A Divided Country: First Impressions

Tom Wilson 13 September 2014

Four days ago, I arrived in Glasgow to join the ranks of Labour’s No campaign. The media narrative told of a campaign which was turbulent to say the least, and so I really didn’t know what to expect.

The office was a bustle of activity, but it was only on the campaign trail that I started to truly get a sense of the transformation Scotland has gone through since the referendum was announced; during a street campaign, a Yes supporter asked me, “How could a young person like you possibly support No?” – Yes is seen by some as the campaign of idealism, possibility and disillusionment with Westminster politics.

Whilst the No campaign criticises Yes Scotland for the uncertainty of independence, it is this same uncertainty which allows the Yes camp to build such a broad coalition. Many that support Yes see it as an opportunity rather than solution; from the working class UKIP-right to the socialist left, all manner of Yes supporters believe that British democracy is not sufficient, and that they each represent the will of the people.

Perhaps what was more surprising to me was how the passion for the union among adamant No voters was equally as strong – many are not voting on issues, but on history (military in particular), identity and ideology. Ed Miliband’s speech about class solidarity was a good representation of the No campaign’s left wing base. Some supporters spoke to me about WWII or their dual British/Scottish identity. These people have known how they will vote for a long time.

Decided voters are the most commonly encountered, the ones that come up to you in the street asking for posters – or for reasons why someone could possibly think the way you do. They send back response slips in vast numbers, each giving their own explanation for their vote. It is these people that create the atmosphere on the street, the feeling in the air; people are more engaged in politics now than they have ever been.

On a canvass session with Alistair Darling and Ed Miliband, No supporters posed for photos and their kids asked for selfies. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown’s speech on the NHS was met with acclaim from No, but not necessarily from party-political supporters. In a town centre walk-about with Better Together, Yes voters jeered, some even calling us ‘a disgrace’ and entering civil debate with campaigners. They set up a stall behind ours as soon as they saw us there.

Everywhere you go, people wear their vote with pride. Will this lead to a healthier democracy or deepened divisions? Only time will tell.