Driven by an urge to experience the momentous event that is the Scottish Independence Referendum, Wales Arts Review is proud to present Lewis Davies’ thoughts and encounters on the biggest day in British constitutional history.
It is all over. A sea firn has come in from the firth and the city is washed in a low wet mist that swirls around the streets of the new town. The Scott monument drifts in and out of view, people are back on their way to work, heads down against the weather. The attention of the world is moving swiftly on. There’s a sanguine merging of hopes and reality. We’re still here, we’d better get on with it.
Holyrood – A crowd of Yes supporters, mostly young people, mill outside waving flags, drinking coke and wine, smoking – the improbable façade which is the Scottish parliament towers above them fence-like, keeping them out, it is not quite Pompidou, more like prison. They seem unsure what to do next, the capital is shutting down for the night. The celebrations, if that’s what they are, are going to be happening somewhere else. A shiver goes around the crowd as they pick up Twitter comments on their phones that the first results are coming in big – Shetland and Orkney both vote No.
Lee Cruishank lives in Edinburgh, he is draped in a Saltire, he has voted Yes ‘We want to govern ourselves.’ Jamie Ross has voted No but has changed his mind ‘It doesn’t matter now though.’ Ramsey Jon is waiting for a breakthrough ‘I want a yes at the moment and we’re getting granite.’
There’s a rumour that Alex Salmond has left Aberdeen airport on a private jet, ‘Destination unknown’.
The crowd begins to thin out. Three policemen guard the gates.
I reach the hotel at 4 it is clear that the Don’t Knows have been largely voting No. Too close to call is very quickly becoming not very close at all.
I am drinking at the World’s End – halfway down the Royal Mile – towards the bottom. The yards are filled with many voices tonight, Catalans, Basque, Sardinians, Flemish, Welsh – have all made the trip North with flags an ideas. There is a hope that Scotland will give them a lead – if it happens here there’s a flush of ballot papers being prepared across Europe.
I meet Simka Senyak and Neil Runciman at the Fiddler’s Arms on the west side of the Grassmarket. There is a guitarist providing the live music and they are there for the music. They are students in the city. Neil is from the Borders, Scottish and has voted No. He used to work for a company that makes circuit boards for the military and is concerned that the production will move south if the vote is Yes. Simka describes herself as a British American mongrel. Simka has voted Yes, ‘I couldn’t not vote and I couldn’t vote no… I think this is a real opportunity to build a system that will work.’ Simka and Neil have being living together for over a year.
A friend from Wales arrives now. I’ve tried texting Owen Smith but he hasn’t got back to me on a quote from Welsh Labour so I’m going to try Mike Parker, Plaid Cymru candidate for Ceredigion at the next General Election. I hope he’s got something to say.
The World’s End calls last orders. And I thought it was going to last until the morning.
Royal Mile at Midnight
I have been driving north all day. It is three in the afternoon when I make Scotland. The first No and Yes banners and posters are like the welcome to an event I’ve been watching from some distance for days, weeks, years. And today for all sorts of reasons it is over bar the shouting. In a long square which is Moffat town centre the car in front offers Telephonepsychic.com – available 24-7. I wonder if they know the answer yet? I take the number 0913 530 0001. Then I see the charge of £1.02 per minute plus other network charges – but it is only a simple Yes – or – No – how difficult can that be?
The first three people I meet outside the polling booth filling Moffat town hall are all English. Two are offering me Yes stickers – one a No – the fourth is from Scotland – and will be voting No but then Helen Gardner is the election agent for the only Conservative MP this side of the border so as she points out ‘if we vote Yes – there’ll be no MPs going to Westminster and I’ll be out of a job.’
Tom Lane does not need a job any more – he has retired and is part of the British Legion delegation manning the No deckchairs. He’s from London, ‘Bow Bells’, when I ask him where in London and he’s been living in Scotland for seventeen years. ‘I love it here, wonderful place. We are part of the same history.’
Chris Ballance is another from the South – he is voting Yes ‘The deciding factor for me is Trident. If we get this vote we’ll get rid of it.’ When I suggest a Yes vote might be handing an unwanted present of a nuclear base to Wales and Milford Haven, (surely we don’t want it?) he is reassuring, ‘without Scotland the UK won’t be able to afford it. It’ll be scrapped.’ He has a young son who is helping handing out the stickers and leaflets, ‘It’s the main reason I’m voting.’
There is a tangible, touching enthusiasm running through the air in Moffat – theories, concerns, hopes – the count is a few hours away at Eastbrook Hall in Dumfries. Tom teases the election agent that she is going to a dance when she mentions she has to dress up for the night. ‘I’ll be working,’ she claims, we’ve got to monitor the count – Yes or No. Even the Yes campaigners do not expect to win here, but Chris is confident ‘It’ll be 55 to 45 – it’s a conservative area, but across Scotland it’ll be Yes, just Yes.’ Maybe I should give the psychic a call.
It is five by the time I reach Edinburgh – the road following the Southern Uplands sloping down to the sea, Penny has bought a Proclaimers album for the road trip. I have never really got the Proclaimers, although a mate of mine does a great rendition of ‘The Sun Shines on Neath’, they have a song back in the charts, if there still are charts, it is called ‘Cap in Hand’ and has a pay off line which might be ‘I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land.’ It was a hit way back and is now an unofficial anthem. I played it twice today and it is growing on me. Not much mind.
I stop at the junction of Newington Road and Clerk Street. There is a Yes headquarters of the Newington and South Side. I am asked if I’m going to vote today by a man who has taken the afternoon off to support the final hours. He is part of a new web hosting company. ‘There’s only three of us, it’s really small.’ I ask him how he feels the day is going ‘If it was a twitter election we’d have won ages ago.’ But for tonight he is not quite so sure. He is part of a generation who can see this thing in their grasp – this independence – a chance to be on their own, a freedom of agency, there’s a wonderful optimism about answering Yes – and if you answer No are you saying Yes to dependence – to the way things are? Why would you want to do that?
And yet today they decide, a few more hours and the stations shut – and it’s the count – looming over a country – big, onerous and possibly final.
I write this in a bar off Broughton Road. The restaurant is full but quiet, people are waiting. Edinburgh is its usual swirl of possibilities. I head to the Grassmarket.