all before. I’m old enough to remember getting Thatcher in 1979 and Major in 1992. Alex Salmond’s right. The time is now.”
His partner Carla is Brazilian by birth, but is also a firm Yes supporter. “For many years Scots have been bullied into thinking they can’t have their independence, but now they realise they can.”
I bump into four students carrying Yes paraphernalia. It transpires they’re all interns from the USA working for the Scottish National Party (SNP). “We’re all grateful to be here to contribute to the most exciting day in Scotland’s history for the past 300 hundred years!” says Hannah from California.
Following the path set out by Rents in the opening moments of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting film, I stop to ask the Evening News salesman how he’ll vote. “My dad is English and it’s no’ about being anti-English, but I’d be a hypocrite if I voted no, it’s got to be yes.”
Just past this, there’s a branch of John Lewis, the UK-wide department store which announced a week ago that they would have to increase their prices if Scotland became independent. I ask several members of staff, but none is willing to give an opinion.
Just outside the store is a polling station. I quiz some of the No campaigners as to why they are opposed. One of them, a nervous looking Englishman, tells me, “I believe in the United Kingdom. I don’t want to lose my identity.”
Asked for his name, he says, “I don’t want to give my name, I know the SNP. They’ll come after me!”
Another says, “I don’t want to see 300 years of achievement sacrificed for one man’s ego.”
This is a charge that’s frequently been levelled at Alex Salmond, but seems unfair, considering he is one of several impressive performers in his own party, the SNP. They have built a coalition for their campaign with the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialists.
Another No campaigner is Claude, French by birth, who tells me that the SNP deliberately excluded sections of the armed forces by saying only people living in Scotland would be allowed to vote and not those stationed abroad (though Scottish regiments are not exclusively filled with Scots).
It’s interesting to observe that the Yes camp seem more confident and much less defensive when explaining their reasons for campaigning. Carole Alubaid told me, “Above all, I want to see an end to Westminster’s-or Warminster as I prefer to call it-wars! The SNP has said that Scotland won’t participate in any wars without UN authorisation.”
The stakes have never been higher for Scotland. Everywhere you go, pubs, cafes and bus stops, you hear people talking about independence. You hear some doubters, but the mood seems to be with the Yes camp.
But the naysayers have rolled out their big guns and given grand speeches. Gordon Brown remembered that he did, after all have a voice that could shout ‘NO!’(why did he never use it against Mr Blair?) and David Cameron almost burst into tears telling the Scots how much he loved them. All the media (except for one Sunday newspaper in Scotland) gave more favourable coverage to the no camp than to the yes camp.
At ten o’clock, I settle down in front of the TV at my cousin’s house to watch the results analysis.
Clackmannanshire returns a No vote with a majority of 7½%. This was one of the yes campaign’s top targets.
I fall asleep and awake to see Alex Salmond concede defeat in the referendum. The party promised by the yes camp in the event of a victory obviously won’t happen now.
When I get up in the morning, Edinburgh is dull and grey and everyone is going about their business as usual.
I need to get back home and look for work.
Images courtesy of Gwydion M. Williams.