Dropping in at the Edinburgh North and Leith Yes campaign offices a friendly woman who reminds me a bit of my mother invites me in warmly and offers me tea (because some stereotypes are true). The weather has turned drizzly and I accept gratefully, glad to be out of the wet. Inside people are busy working and don’t have a huge amount of time to talk, which is fine with me – winning independence for their country is a higher priority than talking to a curious American. A woman gets a text from her friend wondering what Scotland will do without a central bank and I volunteer that America doesn’t have a Central Bank – which meets with broad approval.
Busy groups of volunteers from all the various groups in the Yes coalition come and go and the combination of hot tea and tired feet draws a small group in to an eclectic conversation as SNP activists mingle with Green Yes, Labour for Yes (a group of dissident Labour voters and activists that are bucking the London-based party’s decision to support the no campaign), and even a few Plaid Cymru (left-wing Welsh nationalists) activists who’ve come up to help out of solidarity. The conversation is fast-paced, dynamic, and the sense of optimism in the air crackles like electricity. For all of them, the referendum comes down to a positive vision of Scotland based on their common values. The emphasis varies from one to the next but the common picture is of a country where social justice and shared economic development that benefits everyone are core values. In fact, it reminds me of nothing so much as the Anti-globalization movement of the late 90’s and early 2000’s – with the key difference that instead of being focused on what they oppose these folks are all focused on what they want to create. As an American who’s used to lefty politics always being oppositional, it’s a breath of fresh air.
After about an hour a group from Business for Scotland – a coalition of small business owners supporting independence – comes in to pick up new materials. They’re about to take off canvassing shop owners along one of the main strips in Leith and are happy to let me tag along. The differences in issues these folks are discussing are a marked change and highlight the diversity of the yes campaign. Gone is the talk of social justice, environmentalism, and anti-imperialism. Instead, the conversations focuses on how the UK promotes exports from English mega-corporations for free but charges Scottish whiskey makers millions of GBP a year to promote their product, or how the balance of trade with Scotland’s oil being one of the current UK’s main exports will necessitate a currency union between Scotland and England post-independence. Small business owners in particular seem to respond positively to the prospect of an independent Scotland being able to more effectively promote its tourism, compete with London for investment, and support its small businesses the way Norway and some of the other small northern European countries do.
In an hour of canvassing (well, following a canvasser around in my case) we run into 3 solid yes voters, 4 no voters, and a whole slew of undecided folks. The no voters seem to lack any clear reasons. One, a retiree who’s several pints deep at 1pm, perversely claims that an independent Scotland will not be able to fund social programs because they’ll have to maintain a heavily fortified border with England in case their southern neighbor decides to invade. The bar owner who we were there to talk to (an English woman who was planning to vote No but has switched to undecided out of disgust at the No campaigns dishonesty) clearly thinks this is absurd but isn’t going to argue with her customer. Another no voter (the owner of a small internet cafe which is bereft of customers) says “but what if it goes tits up? There’s no going back” but can’t name a single specific issue he’s worried about. His attitude seems to be that the world is a risky place, so why add more risk?
After a couple hours my feet have had all I can take and I stop for an early dinner/late lunch at a taqueria (because I am a Californian after all) and order the haggis burrito. Surprisingly enough, it is delicious.
Some risks, it turns out, are worth it.