Still yes

Democracy isn’t something that happens every four years. It isn’t something that begins at the start of the election campaign, and ends when the votes are counted. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be.

I was emotionally crushed by the outcome of Thursday’s referendum. Many of us were. It felt like there was this beautiful idea, that we had this one chance to go out and build a better, fairer country. To be denied that opportunity felt like a bereavement.

But it wasn’t our only chance. The referendum may have have returned a “No”, but the 45% who voted “Yes” are still there. The independence movement isn’t going away. It’s just retargeting its energy, and looking for another outlet. In the five days since Thursday, both the SNP and the Scottish Green Party have more than doubled their memberships. I don’t think that an 84% turnout means that everything has changed in Scottish politics, any more than a massive worldwide turnout for the 2003 anti-war protest caused Western governments to rethink their policies towards the Middle-East. But something is different.

I’m still sad about the outcome, but I can talk about it without crying now. I’m not yet ready to say “we need to do this” about any plan or set of measures to keep independence on the table, nor am I willing to let go of the idea of full independence because it’s a “settled issue” (it isn’t) and commit solely to building a better country by other means. Right now, I’m just listening and thinking.

Robin McAlpine in Bella Caledonia: Wipe your eyes. On your feet.

You don’t win by wallowing, feeling sorry for yourself, blaming the world or putting your efforts into conspiracy thinking. And you don’t change things if you don’t win. I played rugby for Biggar. We were good but always the underdogs. We lost games we needed to win. When I was a young player an older teammate taught me much about victory and loss. I remember winning a crucial game that got us promoted, against a team that should have hammered us. Us youngsters jumped about like we’d won the lottery. My teammate clipped us around the ear and told us ‘you ALWAYS walk on a pitch like you think you’re going to win and you ALWAYS walk off a pitch like you knew you were going to.’ But the advice is even more important for the loser. You ALWAYS walk off a pitch with pride, determination and dignity. Because that’s what you’re going to need the next time you walk on it.

Irvine Welsh in the Guardian: This glorious failure could yet be Scotland’s finest hour

The yes movement hit such heights because the UK state was seen as failed; antiquated, hierarchical, centralist, discriminatory, out of touch and acting against the people. This election will have done nothing to diminish that impression. Against this shabbiness the Scots struck a blow for democracy, with an unprecedented 97% voter registration for an election the establishment wearily declared nobody wanted. It turns out that it was the only one people wanted.

Jenny Lindsay in Bella Caledonia: Organise

Because of the reactionary nature of the campaign, which required quick decisions to be made in the face of serious opposition, many issues were swept to the side “for the sake of the campaign.” That excuse goes away now. There is time. There is. So let us pause. Let’s have a look at who is claiming authorship and ownership of this movement. Let us ask of them what their authority is for this. Ask how boards and appointments are being made in our progressive groups, whether that is in our political parties, in newly forming platforms, or in the grassroots movement.

Laura Eaton Lewis in Bella Caledonia: What we need now is Evolution, not Revolution

We can rewrite what politics looks like. Instill personal accountability, collective action for mutual benefit, and diverse representation that reflects the many complex and overlapping identities within our society. We have the potential, we have the means, we just need to remember our power and do it.

Blonde Redhead at Tolhuistuin, 20 September 2014

Good gig, crap camera

Unusually for me, I hadn’t listened to their new album (Barragán) much before the gig. The first impression I had of it had been “whale song”. Played loud and live, though, it was mesmerizing.

The trio appear to be shy performers, playing more for the music than for the crowd. (Which is fine.) When Kazu Makino was on guitar, she tended to have her back turned to the audience. In fact, towards the end she admitted that “it might not look like it, but we’re having a great time being here.” On the last song of the encore, 23 she let down her hair (literally) and danced around the stage, finishing the set with a powerful and memorable flourish.

The new Tolhuistuin venue has only been open a week, and this was my first gig there. It’s nice, compact, with a small balcony. The bar serves Heineken (meh), and it’s worth noting that they only take PIN cards, not cash. The merch stand was happy to exchange my paper Euro tokens for a lovely T-shirt, though.

Dam-tot-Dam walk

Abi and I took part in the Dam-tot-Dam walk yesterday. We set out from the house at about 06:45, cycled to Zaandam station and took the train to Amsterdam. The starting line for the walk was on Dam Square, and the 26km route took us through central Amsterdam, out over Zeeburgereiland, through Schellingwoude, Noord, and finally skirting Oostzaan before curving round to take us back into the centre of Zaandam.

So canal. Such bike. Very Amsterdam. Wow.

When we got in to Amsterdam Central Station, I noticed that my back was wet. The wet patches were where the backpack’s padding was pressing up against my lower back, and I thought it must have been that I’d got a bit sweaty from the cycle to Zaandam. When we got to the starting line and took the route maps and stamp cards out of the backpack, though, we discovered that it was because one of the cans of cola we’d brought with us had burst open and emptied completely. At least it hadn’t been dripping brown liquid down the back of my trousers, but everything in the backpack (most notably: spare socks) was completely soaked. The lower back foam padding had absorbed much of the liquid, and I spent most of the walk trying to ignore a moist chafing feeling.

The previous day’s referendum result had knocked me flat. Because of the early morning, I hadn’t fully caught up on sleep. Discovering the burst can sent my mood spiralling even further down. I was close to not even starting the walk in the first place, but I didn’t want to let Abi down. She offered to carry the backpack, but the thought of walking 26km with an uncomfortable wet back seemed like suitable punishment for…I don’t know, not having packed it more carefully, not having done more to persuade “No” voters, and being a terrible person in general. Depression fucks with your head.

The first half of the walk was miserable. I practically growled at a trio of women who asked me to take their photo at the first rest stop. Not my finest moment. I got a bit better in the second half. Exercise helps me, but it takes time for the effects to kick in. I think I managed to recover enough to smile a bit by the end, but I was awful company. I apologize to Abi, and to everyone I glared at on the way.

Hordes of walkers in Kadoelen

But we did another 26km walk, which is cool. We gorged ourselves on freshly deep-fried kibbeling afterwards, without fear of calories.

Abi at the finish line


I was too tired to stay up beyond 01:30. I set my alarm for 04:00 and fell asleep quickly.

Turned on the TV a couple of minutes after 4, and saw that No was ahead 51 to 49 after 7 results declared. I couldn’t handle the feverish excitement of the TV commentators. I turned the sound off. Rather than stay up to watch more results come in, I set my alarm again for 06:00.

I tossed and turned for two hours, hoping that the later results might be positive enought to overturn No’s lead, heart pounding in fear they wouldn’t. Wondering how I would react to a final No outcome.

I checked the time at 05:59, seconds before my alarm would have sounded. Turned on the TV, saw the camera panning over cheering No supporters. 55 to 45.

First Minister’s speech following defeat. Self-congratulation over the high turnout, but no change.

So here I am, alone in a tiny hotel room, watching TV with the sound turned off, crying.

On the Eve of the Referendum

Technically it’s the day of the referendum already, but I’m not counting it until I wake up in the morning. I’m in Scotland again until Friday, but I’m not a resident, so I can’t vote.

I’m staying at the newly opened Ibis Budget Hotel in South Gyle. It’s “budget” along the same lines as the Tune Hotel at Haymarket, but more generous with its space and facilities. Double bed with a high quality, firm mattress, and thick pillows. (And a single bunk above it, too, in case I get restless in the night.) There’s a shower pod, a sink, and a toilet cubicle with a Western saloon-style swinging door, which is odd. Some hanging space and a desk/dresser corner with a small plastic stool. The surfaces are all optimized for easy cleaning. Unlike at the Tune, the TV and shit wifi are included in the room price. There doesn’t seem to be an option to upgrade from shit to premium. Or a way to turn off the noisy air conditioning.

I went out for a quick drink with some folks after work. I left the pub just after 19:30, intending to take a long evening walk back to the hotel. On the bus into town this morning, winding through Stenhouse, Balgreen, and Gorgie I had seen lots of “Yes” posters in windows – far, far more than the indications of “No” support. I wanted to see if the view would be any different on foot.

It was: just across the Meadows, at the foot of Middle Meadow Walk, I ran straight into a Yes rally. I estimated around 500 people, lots of badges, flags (Scottish, Welsh, and even one Frisian), banners, and applause for a speaker I could neither see nor hear.

Rally on the Meadows

I didn’t feel like hanging around, so I carried on towards Tollcross. Last week, while searching for a good burger joint in Edinburgh I had noticed a place just called “Burger” in Fountainbridge, and without intending to I walked right past it this evening. Well, “walked past it” in the sense of also stopping off and ordering a rather delicious bacon and cheese burger with fries. The double burgers on the menu looked tempting, but a single was quite enough. The patty was rich and moist, on a brioche-style bun that absorbed a lot of the juices without going soggy. I had ordered a side of chili sauce, but it was more like a shrimp dipping sauce than something I would want to slather on a burger. Overall verdict: very tasty, and I’d gladly go back again.

Afterwards I walked on…briefly, and found myself at the Cineworld cinema at Fountain Park. I couldn’t resist checking what was on, and I found that if I hung around for another twenty minutes I could catch a showing of The Guest. I hadn’t even seen a trailer for it, but I’d heard it was fun and John Carpenter-ish, and I was intrigued to see Dan Stevens in something other than Downton Abbey. It lived up to the promise: it’s a hoot. Right from the shrieking opening title card, it feels like a throwback to a simpler era of psychological horror film. Without trying to be excessively clever or twisy, it just delivers a boat-load of thrills. Dan Stevens does an excellent five second friendly-to-menacing transition.

After the film, I saw a car driving around with an iluminated blue Statue of Liberty, draped in a Saltire.

By this point it was 23:30, and I figured it was too late to walk all the rest of the way back to the hotel, so I just took the bus.

How do I think the referendum will go tomorrow? I don’t know. That’s not to say that I think “it will be close” as the polls are predicting. It’s just that I can’t separate what I think will happen from what I hope will happen. I think there are good reasons to question the pollsters’ methodologies; flaws that might well underestimate the Yes vote. Or maybe the polls are good and accurate, and the outcome will be tight, within their margin of error. What I know, though, is that the polls have shown a big shift towards Yes over the last month. Also, from walking around Perth and Edinburgh, I have seen a lot more support on the ground for Yes than for No. I’m going to ignore Twitter for reasons of availability bias: I follow more yes supporters than no supporters, so I’m obviously in a self-selected bubble of blue and white.

To suck my teeth and say “well, it’s going be close!” may be giving in to wishy-washy thinking, showing an unwillingness to commit to a strong position based on my own analysis and observations. To say that I think the vote will go “strongly” Yes may be giving in to all sorts of psychological biases and fallacies. No-one likes to be wrong. The numbers say it will be close. I…just don’t know.

Normally on these trips to Scotland I bring back some sweets for Abi, Alex, and Fiona. This week, I hope I can bring them back a whole new country.