It’s one thing to rant online about independence: it’s quite another getting out onto the street and conversing with folk in a public setting. So for a good few months now, I’ve been getting involved. I’ve attended meetings for organisations as diverse as Radical Independence Campaign and Christians for Independence; I’ve handed out leaflets at stalls; I’ve delivered newspapers, and have the ink-blackened hands to prove it. And I’ve had a brilliant time doing so, meeting all sorts of people from all angles of the upcoming referendum, engaging with the people in the area I live in to a degree I never felt comfortable with before.
I recall my first night out canvassing. It was a bit late, so me and my canvassing partner only got part of one side of a street done before it was 8:45, the decided cut-off time where it really was far too late to be bothering people at home. Usually we try for just before teatime or just after, but most folk are happy to talk. It started off disappointingly, with one individual who was on the phone and couldn’t talk. The next house was much more encouraging, with everyone very enthusiastic Yes supporters. We spent a fair bit of time with them just getting information about how they came to their conclusion and so forth. After that, our first No: she was a nice enough lady, and she did seem amenable to reason (one of the fabled “soft Nos”), but we eventually parted agreeing to disagree.
Then, however, we came to one elderly gentleman. We did our usual preamble, and were a bit disappointed to learn that he was indeed a no. The lady of the house – I presume his wife – stayed for a minute before scurrying off to the kitchen. Now, we only met these two people on the doorstep of their house. I know nothing of their life save the precious little they told us here. I don’t know the journey which led them to dismissing Scottish independence, their voting intentions, anything like that. But the more he talked, the more I found a strange fire kindling in the pit of my stomach: a desire to debate.
See, I’m fairly new to the whole canvassing thing, so I bit my tongue and let my far more experienced co-canvasser talk. The job of canvassing isn’t to try and convince, it’s to get an accurate reflection of the views of the public, while at least ensuring they have information available if they need it. But I was close to slicing my poor tongue in twain, as he numbered off his reasons for voting no – most of which revolved around the First Minister. He did the comparison of Alex Salmond to “a certain other nationalist who came to power in 1939.” He counted off a list of other “nationalists” – Stalin, Franco, Vargas, Pavelić, Quisling, Salazar.To her credit, my associate offered a reproachful chiding in regards to Alex Salmond Dictator-Comparison Bingo, saying that he didn’t deserve such a comparison, but this man seemed resolute.
I was foolish, for I allowed that one man to put a downer on me. It was, all in all, a successful enough canvass: we got a fair amount of houses’ opinions, most were in and happy to talk for a bit. This is one of those “artist problems”: if you talk to 100 people, 99 say something positive and 1 person says something negative, it will always be that one negative which you focus on. As such, I let my frustration over this British nationalist – for what else could he be, so proud he was to extoll the virtues of the United Kingdom in the face of the nationalism of other countries – colour my mood for the night. As I became more accustomed to canvassing, however, I realised how to keep things positive.
My next few times canvassing were much easier, even when faced with more numerous and vocal Nos. This is exemplified by my most recent canvassing. The first door I knocked on was opened by a friendly gentleman who rather triumphantly claimed that we “wouldn’t find a single Yes voter in the entire area, so we might as well go home now.” Guess what? The very next door we knocked was a Yes voter. Sure, the area was predominantly No – at least those at home were, most people were out – but the idea that there was at least one Yes voter, next door to a man who claimed there would be none in the area, was enough to lift my spirits for the next three hours. This area had three out of the score or so we actually talked to – that’s more than enough for me, especially since this was a highly affluent area, with many distinguished white-haired gentlemen and women who could not hide their pompous confidence as they informed us that they did not believe Scotland should be an independent country, as if in the knowledge that we were fighting a losing battle. The three Yes voters in an area claimed to be completely unionist suggest perhaps they shouldn’t be so sure of a No vote.
But more than the tiny victories of finding Yes voters are the times when we felt we could actually help. I’ve met a great deal of individuals who are experiencing all sorts of difficulties – some are still paying the Bedroom Tax despite the local council sitting on the money from the Scottish government allocated precisely to mitigate it; others are living proof of the idiotic bureaucracy of energy companies who will not fix their boiler because they aren’t the right “kind” of boiler; some mistakenly believed that they didn’t have the right to vote at all; some had questions unrelated to the referendum, but could easily be answered by a councillor or MSP. For every one of those we felt we could help, we made a note, and promised to get in contact with someone who could help, or at least find someone who knew who could help.
This is what the referendum is all about for me – helping people. Even if they end up unconvinced, I’m not fighting for Scottish independence to beat the other side, I’m fighting to win Scotland for everyone. That includes everyone who voted No. This isn’t a game of football – there doesn’t have to be a loser. With full power over our budget, laws, policies and affairs, we can make a difference to the lives of everyone in Scotland in meaningful ways. Look at how much we’ve achieved with devolution: imagine how much more we could achieve without Austerity, Trickle-Down, Neoliberalism and Feudalism.
With a Yes vote, we can ensure people don’t have to pay the Bedroom Tax. We can make sure that people don’t have to choose between heating their homes and eating their food. We can make certain everyone has the right to vote, and knows their rights and entitlements. We can even see to it that politics is no longer the domain of the rich and privileged, the story of the elite making decisions for the masses – but a tale of the masses making their decisions for themselves.
Canvassing can be tiring, and it can be a bit intimidating. I myself haven’t had any abuse outside of a drunk crowing “it’s the Tartan Taliban!” in response to my beard and long hair, but my partner hasn’t been so blessed. But until it gets to the point of actual criminal offense, I don’t think anything would be gained by telling all those stories, because the last thing we want to do is discourage people from getting involved. The number of times you see Better Together talking about “abuse” that amounts to little more than vigorous debate or (gasp) stickers, you’d think they’re trying to prevent people from engaging in the debate – after all, who would want to get involved in such a “divisive” subject? On the contrary, I think that makes it all the more important to get involved.
Once again, I feel that regardless of your stance on the debate, we need everyone to get involved. Just recently, Yes Inverclyde set up a Yes shop after months of campaigning, yet as of today there is no Better Together equivalent. Why not? Every man, woman and child in Scotland should be discussing the most important decision we’ve made in the history of our nation – indeed, the first time in 300 years we’ve even been asked. Yes or No, it is imperative that we get out there and make sure as much of the electorate as possible puts their wee cross in the wee box.