Counting hours in Glasgow

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I arrive at the main #YesScotland HQ, located (appropriately) on Hope Street in Glasgow.  There’s a long wheelchair accessible ramp into the office with an iron handrail, a nice desk with a group of people gathered round deep in conversation, and a doorway into a larger work space which is presumably where the main work of coordinating the birth of a new nation is conducted. I introduce myself and the lady behind the desk asks if I have an appointment, which of course I don’t. I explain that I don’t work for any media outlet and – while I’ve had some freelance writing published – the fact is I’m really just some guy with a blog who was crazy enough to buy a ticket and fly halfway around the world on my own dime to watch the world change. She laughs, takes my name, and says she’ll see what she can do. A few minutes later, Stewart Kirkpatric (@calgacus) comes out and greets me warmly.

Stewart is a very interesting guy with an easy laugh and a wide smile, I like him instantly. He’s a former Labour campaigner who has still never joined the SNP, is quick to point out that he’s not a Nationalist. In fact, he spent many years knocking on doors urging people not to vote for the SNP because surely if they could just get Labour re-elected things would get better. When Tony Blair’s new Labour adopted a neoliberal economic agenda and then took the country to war in Iraq he took the betrayal personally, feeling as though he’d been made a liar.

I ask him how it is to now be working side by side with the SNP and he points out that this is a broad movement with room for everyone, from pro-business groups like Business for Scotland to the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Socialist party. He says “whether you’re a businessman or an anarchosyndicalist, you can support the Yes campaign.” I ask if there actually are any anarchists supporting the campaign and he says he’s sure there are but not in any organized fashion. Cue drum-roll. In my own life as an activist I’ve known some highly organized and dynamic anarchists… but stereotypes exist for a reason.

When I ask him how he’d describe this movement to Americans and others who maybe don’t have the context, he says the main thing to understand is that this isn’t really a nationalist movement in any traditional sense. It’s not about culture or ethnicity or anything like that – independence is a means to an end, a necessary step so they can break from the politics of southern England, though he quickly qualifies that statement by saying that it’s not about hating English people – they have the right to their opinions – but Scotland also has the right to political self determination.

I’m reminded of my post from yesterday about imagined communities being the foundation of a national identity and it strikes me that for Stewart and many of the other folks I’ve talked too, their imagined community is really defined by a shared set of values and ideals. I’ve heard Americans claim many times over the years that we are unique in defining ourselves by a common ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” Those folks have obviously not spent much time here.

I thank Stewart for his time and head off to the Kelvin neighborhood campaign HQ in the southwest side of Glasgow. It’s a couple miles down the road and I take the walk slow. When I get there, it’s a small industrial space with corrugated sheet metal door and a big canopy tent outside in the concrete square.

Euan Bennett, a smiling man in his early to mid 20’s with glasses, greets me and immediately agrees to talk to me – along with several other campaigners. Like virtually everyone else from the Yes campaign that I’ve talked to, they’re primarily interested in the social justice issue and in removing nuclear weapons from Scotland. In three separate conversations people bring up the fact that Scotland now has 97% voter registration, which is absolutely unheard of, and a populace that’s more politically aware and engaged than at any other time in Scotland’s long history.

They believe that in a post-independence Scotland the parties who are elected will have to keep their promises on things like removing Trident (the British nuclear submarines based outside of Glasgow) or they’ll be voted out. And, because Scotland has partial proportional representation instead of first past the post, voters won’t be forced into the trap of choosing a lesser evil the way they are in UK-wide elections (or American elections for that matter). I ask Euan about the Monarchy and he laughs and says “well that’s a whole other issue…” He believes that post-independence many of the parties that will stand for election will include removing the Queen in their platforms and for there to be a referendum on the issue at some point down the road, but for now he favors the gradual approach of tackling one issue at a time.

After 6 interviews and a couple hours spent at Kelvin, people are starting to head out for the afternoon canvassing. I give my new friends a wave and head off down the road. There are 56 hours until voting closes Thursday. Like everyone else in Scotland this week I’m hungry for change… but the growling from my stomach reminds me I’m hungry for food too.