Throwback Thursday: Scottish Independence Referendum

Samantha Gordon University of Stirling, Scotland


November 6, 2014

Disclaimer: Since it’s midsemester break and I’m not in Scotland at the moment, I wanted to take the time to look back on some of my favourite Scottish moments since I’ve been here. One of them being the incredibly monumental Scottish Independence Referendum. Enjoy!

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come to Scotland partly because of the Independence Referendum. Since I go to school in DC, politics is pretty prevalent, and so it only makes sense that I go somewhere that’s experiencing one of its most exciting political times. Conveniently enough, I landed in Scotland as it was building up to its biggest vote which gave me plenty of time to find out what was going on and what to expect.

Unlike America where people are typically reserved about their political leanings, the Scottish people are very open. It’s actually refreshing because if you’re direct to begin with, there’s less of a need to worry about being politically correct. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, just about every conversation alluded to the vote. Even if it initially had nothing to do with politics, we somehow found ourselves talking about the vote.

From an outsider’s perspective, I initially thought the Yes campaign was going to win by a landslide. Local polls seemed to predict that too, and it’s mainly because the support of the Yes campaign was so vocal and clear about their decision from the very beginning. People would hang the flag of Scotland with a bold “Yes” outside their door, proclaiming their decision. Even before I left for Scotland, I had a better idea of their campaign because they were using social media to their advantage. It even reached me all the way out in my tiny town, NJ.

So there I was roaming the streets of Stirling, noticing several Yes Campaign pop up shops and people proudly displaying their support. But where were the No Voters? Although not always visible, they were in the streets of Stirling too. It wasn’t until the week leading up to the vote that I found my first public No supporter campaigning. Unlike the Yes Voters, the No supporters were usually on their own, thinly spread out to share their flyers. I grabbed one, still unsure what the No Voters were aiming for. I found an enthusiastic man who was more than willing to talk.

I approached him and issued this challenge, “Ok, sir, tell me why someone should vote no in 30 seconds or less.”

A blunt line of questioning usually works when dealing with politics, and it certainly did in this case. With a smile on his face, he listed:

  1. You’re economically better off staying in the Union.
  2. You won’t lose the too-good-to-be-true National Healthcare System.
  3. The Yes Campaign isn’t thought out enough to sustain people past the fascination of gaining independence.

All valid points. He was absolutely right; what a gamble to throw away something that’s fairly well-off for an idea that might be better in theory. But then as I thought of that, I felt a bit hypocritical as an American saying no to independence for a nation. With both sides fresh in my mind, I went to my homestay family and asked how they felt about it. Again I’m thankful for the Scot’s openness because they were more than willing to share.

As an older couple with only one member in the family working, they were going to vote no. Well, the wife was; the husband was adamant not to vote until politicians stop lying. So basically he will never be voting any time in the near future because, let’s face it, politicians nowadays are bred to be liars. But from a less cynical perspective, they echoed the sentiment that it wasn’t worth it to leave the stable position they were already in. Unless every step would be outlined and it would be guaranteed that independence would lead to a prosperous Scotland for more than five years, they would vote no.

Now at university, the story is much different. Much like the 2008 US Presidential campaign were the younger demographic was heavily involved in the outcome, the youth of Stirling were excited and expecting a Yes verdict. Who could say no to independence? Especially when you’re that young, it’s such a romanticized notion too good to pass up. Also, just a reminder for those unaware: the young includes teenagers 16 and up. So at the age of 16, you have the right to decide if your nation should be independent or not. I can’t imagine having that responsibility as a 16 year old. My little sister is 16 now and she can barely decide what she wants to do on the weekend, how would she be able to vote for such a pressing matter?

As it got closer to the actual vote, no one really knew where the nation stood. It kept tipping back and forth- 51% to 49% in either’s favour depending on the time of day. Everyone placed their bets, with university students expecting a yes and locals expecting a no. I had friends that left Stirling to go to a Glasgow Yes rally overnight. Because of the arcane system, no one would know the results until the following morning. And so the night of the vote everyone was out; people were singing, cheering for either side that they tirelessly campaigned for. No matter which way that they might have voted, you have to commend them for their spirit and determination.

85% of the population had voted. And 55% of that vote decided to stay with the United Kingdom. It amazes me that there was such a high voter turnout; in America we’re lucky if we can get half of the population to vote. The Scottish people are a determined bunch and I absolutely admire their spirit. A Yes supporter was on the news, and she wasn’t mad. Instead, she said she was glad to know that 45% of the country is in agreement and that there is hope for another try in the near future.