17 Sep 2014

The devout believers of the yes and no camps

Late in the campaign, they couldn’t have left it any later, the o camp has found its passion. At Maryhill Community Centre in Glasgow, Gordon Brown gave a charged almost revivalist speech to a hall of fired up supporters.

He even invoked the marriage vows his clergyman father used to administer – let no man put asunder. I attended a rally in the same building in July and the atmosphere was much flatter.

In all the months I’ve been visiting Scotland, I don’t think I’d seen so many “no” posters as I saw in the room today. Activists at the Brown rally acknowledged they didn’t have them in their windows at home and said that was because they felt intimidated.

In Glasgow’s main shopping precinct, by the statue of Donald Dewar, the yes camp held a charged, open-air rally. Not so surprising that, The yes events are always pretty charged. They shouted at the top of their voices then listened as Elaine C Smith spoke of “changing the world” and daring to dream “utopia”.  A yes supporter said to me: “When did you last hear anyone in England talk like that?”

The yes supporters were speaking of how they’d changed Scotland even if they didn’t win. Westminster could not ride roughshod over Scotland any more. What would that mean? How far will the SNP administration and its yes campaign allies feel, in the event of a no vote, they have a mandate to resist UK policies? How will Ed Miliband want to position himself to make sure he can win back Labour supporters who’ve chosen to ignore his message on independence?

Scotland’s left has been the dominant force of this campaign but it spoke with two distinct voices. Both sides claimed the mantle of social justice, never more than in their closing appeals to the voters. Both sides maligned the other’s motives. Yes supporters accuse the Labour party of being indistinguishable from the Tories and the Labour party accuse the yes camp of putting all other causes at the mercy of their obsessive passion for separatism.

Ask supporters in either camp how they’ll feel if the other lot win and the word you hear most often is “devastated”. A yes supporter said she would want to slit her wrists. On both sides I’ve heard supporters talk of emigrating if they lose.

In party polling for elections you normally find a big chunk of people who support a party but disagree with or doubt big chunks of the party line. What’s different about the two camps in this campaign is that about 80 per cent of the support on either side is devout, believing every bit of the team message.

Peter Kellner of YouGov says the figures are so striking it’s reminiscent of the “culture wars” in the US. In Scotland, it’s not about guns or abortion … but on the economy, the constitution, the welfare state, people are entrenched in opposing camps with a lot of people on each side believing they have a monopoly of wisdom and motive.

Whoever wins, that’s a challenging divide to heal.

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    And the irony is that probably there be little difference to most people’s lives either way. The world is run by multi-national businesses which include massive communications/media companies which can largely dictate what governments can & can’t do. In a world of largely globalised economics, the nation state – whether it’s the UK or Scotland – is largely powerless to row its own course.
    let us hope that whatever happens, politicians on both sides seek to calm things down & seek common interests rather than continuing to rub salt into whoever’s wounds.

  2. Malky says:

    Shades of the BBC there. We need reasoned and sensible reporting at this time, not this selective sensationalism. Oh, and it’s A big, fat YES from me.

  3. Wilma Miller says:

    I am hearing Nicola Sturgeon telling us that this has been a campaign that looked at the arguments. That’s just not true_she goes on to rant about ‘taking charge of our own future’ how does that work? If they get some sort of deal on the £ they will have to defer to the Bank of England and if they have to join the EU as new entrants they will have to defer to Brussels. They are relentlessly optimistic and I do mean relentless -not allowed to be negative or to dare to question. Arbroath and a crowd appear suddenly -it’s been like this all along.
    I am a No voter and I hate this

  4. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Mr Gibbon,

    It is a very important debate and it is understandable that people will get excited and impassioned. However, it has been a very absorbing debate and for those of us who live here, I have had more in-depth information about a wide range of issues that I had in both the ’79 and ’97 referenda put together.

    My experience is that it has in the main been conducted with respect, but there has been heckling and shouting and sloganising, but that has always happened during elections. People on the losing side will feel down and a few will take it with bad grace. However, at the close of the final session of the Scottish Parliament the Presiding Officer announced the date to reconvene, when we will all be working together. This was unanimously approved by acclaim.

    Alex Salmond has made clear on many occasions he will accept the result. David Cameron, at the time of the Edinburgh Agreement expressed similar sentiments. This process has been a fine example of democracy and the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments have conducted themselves very democratically. Contrast the situation in Catalonia and Spain.

    Since you and your colleagues began covering the referendum by actually being in Scotland, I have been impressed by how quickly you have learned. At the start I felt that the programme displayed metropolitan condescension, but as time has gone on your coverage has become more insightful and nuanced and you appear to be sincerely enthused by this kind of grass-roots democracy.

    All the best.

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