Written by Evan Forman
Scotland, 18th of September 2014
I don’t sleep. I lie down and I shut my eyes, and time blinks and it’s 6:30am again, but I don’t remember actually sleeping. I’ve had a few nights like this recently. I wonder if it’s the referendum.
At my mother’s insistence I dredge myself out of bed and shuffle through the house, my eyes still welded together and muscle memory alone guiding me to the toaster. Good Morning Britain is blaring through the house: “BRITAIN COULD CHANGE FOREVER”. I slap some toast into existence, my stomach will feel this hollow for the next 24 hours. I feel sick down to my soul, and Susannah Reid solemnly intones that the polls are about to open.
We get in the car. The woman on Northsound 1 announces a competition to win tickets for “Deeken Bleu” (Deacon Blue). I think to myself that Scottish accents really are just fucking awful, at least the Northeast accent, whose whiny, gently bovoid inflections betray a dark proximity between our genepool and that of the many sheep I see on the bus ride to Aberdeen. But then I stop myself, because there is a Scotland before today and there will be a Scotland after, and the “Scottish Cringe’s” kitschy flavour of internalised racism cannot be allowed to survive the transition.
A fog of uncertainty hangs over the country. No, iss isna some pathetic fallacy shite, ah actual mean it, yi canna see fifteen feet ahead ae yi. I’m on the top floor of a double decker bus which I’m sure is somehow colder on the inside. An old man sits next to me – not ideal, but he helpfully prevents anyone else from sitting next to me – and immerses himself in his crossword. I try to look at the clues without visibly turning my head. Perhaps they could divine, in some William S. Burroughs cut-up kind of way, what happens tomorrow. The only word I can make out is “OUTSIDER”. Two or three seats ahead, someone’s blasting Cheryl Cole loud enough I would have included the lyrics here if they weren’t insta-forgettable. Above even that, two teenage boys huddled in the back are, fuckeennn, spikken aboot the referendum eh? One ae them fucken voted iss mornen eh? Fucksake min.
I anxiously scan the “Scotland” topic on Twitter. We’re all the world’s talking about today, we’ve been talked about a lot for the past week. This is…new.
I see two girls from my old school get up to get off the bus. Swaddled in worry and gentle sleep deprivation, my brain decides this is basically the corner of King Street and Roslin Terrace so I can get off now. The Fog of Uncertainty is so thick that I only remember they go to Aberdeen University, not North East Scotland College, and we are Nowhere Near Roslin Bloody Terrace once I’m standing at the front of the bus and the driver’s slowing down for me. He asks “is this where you’re getting off mate?”
Naturally I say “aye, cheers”, and walk halfway across Aberdeen in the wet mist out of sheer awkwardness. Like an early 20th century Antarctic explorer, deprived of any visible landmarks, I end up opening Google Maps on my phone to figure out how the hell to get to class on time. I am only a small blue blip, from the satellite’s point of view, but apparently i’m going in the right direction. On the way, Yes stickers adorn every lamppost. There’s a fancy block of flats with a union flag hanging out one of the uppermost windows, and I think I actually laugh at it. Somehow I’m in early, and I get asked by Lisa (long hair, likes photography, “I am not afraid to keep on living” tattoo on left wrist) what i’m voting for the first time that day.
I go up to the college’s library to print off my timeline of every David Bowie album released through RCA records, circular and made to look like vinyl, because apparently that counts for work in here. In the name of neutrality, there’s a stand on the column opposite the entrance with campaign materials from both sides of . One is the SNP’s white paper, whose cover shows a relatively diverse picture of what Scottish people actually look like. Next to it seems to be the #indyref special of some magazine whose name I never looked at. The text reads “DON’T LEAVE US LIKE THIS”, and shows what Scottish people look like in the halloween costumes they make of us: Saltire-faced man with straggly ginger hair and a tartan beret. In this image he is screaming with impotent fury.
Dublin Dave is a man who has been described as “unfathomably Irish”, so my three-week-old, loosely affiliated tribe are off up George Street’s crooked slabs to get lunch at his café. One of us, Robert, is a disarmingly unobnoxious no voter, but there’s four of us and one of him so we have fun pointing out every single piece of the flood of Yes-related stickers, posters and flags which cover the street.
I’m gently intimidated when, waiting for a tuna toastie, the eponymous, bulky, allegedly insane and very very tall cross-eyed Irishman asks me what i’m voting.
“Are ye a nay or a yay?”
“Yay” I say, showing him the red Yes badge on my bag the same way one might show a border guard their papers.
“I thought you were a no there because I just saw the red.” (I love how that phrasing has evolved. “Hello, I’m Jim, I’m a Yes.”)
“What about you, son?” he turns to Robert.
“I’m afraid i’m a nay.”
Structurally, this story would be improved greatly if Mr. Dave were to shake his head disapprovingly, or suck air through his teeth as if being shown a horrible wound, but I don’t actually remember what happened immediately after.
We take our toasties down the street to rejoin some of the others, who have decided lunch will consist of some Chocolate Orange cookies from the Co-Op oot the back of the Bon Accord. There’s a newspaper stand near the door. The front page that sticks out in my memory is the Scottish Daily Express. Two silhouetted men stand on Arthur’s Seat at dusk, with the dark outlines of Edinburgh Castle just about visible in the background. The man on the right holds up a Scottish flag, and slightly closer to the camera, the other stretches his arm to raise that of Britain above it. But we don’t need to clutch at the measuring tape to figure out whose priorities the Daily Express is serving, it literally says “DON’T LET THE SUN SET ON OUR UNITY” in massive white letters. Regardless of the relationship between these two flags, both are rendered transparent by the light of the orange sun.
We sit down in one of the canteens and I anxiously scan the “Scotland” topic on Twitter. People are proudly declaring that they’ve voted Yes, exactly two say they’ve voted No.
Class starts again. We make some phone covers, do some presentations about our work, and then it’s time to go home. During one presentation, i’m distracted by the fucking “One Brave Thing” song blaring out of a van passing by the window. I joked to someone this morning that if I heard that song one more time i’d vote No out of sheer spite. “Scotland created that song,” I reasoned. “Scotland should be punished for it”.
I’ve mentioned the abundance of Yes stickers, saltires, flags and posters around the city a few times. So in the name of equal representation I should list here the several pieces of pro-union propaganda i’d seen after 9am that morning:
- A No Thanks sticker on lamppost at the top of the steps on your way to Union Square, right where two people had been languidly campaigning a few days earlier.
As the bus wriggles out of central Aberdeen, many of the stops and road signs along King Street have been plastered with “END LONDON RULE!” stickers.
I anxiously scan the “Scotland” topic on Twitter, but I lose the connection just as the bus turns off to Newburgh. This border of civilisation is demarcated by the corner of a field where the owner has dug out a chunk of land to stick down his horrifically purple No Thanks sign, just visible below the Fog of Uncertainty.
About 45 minutes later we’re heading into Boddam, and I want you to imagine the phone conversation in the seat behind me in the maist North-East auld wifie accent imaginable.
“Hiya, is at you Callum?”
“I wis jist wonderin if Sarah wis in.”
“Is she oot?”
“Aye i’m jist on the bus inoo.”
“OoooOOOOkay dokey. Bye now.”
(I literally store that conversation in a makeshift room of my memory palace with the intention of writing it down later that night. I think History, as a concept, is given too much credit for preserving the past. History abhors mundanity, and most of human life is really very boring. Only a sliver of the human race will ever be remembered in the long-term, and that sliver is almost exclusively the domain of politicians, warlords, aristocrats and kings. The rest of us will not be allowed to survive the transition.)
The one No Thanks banner in my town is facing the roundabout in front of the main warehouse of Score Europe’s Peterheed branch, whose owner has been accused of pressuring his employees (read: half the bloody toon) into voting No. It had about a good week’s run, the word “YES” is now hastily sprayed over it.
As I get off the bus, there’s a mother in the front seat and her baby is staring at me with two of the bluest eyes i’ve ever seen on a bairn. I start to wonder what kind of country they’ll grow up in.
I walk home through The Fog of Uncertainty and find that an “NHYes” sticker on Baylands Crescent has been torn off its lamppost. A few steps later, and I spot the large Yes sticker at the end of the road, put up in a window on the ground floor of a complex of Brutalist monsters. It’s new, and I decide it was put there to relieve the NHYes sticker of its guard duties. I’m anxious and a little shaky. I’m preparing for the worst, but every tenth or fifteenth thud of my heart, a tiny spark of hope is jettisoned from the organic motor’s crevices. I try to silence these glimmers, i’m expecting 51% No. A man cycles past me with a babbling baby, and I wonder what kind of country they’ll grow up in.
I get home and I am a ship in its wifi harbour, once again, anxiously scanning the “Scotland” topic on Twitter.
About half an hour of vague panic later, my mum puts the mince on the boil and we go out to vote. Someone has stencilled the word “YES” on a speed bump near the top of Cairntrodlie, I see another on a car window. There’s a few spaces for cars at the end of Grange Gardens, so we park there and walk down to Anna Ritchie School, which has people streaming in and out. There’s an old woman wearing a massive Yes badge, which stands out against the waterproof column of dark gray she’s wearing.
She hands me a little card which reads “Today you hold Scotland’s future in your hands”, inside a #3b79bf blue box with a standard Photoshop drop shadow effect behind it. Surrounded by a thick white border of negative space, there’s a softly lit close-up photo of a caucasian mother’s right hand, resting on a white towel or blanket and holding her pale baby’s left hand. Overlaid at the bottom-right corner of this photo, the Sensibility Extrabold text reads “If you still want it in your hands tomorrow”. Below that, (set in Helvetica Neue Heavy, modified so the terminals of the “e” and “s” merge together) the word “Vote” bleeds off into the white space at the photo’s edge, and “Yes” is inside another blue circle. Along the right edge of the card, set in very small Sensibility Thin, it reads: “Promoted by Yes Scotland, 136 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 2TG. Printed by Saltire, 60 Brook Street, Glasgow G40 2AB”. The same image, minus the addresses, is printed on the reverse side.
Two middle-aged men are walking out of the school:
“Yi commin ti celebrate our independence?”
“It’s GAAN ti happen, ahm tellin yi.”
I walk into the assembly hall with the polling booths and the smell and the reflective varnish on the wooden floor triggers a kind of sensory flashback to the first election I can remember. According to Wikipedia, this must have been the 1997 general election. I remember my dad asking me how i’d vote, and I said I liked the blue people because blue was my favourite colour at the time. (After much deliberation, which I seem to remember involving the boyband Blue and Thunderbird 3, I since committed to the colour red.)
I’ve seen some people on Facebook talking about bringing pens to the booths because they fear pencils can and will be rubbed out. I reassure them that polling stations use wax pencils which can’t be erased, which I read somewhere, but then I google “wax pencils” and can’t see anything much that isn’t related to this specific worry. So I end up almost fucking gutting the paper when I put the X in the box marked “yes”. I slide the folded paper into the sealed box, and I feel like i’ve just committed some radical act despite the completely irrational worry that i’ve somehow accidentally voted No. Somehow. Even though i’m a good seven months past considering that, even though I specifically remember the “yes” next to the box I crossed. Somehow. (I later find out this is a pretty common breed of paranoia.)
I smile at the auld wifie who’s still outside the school with her leaflets. We’ve exchanged, I think, one word in our two meetings. But I ken, and she kens.
It’s only when i’m walking back to the car that I notice that The Fog of Uncertainty has lifted. We drive past a Lion Rampant flag somebody’s put up on their fence and predict the outcome. We hope it’s a Yes, but we know it’ll be 51-52% No, and the “more powers” bullshit will fall apart and there’ll be another, successful referendum in 5-10 years. Which is a lovely thought, but that’s a long time to be growing up in Cameron’s Britain. Maybe it’ll be long enough for some of those children to be old enough to vote.
Again, I anxiously scan the “Scotland” topic on Twitter on and off for most of the night, before finally settling down to write the record which, exactly a year later, will be adapted into the article you’re reading. Just before doing so, I read that polling companies’ methods by which they reach their disparate and conflicting predictions basically break down in the face of a turnout of 80% or more. I also read that some polling stations are closing early due to 100% turnouts.
It’s 10:30PM now. Scotland might be an independent country.