Indy ref: dispatches from the Glasgow streets

yes-campaign-rally-george-squareThe 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.

yes-campaign-rally-george-square2Glasgow 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.

13 thoughts on “Indy ref: dispatches from the Glasgow streets

  1. The yes campaign seems to be based on hatred towards Westminster, rather than positive reasons for independence. To me as a business analyst, I have to ask:

    What if the price of oil drops?
    What happens when the oil runs out?
    How is a depopulating state going to pay for an increasing pensions burden of an ageing population?
    How are you going to attract businesses to a tax and spend country, where 20% of jobs are public sector jobs?


  2. Thanks for stopping by. The yes campaign is off many different strands and while there is loathing of the Westminster political class there are also many positive reasons for why they want independence. Just to emphasise that as a Westminster lad born and bred I can say that there has been very little anti-English sentiment in the campaign.

    While sympathetic to their cause, and in fact torn between both sides of the fence I am not a representative of the yes campaign so I don’t want to argue their case and would so quite badly. I am actually quite critical of both campaigns for failing to answer questions and providing detail on their arguments. This piece was about the atmosphere of the streets – for the political arguments have a look at and as they will do a better job than I can!


  3. Sorry – I should also add the economic and oil arguments have been prone to a lot of manipulation, contradictory claims and counter-stat argument by both sides and that’s just the experts! It will be difficult to set it up but there is no reason why Scotland can’t be independent and prosper, as much as it can equally remain within the UK. Thanks for the comment!


    • Alex – Scotland could be independent and prosper, but I think there are just too many what-ifs? At the moment, the oil price is high. The oil *will* run out within the next fifty years. What then? Why would a business want to invest in Scotland, when it could invest in more business-friendly rUK? To quote the Johnny Nash song, There Are More Questions than Answers…


  4. It’s a good article. And thank you for your input. Ultimately if the economist of Deutsche Bank thinks independence is a bad idea, I’ll pay close attention to that. Without its own currency, Scotland will not be truly independent. As for threatening to default on its part of UK debt, that’s just “wet dream” economics and will not endear Scotland to potential lenders.


    • Indeed – there are many questions without answers on both sides and it is to a degree a leap of faith. The yes campaign would point to the what ifs for the UK future (politics, Westminster leaders unable to deliver on dev proposals, EU membership under threat, etc), would suggest to you that these were the guys who caused such problems in global finance and point to other reports that predict a rosier future, eventually, for a small country in the model of Denmark or Switzerland.

      The campaign leaders are playing down the difficulties that lie ahead but their followers are quite aware that a sacrifice will be made, and that things could get messy before they get better.

      It is a very tangled web!


    • Ha! Not an easy question to answer and it would take ages to explain all the nuances. I think we will have to see how Westminster implements reform. I think the union / Westminster has been served a final warning to get it right and sort out devo max. If they fail the independence question will quickly come round again and yes (or whatever they would be called in future refs) would win. Most Scots at the start of this would have voted for devo max according to the polls. I would like to give that a try first as well.


      • It looks like the English are going to get home rule, too. And Scots MP’s may soon no longer be able to vote on England-only issues. What will happen to the Barnett Formula? Maybe its days are numbered?

        Alex Salmond: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN…


  5. We’ll see! I think this story will play out for a long time. What will hugely complicate matters is a possible in/out EU ref. If the UK decide to leave but Scotland prefers to stay that could put independence back in the frame. Scots MPs don’t really want to vote on English matters and some of them refuse to do so. I think the Barnett formula will have to change eventually.


    • Thanks Don – this was only written a couple of days of before the vote so I can’t claim to be that clever! I did feel that Glasgow thought it would be yes, and forgot about the rest of the country! All very interesting and it will rumble on for a while. Hope to see you soon! Alex


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