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Scotland’s Independence Referendum Heats Up Ahead Of Polling Day

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Getting off the train at Glasgow’s Queen Street station and stepping out into George Square, it’s hard not to get swept up in the feverish excitement that is gripping the city. Yes badges seem to adorn almost every passer by. A giant banner reads ‘Bristol Greens: England says vote Yes for a fairer society.’ A band plays an open show on Buchanan Street, with saltires and Yes billboards lining the makeshift stage.

This is in stark contrast to Edinburgh, just yesterday (Saturday), when the Orange Order marched ‘to save the union’, in their biggest showing in Scotland in over fifty years. The controversial march – many on the Better Together side were well aware of the counter-productivity of a march by a group largely eschewed by most branches of Scottish civil society – was reported on positively by The Guardian as ‘a visceral show of strength for the union’ that passed by ‘largely without incident’.

London’s media coverage of the independence referendum (indyref) has been a bone of contention for many Yes voters over the past few days. The BBC’s Nick Robinson faced embarrassment when, after a media Q & A with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, Robinson’s report suggested that Salmond had refused to answer his question. A clip on YouTube posted independently, however, showed the First Minister’s 7-minute answer to Robinson’s question.

Whilst the notion of conspiratorial BBC is fanciful to most onlookers, both Yes and No, the indyref has forced some Scots to view the steadfast institutions of British life in a different light to previously.

Perceptions of media and journalistic output reflects the general arc of how the indyref has played out for the two years of campaigning. Put bluntly, this is a narrative of ‘main-stream media’ (MSM) against ‘alternative’ internet-based journalism (notably Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, and National Collective) that the Yes campaign has successfully commandeered. The Yes side is thus displayed as positive and grassroots, and the No side negative, reactionary, and out-of-touch.

There are issues with this. Prominent left-wing Yes voices have been largely uncritical in their adoption of the language of Nordic social-democracy blended with socialistic Scottish egalitarianism. Gerry Hassan has usefully illuminated the dangers of such national mythology in resisting, rather than assisting, real change. Fintan O’Toole, writing in the Sunday Herald – the only main-stream newspaper to support Yes – reminds Scots that:

Too much has happened to too many dreams of national liberation for any sensible citizen to believe in a great moment of transformation after which everything will be simpler, purer, better.

Herald columnist David Torrance, to the chagrin of many Yes campaigners, has skillfully attacked that ideological simplicity throughout the indyref.

Nevertheless, it is that language – the language of social justice, equality, democracy, and progressiveness – that demarcates the key battleground in this referendum campaign that looks likely to go down to the wire. Polling has narrowed, at times dramatically, in the past weeks. An ICM poll out on Friday found support for the no campaign on 51% and with yes on 49%, once don’t knows were excluded. The poll also found that 42% of people who voted Labour in 2010 are voting Yes on Thursday.

It is common wisdom that natural Labour voters hold the key to the indyref. If Miliband can convince Scots that a No vote can still mean change, the recent Yes surge in the polls could be halted. Unfortunately for the Labour No movement, the signs don’t look promising in terms of commandeering that rhetoric. A stunt on Thursday saw 100 Labour MPs arrive from Westminster to Glasgow Central station, before walking up Buchanan Street as a column toward the statue of Donald Dewar. Unfortunately for Miliband and co, a rickshaw armed with high-wattage speakers followed, bellowing-out the Star Wars ‘Imperial March’.

This is more than a battle of rhetoric, however. Issues around the currency remain for the Yes camp. Warnings over pensions and jobs have tended to come across as ‘Project Fear’-style bullying, particularly when coordinated by widely-discredited major corporations and dictated by Westminster, though nevertheless undecided voters will still have their concerns.

With the polls showing that Scotland’s future could go either way, the result is hugely unpredictable at this stage. With 97% – more than 4.2m people – registered to vote on Thursday, turnout looks to be unprecedented. Scotland, both Yes and No, is witnessing a popular democratic engagement unseen in its recent history.

The journalist Alex Massie, one of the standout writers this indyref has churned out, explained his reasons for voting No but accepted the possibility that, come Friday morning, Scotland could be an independent nation again for the first time in 300 years. He explained the surge of Yes in the polls as follows:

Bloody hell, if you’re going to jump I’ll jump too. Even if it is a long way down.

It remains to be seen how many Scots are ultimately prepared to take that leap of faith on Thursday. One thing for certain, however, is that indyref fever has well and truly permeated all aspects of Scottish life.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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