I was studying abroad in England, and the program asked us to arrive 10 days before the semester (week 0, the week when students register for classes) started for international orientation and “to adjust to living in a foreign country.” Of course, that was not something that I was unfamiliar of. So naturally, I got bored of the culture shock lectures in the basement dungeon of the hotel and ditched the entire thing. It was the week before the Scottish referendum, and I thought to myself, hey, political turmoil! – and booked the flight to Edinburg for the next morning.
By the time the 1:30 am train story happened, I had just finished my three day trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. This was the last week before the big referendum day, when people of Scotland voted on whether they wanted the nation to leave the United Kingdom to be a independent country, or would they rather keep things the way it was and stay in the union. Quite frankly I was hoping to see a frenzy, a battle: people demonstrating and yelling on the streets, signs everywhere, fliers and stickers and posters flying around in every corner of the city.
But it turned out that I couldn’t be more wrong. I arrived on September 16, 2014, referendum T-3 days. It felt like just another day in Edinburgh. I walked around the old town and the new town, the Scottish parliament, and the neighborhood of the guesthouse I stayed in, and all I saw was two or three shops and two or three houses that had “YES”s on the windows, and another one or two houses with “NO”s. There was a small stand for the YES SCOTLAND campaign on the street that I lived in, which was really not far from the heart of the city. And that was basically it.
From the small sample size that I had, the YES campaign was way more visible than the NOs. There were way more stickers on landmarks and statues with Yes – even a traffic cone with YES on it on the head of one of the statues. The NO banner in the above photo was the only NO that I saw on the street till the 17th, when the flag that said “Please Stay with Us” showed up on the Adam Smith statue. I wondered to myself whether it was true that the majority is often silent.
I talked briefly with the YES campaign people at the small stand, and asked for their reasonings. Among all things, I remembered them telling me that the UK parliament was not spending their tax money in a way that most benefits Scotland, but benefits England instead. And they were mad that they cancelled the free higher education because of money problems. If Scotland were to become an independent country, they can address these issues and bring back free education and focus more on developing Scotland as a nation. I personally thought that those were simply empty checks that the politicians made out to the public that could not be cashed, since they would mostly likely be faced with the similar set of challenges as the British government once they become their own government. It’s likely that they would make the same decisions that the UK parliament has been making on behalf of the country. But people seemed to be buying into it anyways.
The result was what I had hoped for – the Scottish people voted to stay in the UK. Apparently the turnout for the voting was a historic new high. In the beginning the polls showed that ~70% people wanted to leave the UK, making it a real possibility. That served as a wakeup call for the silent majority to show up and vote – not an overwhelming majority, but still a majority.
I had a late afternoon lunch at a pub on the 17th, after walking around the old town for the second time. The first time I attempted to see the castle it was REALLY foggy and I could barely see the road under my feet. I met an old Canadian couple at the pub, and the man told me that he’s been through two referendums in his life time, both of which decided that the province of Quebec would stay with the union. I couldn’t really tell whether he was sad or happy that that was the case.