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Martin O'Gorman: The Silent Majority Came Out and Voted

Today's 'Tell Us Your Story' piece comes from Martin O'Gorman: The Silent Majority Came Out and Voted.

For a very long time, I’d been disillusioned with elections, politics and politicians. I didn’t want anything more to do with any of it. Hadn’t even voted for years.

Given how closely Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are linked in so many ways, the build-up to the Indyref in 2014 almost passed me by; I just didn’t consider it remotely credible that the majority could back a separation that would have such obviously catastrophic economic, political and social consequences.

Then, just one week before the vote, I became belatedly aware of large numbers of people parading around the city, proudly wearing “YES” and “AYE” badges. Buildings were draped with banners advocating the break-up of the UK, and every night Nationalist politicians and their fables of limitless oil wealth seemed to fill the TV screen. One opinion poll actually put Yes in the lead.

Back on the streets, very visible amongst pro-independence supporters, were Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist Party activists, 1970’s-style revolutionary students straight from central casting, CND campaigners and a colourful multitude of New Age folk.

There were even a few Irish republicans and Basque/Catalan separatists, all waving their respective flags in gleeful anticipation of the imminent disintegration of the hated United Kingdom. Alex Salmond was indeed right to describe it as “a carnival atmosphere”, for this was what the spectacle actually resembled. Are we really just going to allow Scotland to be handed over to these people? Are we about to sleep-walk into the dystopia of a Scottish Socialist Worker’s and Crofters’ Windfarm Republic?

It appeared that some people involved with the cause of Scottish Freedom were motivated largely by thoughts of revenge. On the day of the referendum, a friend of mine asked a YES canvasser to give him one convincing reason to vote for independence: the reply was that there would be “payback” for the Highland clearances.

The prospect of the country I’d lived in for over twenty years becoming another Venezuela did not excite me and I felt ashamed that I’d done nothing to prevent the nightmare of near-certain economic suicide becoming a reality. Being freelance, I took an unpaid week off work and immediately started going along to Better Together gatherings, knocking on doors to get the Unionist vote out and distributing leaflets.

What surprised me greatly was that even in run-down tenement flats draped with separatist slogans, most of the residents we spoke to either said they’d be voting No or hadn’t made up their minds. One or two even said they felt intimidated by neighbours who were of the other persuasion, so we talked in whispers.

Wearing a No Thanks badge, I was stopped in Haymarket the day before the vote by a lady with her teenage daughter. “Thank God someone’s supporting the Union,” she exclaimed, “the Nats are swarming everywhere!” We talked for a while about the consequences of independence, until I became aware of someone standing listening to our conversation. The listener was what I can only describe as a Canadian hippy, wearing an SNP badge.

“Hey. I think it’s kind of obvious now that Yes has won. Clearly, you guys are worried about your money. But don’t: there’s money in that road, money in these buildings, money in those cars, money for everybody…can we at least be friends?”

For me, this statement encapsulated all the wishful thinking and make-believe that underpinned the “case” for independence. I remember stalking off in a dazed state to a Better Together rally, with competing emotions of fury, disbelief and amusement.

Better Together volunteers I worked with that week were worried but determined people from a diverse range of backgrounds, nationalities and occupations: engineers, bank staff, civil servants, cleaners, students, ex-service personnel, healthcare professionals and social workers, all united against the destruction of the United Kingdom. Though not perfect, we were all agreed that the UK provides stability and cohesion in an increasingly uncertain world. And why should our friends and relations on the other side of the border suddenly be classified as foreigners?

While out campaigning, we certainly got supportive comments and encouragement, but a number of Nationalists we encountered jeered and made offensive remarks; one gentleman even threatened to set his dog on us.

When the polls closed at 10pm, I staggered home from the polling station that my group of volunteers had been standing outside. We’d received friendly waves and cheers along with hostile comments and the odd scream of abuse in equal measure, it seemed to me, so I had no idea what the result would be.

At 6am I woke, ran down the stairs and switched on the radio to hear the result. Don’t think I’d cried for at least fifteen years, but I certainly did that morning – wept with relief that the silent majority came out and voted UKOK.

- M. O’Gorman

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