So, there was a referendum. That happened. And we voted No. A trillion pounds' worth of international media descended on Scotland for a week—and the weather even stayed good while they were here!—and, as a nation, we had a chance to create a better world and we bottled it. I used to think that it would be embarrassing to be Canadian, but all the Canadians have as a national stereotype is that they are uniformly self-effacing and scrupulously polite. Since 19th September, on the world stage, Scots are craven directionless cowards. All of that William Wallace stuff that we've built up over the last eight hundred years, gone. We are lackeys.
I for one will not stand for it.
It takes time to build up a reputation like the Scots have—like the Scots had. Specifically, it takes eight hundred years. Down-to-earth pragmatists running the world with relentless efficiency in spite of their bewigged imperial masters. Hairy-arsed skirt-wearing maniacs perpetually game for a fight with ye, then a drink with ye, then another fight. The reason the claymore works as a weapon of war is that it's so damn big and heavy that, once you start running with it held out in front, you can't stop no matter how many English cavalrymen are in your way. We pissed all of that away in one night, and now, on the world stage, we are cowards.
I was there
at the dawn of the third age of mankind at the vote count for the Edinburgh region. It was a long day. The day before had been full of joyous, jubilant, exuberant marches in the Meadows, of hope and excitement, of impromptu mass choruses of Flower of Scotland. The tang of change was in the air. I could taste it. And then, on the great day itself, with history hanging in the balance, I had weighty duties to which I must attend. I'd set an alarm for six a.m. but was up at 5:30. One doesn't get to create a brand new nation every day. Out at 7 a.m. to witness the ballot boxen being sealed. Touring polling stations all day—technically in my organizational capacity as a polling agent for the Scottish Socialist Party, which is something that still confuses me. I'm not part of the Scottish Socialist Party. I only know one socialist and I'm on nodding terms with two or maybe three others. I'm still not quite sure how this happened, but I had an
ACCESS ALL POLLING PLACES pass and I wasn't afraid to use it. I may have spent slightly more of my day than would have been decorous waving the pass at people like Wayne and Garth at the Alice Cooper concert.
In the evening, it was off to the Highland Centre to observe the vote count. History was being made. At one stage, I was on the news. During a coffee break (I was on tea because I needed a sustained burn rather than the quick hit you get from coffee) I got to have a lovely conversation with Andrew Marr: I dislike his politics and I disapprove of his philandering but I bloody love his historical documentaries. I forgot to mention that my girlfriend's mother taught him English at Loretto.
The Yes and No campaign activists were given lounge areas on opposite sides of a big room, separated by a sort of concourse where there was a nice lady selling tea and coffee from a counter. I bought a bottle of water for £2.
Bloody hell, said I, aloud,
they told me the price of a pint might go up. The BBC and ITN news crews, on the other hand, were separated by fenced-off enclosures with scaffolding and big scary signage. I found this amusing: a physical paean to the civilized nature of the entire debate. Ultimately, we are all residents of these great British islands. Who needs barricades when there is a tea lady?
My role—still, apparently, on behalf of the SSP for reasons I still can't quite fathom—was to observe the count and ensure that no foul play was taking place. I can confirm that, as far as I can tell, the vote was scrupulously fair and above board. It was just that every bastard had put the cross in the wrong box for reasons that remain utterly incomprehensible to me.
It was obvious from early on that the Yes side were losing. As the postal ballots first came out, while I was still skittering around looking for a table to attend, one of my Yes colleagues turned to me and murmured:
we're gettin' hammered. Surely not, I said. It's early days. We were always going to lose on the postal votes. It's the regular ballots that will vindicate us. Half an hour later, it was obvious even to me. Tally marks on the clipboard in front of me, sampling a ballot box from somewhere in the southside: 202 No to 75 Yes. You bastards. You sold us out, because some fucker lied to you about your pensions to guarantee his own. Fuck the fucking southside, man.
Later: we were always going to lose in Edinburgh. It's the rest of Scotland that will vindicate us. Then Clackmannanshire voted No. Then Shetland voted No (fucking Shetland, of all places). Then Dundee voted Yes, but only by a baw-hair, where all of our polling had indicated a good seventy or eighty per cent. At that point, we knew all was lost. Facial expressions changed. The evening became a slog. I had been up since 5:30 and it was now 4am and everything left was a foregone conclusion.
I'd got chatting to a fairly well-known professor of events management with whom I'd already done some networking for work, and plan to do more in the future. He's also a stunningly nice bloke, and a Yes voter obvs. By the point it was clear that we'd lost, self-preservation took precedence over solidarity. This is the country we live in now, the country that Scotland has chosen: every man for himself. So in the immediate short term, I opted to promote my own career and come back to making the world a better place later, and when Professor Joe offered to chum me back in his taxi at 5am, I agreed.
So I was there—just getting ready to leave—when the announcement came through that Glasgow, fairly overwhelmingly, had voted Yes. It was a brief moment of levity in the midst of a long night of otherwise unmitigated despair. A chant started up in the campaigners' lounge area: Glas-gow, Glas-gow, Glas-gow. Someone shouted:
ya dancer! Someone else:
Ye cannae fool a weegie!, and then it was time to go. It was a glorious moment. It was the only one. It wasn't enough.
The next couple of days were numb and bleak. I've been clinically depressed before and I know exactly what was going on in my brain. I surfaced from bed every so often to read Twitter for five minutes or so before I couldn't take any more. And then on Monday it was back to work, to catch up on the paperwork I'd missed during the last week, in time to catch a train down south on Tuesday. The last place I wanted to go. As a deeply pathetic form of revenge, I made sure to take scotch whisky with me, and Irn Bru, and lots of Scottish fivers.
We had a chance and we bottled it. But it was a good fight, and it's not over.
And now I have a branded Yes clipboard, which I'm keeping. Spoils of war.
There is an epilogue to this post, but it's going under access lock.