At various points in the referendum campaign, I’ve felt the sands begin to shift. At the turn of the year, as folk looked ahead in a spirit of optimism and renewal, some clearly made their minds up and the polls registered an upturn in favour of Yes. But most still seemed to be waiting. Some were obviously waiting for Labour to announce its grand plan for new powers; the damp squib that was on offer marked the end of the dalliance for the disappointed, who decided it was time to go for bust. The polls inched forwards again.
Then in June, more women began to make up their minds and were opting for Yes. I thought we were in touching distance of the tipping point, it was oh so close. But I hadn’t reckoned on the menfolk stopping short and even, hot tailing it back over the undecided boundary. July arrived and movement was becalmed. Everyone was stuck where they were – for over 65s, they were stuck right where they had begun, firmly, implacably, instinctively No.
So there was nothing else for it but to roll up the sleeves and get on with it. The only bright spot was the visit to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games. All those Yes Windaes blousily proclaiming affiliation, suggested a stirring across the city. Yet, there was nothing like it in Edinburgh.
And over the summer, even as the forgotten parts of Scotland awakened to opportunity and in their droves, began coming out for Yes, and registering to vote often for the first time, and Labour supporting areas began to settle their will, still it all seemed like too big a challenge. Some in the aspirational areas got it and wanted it but those who had strived to get where they are, seemed determined to hold on to what they had, ignoring the doubt gnawing away inside of them that what little they had was always within the gift of the more powerful to sweep away. No firm foundations see?
But what didn’t make sense – still doesn’t – is the chasm still being recorded by some polls. This was going to be a skoosh for the No lot, if you looked at what some pollsters were saying. Others showed the gap closing, but slowly. Subsidence really, with the odd crack and fissure beginning to show: 20 and 30 somethings still eachy peachy or narrowly Yes; under 25s shifting across (but what do they matter anyway, so few of them vote, some might arrogantly assume); women beginning to nail their colours to the mast, more of them – still – to Yes. Seismic activity then but nothing worth shouting about.
And then No ramped it up. Every day, an onslaught. Darling at his managerial best in the first debate; 200 Brit celebrities declaring their love for Scotland and pleading with us not to go; Gordon Brown, entering the fray for the first time since the last time; this one, that one and the other one slamming the idea that Scotland “can” never mind “should” be independent; analysis here, there and everywhere, but always that of the Naysayers proclaimed more loudly; and always, the finger of doom pointing down at us, whirling myriad details in our heads until they birled. On the doorsteps, the fear mongering on the minutiae was parroted back. People were absorbing it all and it appeared to be working. No’s splat approach to multiple targets seemed to be resulting in a lot of it sticking.
In one day alone last week, we were treated to 120 business leaders telling us why we shouldn’t vote Yes, Archie McPherson telling us to vote No, and a campaign broadcast showing the Woman who Made her Mind Up to make it a No. In one, single day.
That broadcast spoke volumes. The reason it was so narrowly targeting the demographic of the busy, working mum who hadn’t had time to sit down and think about how to vote and therefore, was still making her mind up? Because the No camp reckoned this was the only one left to target: all other boxes had been ticked, this was the only place left to hoover up to cement the victory.
But how the No campaign behaved last week spoke volumes to its weaknesses and flaws. Darling was monstered in the TV debate by the First Minister. I have watched and rewatched the closing remarks. Alex Salmond is majestic, passionate, emotional and visionary, winding it all up to a crescendo. Alistair Darling is broken, stumbling over his words, mumbling down into his papers, barely making eye contact with the autocue. He had nothing to offer.
And with his shambolic performance, the cracks in the foundations became much more visible. They had already assumed a victory, they had already filmed the advert, they reckoned it was in the bag. Would they have put that risible broadcast out if they had even for a moment doubted that Darling would do it? Of course not. But it was the only film they had, and they had to go with it. Dotting the is and crossing the ts was all that was needed, keeping the announcements coming, reducing the final weeks of the campaign to white noise.
It’s a shame the Scottish people appear not to be listening anymore nor following the script. Because last Monday, with that debate, everything changed. Suddenly, the Scottish people are not liking being telt the ending of this long running series. Telt by everyone what to do and how to vote, the people appear to be lifting their eyes from the detail of dread being fed them on a daily basis and looking at the big picture.
And crucially, looking not at the past, nor even at the present, but thinking about the future. As the person in the debate audience asked, if we are better together, why are we not better together now? A million heads nodded in agreement, thinking of the electric bill recently received, the 1% pay rise that’s paid for nothing, the bedroom tax eating into their incomes, their graduate son unable to get a proper job, the nursery costs going up again, the pension rise resulting in more council tax and rent to pay, the prospect of Christmas and how to pay for it all beginning to loom. Doesn’t feel much like better together really – not when you stop to think about it, rather than just read what they tell you.
The start of a new academic year also focuses minds. Proud parents, grandparents, godparents, aunties and uncles seeing off wee ones for the very first time, wondering where all the years go when looking at the gangly teenagers try to strut their stuff into secondary, realising just how empty that nest is going to be after they’ve packed up all that their fledglings own and delivered it to a city far away. What about them, what will their future hold? “I can dress myself”.
Whatever is behind it, whatever is motivating it, there is a shift, a change in people’s attitudes and it would appear, their voting intentions. Those undecideds aren’t breaking the way the polls have foretold; women are making their mind up but not as the No lot hoped; instinctive Nos who have clung to their default position for nearly two years now have changed their minds.
You can smell it, taste it, sense it. But most of all, you can see it.
When I first moved to Edinburgh 15 years ago, I was astonished that only a handful of window posters went up at election time. For three elections, nothing. Then in 2007, Edinburgh decided it was time to flash the colour of its knickers, the ones it may or may not have been wearing under its fur coat all this time. An SNP poster here, an SNP poster there. Something was happening: by polling day, there were houses loud and proud, proclaiming that the folk here were up for bold and different and change.
If you live in Edinburgh, take a walk through your neighbourhood today and count the posters and Yes stickers.
The waiting is over. Scotland is making its mind up. The shift appears to be on. “It’s the only chance we’ll get to change things”.