The word throbs from the crowds crammed between the statues representing an order once unshakeable, now in serious peril. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Blue is the colour in the Saltire flags and signs featuring a thousand different ways to sculpture, print, handcraft, paint and wear the word yes.
In this campaign of many hues a firebrand left-wing politician is mashing up high emotion and the class struggle with nationalism and self-determination. The crowd roar their approval and chant ‘Yes’ as he thunders out his speech already delivered many times in Glasgow’s nightclubs and meeting halls. Tommy Sheridan is in fine form, his impressive oratory is stoking and feeding off the crowds and the energy. He has seized the moment as much as everyone else.
The struggle does not seem to chime with all of his beloved working class. In the opposite corner of the square in front of the City Chambers a small group of unionists are trading insults and chants with a larger group of yes voters. The no campaign would take one look at this mob and shudder at the tribal unionism of Rangers and Orange Lodge on display. This being Britain the chants are appropriated from the football terraces. A group of yes supporters surge in singing the Imperial March theme from Stars Wars. The unionists reply with Rule Britannia. Gestures and taunts are exchanged. As often with this situation the protagonists love the pantomime, hugely emboldened whilst making absolutely certain the thin blue line stands between them and the other side. Two yes women endearingly chant “we still love you even if you’re wrong”. This is the eyeballing terrace culture corner; the chant is not taken-up.
I wander back to where most of the crowd are assembled, listening to the speeches. Darth Vader waves a sign saying proclaiming the end of the empire. Bagpipers play Flower of Scotland, children wave yes flags, hair is dyed blue, dogs wear yes bandanas, and the Catalans are here with their flags.
I keep bumping into friends and acquaintances. Handshakes, keep your fingers crossed for us, come to such and such pub for the party on Friday. Good luck I say to a SNP councillor acquaintance for his expression is of desperate yearning and terrible excitement. Another acquaintance can’t wait for it to end to get his life back. “I’ve given up two years of my life for this.” He quietly slumps in anticipated defeat but visibly cheers when I suggest a yes win is still just as likely. Coming from an undeclared neutral it has more value. The passion and belief flickers between exhaustion and hope. So nearly there. The hour of reckoning is coming.
Glasgow is fired-up. The streets and social media hums and bickers with often radical debate, everyone is discussing it everywhere. In truth the yes campaign owns the city. The lampposts, windows and cars are bedecked with yes stickers, flags and slogans. Glaswegian nationalists proudly wear their dream as pins on their jackets, yes logos on their t-shirts and stickers on their cheeks. The nos are here but if you were voting on vibrancy, music, colour and imagination in campaigning the ayes would have it no question. There have been rallies, buskers, convoys of horn tooting cars, photo calls, artworks, photobombing of the evening news with yes made out of blue neon light, even a flash ceilidh in George Square organised by the English Scots for Yes.
The fever, the momentum for yes is sweeping through these streets, intoxicated and secure in its own self-confirmation. Living in Glasgow it’s difficult to think they won’t do this. It sees the finishing line, it roars for the expected victory. But underneath the confidence and swagger that their time has come there is anxiety. Everyone wrote them off and they have come so far but it’s just too close. The polls are first runes and then dismissed because frankly everyone is in uncharted waters here. Tommy Sheridan perfectly times a line: “We have hundred years of oil. Westminster only has two days.”
The yes is secure in its own self-perpetuating bubble. But at the fringes of the rally, at the kitchen table there are rumours and whispers that outside the city limits, whole parts of Scotland are adorned in the colours and placards saying no.