I’ve been in Glasgow with my older brother. He was born there and he wanted, as he said, to close the circle. So we visited the house where he was born, the church where he was baptised. Moving stuff, really. The taxi-driver keeps it light by telling us he’d like to apologise for the weather, it’s not usually like this in Glasgow, he hopes we’re not disappointed. (The city is drenched in sunshine – the Glaswegians do irony well.) What about this referendum, we ask him. Will it be Yes or No? “No” he says firmly. “It’s different with Ireland, you’re all one piece there. But we’re connected tae England”. Later I talk to a man with a Yes button on his lapel, who’s been deeply involved in trade union work and voted Labour all his life. Until recently. “I’ve never seen anything like the commitment and canvassing that’s going on all over the country” he says. “Never. We’re focusing on the big group of people who don’t normally vote”. Will it be enough to get a Yes victory? He waggles his hand. “Touch and go. If the vote is No, we could land up with Boris Johnston as prime minister and Charles as king. That’d be good”. Glaswegians do irony very well.
Mind you this doesn’t look like a country gathering itself for a leap into independence. We see an occasional Scottish flag, an occasional taxi painted blue with the white cross; but generally people seem to talk about everyday things, they’re not shaking fingers or fists in each other’s faces, we hear no political debate. It’s as if these are momentous days but they’d rather pretend they’re not.
The Scots seem more like people in an Irish city than any English city I’ve visited or lived in. Maybe it’s a Celtic thing: there’s a liveliness, a humour, an edge to people’s speech and movements. When we’re served by an English waitress, a perfectly normal young woman, she seems by comparison… cool. A little detached. The Scottish waiter is quick, jokey, accommodating. Maybe we’re getting their best side but you can see why many young Irish people go to university here. (Yes, Virginia, I know about the fee thing; but this place also has a distinct air of home-away-from-home.)
And so, in less than a month’s time these people will make a huge decision. They’ll either make fools of all the pollsters and pundits by taking charge of their own affairs, or they’ll opt for holding onto the hand of nurse for fear of something worse. Funny, that. The last thing I would think of these people is that they are fearful.