By David Coffey
As many of you probably know, Scotland just had a referendum on September 18th. This referendum was to decide whether they would stay with the United Kingdom or become an independent country. The people of Scotland could either vote, “yes” in favor of being independent, or “no” to stay a part of the United Kingdom. What many of you may not have known though, was that I was actually in Scotland while the voting occurred. My experience in Scotland is one that I will not soon forget.
I arrived in Waverly station around 12 O’clock in Edinburgh and proceeded to explore the city. I was taken back by the sheer beauty of city and surrounding green fields draped in fog. What took me back even more were all the people expressing their feelings about the referendum.
It seems like on nearly every street corner there were people handing out “Yes” flyers. In addition to that, “yes” graffiti was spattered upon statues from one end of the city to the next. Scarcely a person I spoke to did not have a “yes” button on their shirt or jacket. Judging by Edinburgh alone, I was convinced that Scotland would soon become its own country-separate from the rest of great Britain.
When I actually spoke to people though, I heard many different perspectives on the matter. I asked a woman on the train about the vote, she said she was supporting a “No” vote. She explained that Scotland becoming independent would unload a mess of problems upon both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Surely, she was right that there would have bean a lot to sort out if Scotland had become independent. However, since the referendum went “no,” it’s impossible to know whether it would have been worth it or not.
Yet, it wasn’t only Scotland that was getting attention out in Edinburgh that day. Many people from Catalonia had come up from Spain to show their solidarity for the independence movement. For context, Catalonia, the region of Spain containing Barcelona, is also working for independence from the rest of Spain. In West Parliament Square, a square where many yes voters had congregated, I saw a collection of colored candles arranged as the Scottish and Catalonian flags.
After checking into a hostel, I decided to go out and experience the city’s night life. What started off as bar-hopping with a fellow American soon turned into drinking and conversing with a group of Pro-yes Scotsmen. I ended spending the rest of my night with these gentlemen, learning of their cause and what pushed them to break a centuries-old union.
The more I heard from these pro-yes Scots, the more I grew empathetic to their cause. They spoke of growing tired of things like feeling unrepresented in London. They also explained their opposition to foreign wars that Westminster had them get involved with. These concerns echoed my own issues with politics in the United States. Though I arrived with a mostly neutral mindset, by the end of the night, I was chanting “yes!” too.
The next morning, upon hearing about the “No” vote, I didn’t have optimistic thoughts about what I’d see in the streets. I thought I’d see people rioting, looting, and swearing out Westminster along with the rest of the United Kingdom. To my pleasant surprise though, it was just another regular day in Edinburgh.
The more I thought about it though, it made sense. Everyone the night before was also very civil and under control-I even had a nice conversation with some friendly police officers that were there. No one was cursing out the rest of the United Kingdom-or even the “No” campaign for that matter. Why though, was everyone so civil? I think I might know the reason…
This wasn’t something voted upon by out-of-touch politicians in London-it was a popular vote by the average people of Scotland. What I observed in Edinburgh was a strong camaraderie amongst the Scottish people –one which they would not throw away over a political disagreement. This is what the majority of the Scottish people wanted, and everyone seemed to respect that.
For better or worse, the people have spoken-and they have said they want to stay with the United Kingdom. This was a victory, a victory for democracy, I hope it ends up being a victory for Scotland too.