Six years ago, today
On this day (September 18th, 2014) I woke early, showered, dressed and adorned my yes rosette. I had been assigned to get to the polling station (the one I would eventually go to cast my vote) just before 7am in order to bear witness that the ballot boxes had not arrived sealed. I remember the short walk, most of the village in which I reside had not come to life yet. The only folks around were dog walkers, early morning joggers and those out for their morning paper. I remember how strange that morning felt – as if the cloud of impending doom had arisen; call it the psychic in me, but there was just something foreboding in that morning. I arrived at the station, a hall which was situated just opposite the local swing park and opposite a well known ‘Sir’s’ biscuit factory. With a smile on my face I opened the heavy metal door and stepped inside. Those present from within took one look at my rosette and grunted some form of ‘good morning’. First impressions, they were not on the ‘yes’ side of the spectrum. The gentleman, a man who looked to be in his mid-fifties, early sixties presented just one box – from memory there were two, the other had already been sealed. To my surprise I was invited to remain within the building until 7am the start of the polling day. I sat at a table far away from those conducting the proceedings and chatted to whom I assumed to be the building caretaker.
At exactly 7am, as the sun begun to rise, I went outside and stood where I was instructed to stand, not too far from the building, but far enough to be seen. The first few voters all had smiles and thumbs up, a good start to the day I thought. However, it soon became apparent that the elder generation, those whom it is alleged had been contacted by Labour activists with scare stories of having their pension removed. Perhaps they believed all they had been told. They passed me; head bowed as if ashamed of what they were about to do. My stint as polling agent was from 7am – 11am, such was the demand to help on the day. To say we were well looked after by the yes campaign on the day was an understatement. My local councillor and many in the yes movement stopped by to check things were okay. However, it was decided that I move to another location where there was no representative from the ‘yes’ side. I knew the place well, for the next street lead to a beautiful castle which was surrounded by millionaire homes. Oh boy, were they annoyed at having to vote. I felt a little intimidated, but I was soon joined by someone whom I knew to be a millionaire, although to look at him you would never guess.
He arrived in old worn jeans, scuffed shoes, t-shirt and old jacket. We talked, not about anything yes related, as there are strict rules as a polling agent you must stick with. We were joined by the polling agent from the ‘no’ campaign, me on one side of the gate, her on the other. For some reason, her red coat stood out to me. My companion asked her to join us, “there was no point standing apart, we had to get on once this was over” he said, and he had a point. We stood side by side, her with her no rosette me with my yes. Talking, laughing, sharing doughnuts and coffee my companion had delivered. Voters remarked how great it was to see us stand together. Others looked on bewildered. I shall never forget the look on the face of a woman in her huge expensive car. She pulled up, took one look at my companion and scoffed at the way in which he was dressed. How judgemental I thought. But he wasn’t the only one who was judged, I had an elderly gentleman shout in my face that I was ruining Scotland, although just how I could singlehandedly do that was beyond me, he did however, return and apologies later. And then my stint came to an end and I was able to speak freely. One thing that stuck out, was of those who voted no, one of their main reasons was that vow. They believed we would be given more powers, my heart sank. The unionist press had played a blinder.
I bid farewell to my companion, thanked him for keeping me company, I actually think he was sent round to keep an eye on me, to make sure I was safe which I will be eternally grateful for. As I strolled home in the sunshine, I felt a chill, even although there was no breeze. I sat down with a glass of orange and slice of toast and mulled over the morning, hope was still alive, although it had diminished greatly, and I recalled how I got to where I was…
I first got active in the ‘yes’ campaign in June of 2014, although I had kept abreast of what was going on, my life was vastly different, back then. I was in college studying for an HND in Communications with media. I had also lost a sibling to Cancer the year before and my mother in February of that year. Until then my life had been built around caring for them both. In June as the campaign for yes built I began watching meetings from around the country. Meetings we would never have known about had it not be for Kevin Gibney and Del of Independence Live, both of whom saw an opportunity and run with it. Had it not been for Indy-live, livestreaming the events, rallies, meetings, I am quite sure we would not be where we are today. We owe a lot to Kevin and Del.
My first encounter with my local yes group was on a bright sunny Saturday morning, they were stood outside the local bank, table filled with all sorts of goodies. I had just stopped for a wee chat and before I knew it, I was giving them my email address. That was the start of my involvement in campaigning. One of my first tasks was to door chap. I wasn’t sent on my own. I had someone more experienced with me. What we would do was ask if they knew about the campaign and if we could ask which way the intended to vote. (I thought it a bit cheeky at the time), but it was the way in which the yes side were calculating how the campaign was going. What worried me at the time wasn’t those who were home; it was those who weren’t. I decided this form of the campaign wasn’t for me. I still think you’re vote should be private, but I did get the point as to why they were being asked. From then on, I helped man the stall. Every Saturday I would stand outside the bank and watch the world go by. From June until the last week I believe we were there ourselves, with no sign of the no campaign. On a whole the feedback from those shopping was positive, the odd unfriendly no thanks, but on a whole the atmosphere was friendly.
The last few days of the campaign are the ones I most remember. Saturday 13th September, least I think it was the thirteenth, it was all a blur of excited optimism by this time. We were in the full swing of the Commonwealth Games, and in the final moments of the ‘yes’ campaign.
That Saturday standing outside the bank with my fellow yessers, the hope in our eyes, the smile on our faces, laughing, singing, dancing, cars tooting, my fellow townsfolk had never seen anything like it. We believed we had this but in the back of my mind and I’m sure others, we weren’t over the finishing line yet – there was still work to do, next day, Sunday 14th is a day that will live with me for the rest of my life for it was the day myself and about six thousand of us marched from George (Freedom) Square to Pacific Quey, the home of BBC Scotland. So incensed with their disgusting coverage and their blatant lies that we headed up there – the march, the last in a long line of rallies held outside the BBC but this one so large it could not be ignored as had the others. All you could visualise was a sea of blue and white, saltires everywhere mixed in of course with the lion rampant. The walk was long but the most enjoyable walk I have ever undertaken. We stopped traffic in all directions, the drivers and passengers within adding to the atmosphere by beeping horns. “Scotland says yes” “Scotland” And ‘Oh flower of Scotland chanted and sung with such gusto. And outside the glass fronted building in the view of the Clyde and the squinty bridge we let those within know just how displeased we were. “Where’s your cameras BBC” “BBC Shame on you.” And calling them out as the blatant liars they were. Their coverage of Alex Salmond’s Press conference which had been livestreamed for all to see, doctored by the BBC and manipulated by the Conservative supporting Nick Robinson who had stated that Salmond hadn’t answered the question he had badgered him to answer. A question those watching the livestream had witnessed Alex answer. That was one of the main reasons why six thousand people took their feet for a walk; and there were thousands more watching the livestream. Such was the demonstration that day that Sky news sent a helicopter to capture the protest. It wasn’t all singing and chanting, satisfied our point had been put so elegantly across we moved to where a little gazebo had been set up; there we listened to inspiring speeches, poems and music, and ventured home still optimistic of a bright future. The whole week was a hive of activity, people met in George Square, Tuesday, Wednesday, and of course Thursday.
From the time I completed my stint as polling agent until the first results began to come in, I could not contain myself. I sat wondering what I had forgotten to do. It was around two o’clock and I was on social media. I had turned off the mainstream media by then, unable to bear the smirking faces; although at the time I had no idea why they were all so coy.
Then it hit me, I hadn’t voted, I had been stood outside my own polling station that morning and I had forgotten to vote. Slipping into my shoes, and grabbing my polling card, I retraced my steps, a ‘no’ polling agent stood outside, along with about a dozen yessers. I really did feel ill, I had a blinding headache and just felt numb. Remember I hadn’t had time to grieve the loss of my sibling and my mother; I think it was then it hit me. I had been too busy to think, now they were all I thought about, especially my mother whom I knew would have voted yes such was her desire for Scotland to be free. I remember someone asking me if I was okay and offering to get me a chair. I just wanted to cast my vote and go home.
I began to feel a little better, headache gone. I placed my snacks on the table and sat back to watch the results come in – I didn’t get past the Shetland result. I ventured to bed with a gut feeling that we had just handed our sovereignty back to the Tories who would use it to punish Scotland for daring to come out its box. I didn’t sleep, the sense of foreboding back, I knew the next years would be absolute hell for the most vulnerable – yet there was still that modicum of hope, maybe, just maybe I’m wrong, but there were no cars, no horns, no celebrating in the streets.
I rolled out of bed next morning, wandered downstairs, my pace much slower than before and felt the silence of a home once lived in. my mother and sibling were really gone and now was the time to face that fact. I switched on the TV only to be presented with gloating faces as they recalled their night. Their victory, a pyrrhic victory as Tommy Sheridan referred. I snapped it off and flopped back on my chair, what now, I asked myself. Most of that day was spent in an absolute daze, the wind had been knocked out of me, shell-shocked and unable to think straight I mulled around. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. And then, just as I was about to accept defeat, I read a blog post from Robin McAlpine that would change my mood. It was an article full of hope, full of inspiration. My melancholy mood lifted, I began to explore the possibility that this wasn’t over, not by a long chalk, we may have lost the battle, but the war was there to be won. Those in the yes movement, with nowhere to go began flocking to the SNP, and the Greens and other yes supporting parties.
That evening George Square saw the other side of the campaign raise its ugly head, unionists, stood in their bravery, their arms outstretched, their Nazi salutes there for all to see; only the BBC reported this as skirmishes. It was no such thing, it was yessers who had gathered to celebrate a great campaign attacked by entitled unionists. Not only attacking yessers but what looked to be ordinary members of the public simply enjoying a night out. All caught on livestream.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I finally sat down to watch Cameron, the then, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, take the last chance the people of Scotland had given them throw to the the ground and stamp his shiny shoe all over it – English Votes for English Laws the smarmy Tory stated. I remember thinking, “He’s just done the wrong thing.” And telling my fellow classmates as I returned to college that Monday that I was going to buy a great big bag of popcorn and watch the UK government destroy the Union, such is their arrogance.
The rest of September was a bit of a blur, just a mixture of college and social media. I still had a feeling that all was not lost. And it was very prevalent in October when once again the yes movement mobilised.
It was a dull and overcast Saturday morning when I adorned my saltire once more and headed to George (Freedom) Square for a rally organised by Hope Over Fear and it was on this day I realised that Scotland had changed, never would we ever be slaves again, never would we be manipulated into thinking that we were ‘too wee, too poor, and too stupid’ to govern ourselves. A fire had been ignited, inside of us, a fire I feel every Jacobite had felt as they stepped onto the battlefield. That day was the pickup we needed. The crowd came and went as the day wore on, but I remained until the very end. Exhausted I was taking a well-earned rest when a stranger sat down beside me, and we got talking as most in the yes movement know. You are not talking to strangers; you are talking to comrades. We reminisced about the campaign, and yes, the highs and the lows. She mentioned something that has stuck with me from that day. “You know it’s as if you can feel the strength of our ancestors carrying us along.” I nodded in agreement; we were standing on the shoulders of giants. It wasn’t until sometime later I heard the story from someone, (I can’t remember who) but he told the story of going to England and giving William Wallace the funeral he deserved, and I remember thinking as I heard that story, “God, yes, he’s free, he’s not trapped any more, he’s here. And look what’s happened since.” A silly thought, but a comforting one. That day was memorable for another reason, Gerry Cinnamon belting out Hope over Fear, the lyrics as poignant now as they were back then.
Six years have passed, six long hard years and we are so close to realising the dream we saw slip through our fingers in 2014. Poll after poll shows support for independence in the low to mid-fifties. To all my fellow yessers who came along on this journey back in 2014, and even longer, and to those we carry with us now. I thank you for the past six years, onward and upward.