Throughout the campaign for independence I met so many incredible people. Inspirational folk. I echo what Lesley Riddoch said on this week's Question Time. We might have lost the referendum but this has been the best year of my life. I'm glad the tshirts I bought to wear whilst campaigning was one that simply said 2014 and my Women for Indy one. Because I'll always love the year and I'll always love my association with Women for Indy who have given me a focus for the rest of my days. Both tshirts lie ready to wear in my chest of drawers. And the Yes badge stays on.
But something's been bugging me. And I know I'm going to get flack for making this personal but I have to write this so I can move on. I'm going turn my attentions to some folk I met who appalled me and yet at the time strangely delighted me in equal measure.
One was young Better Together Stephen. I first came across this young man at a BBC debate in Queens Cross church in March. Resplendent in almost a Pearly King collection of UKOK badges I spotted him straight away. He looked too young to be wearing a suit- that's probably what caught my eye. Throughout the debate the hand was thrust aloft in a "Please Sir! Please Sir!" manner no matter what the issue being discussed by the panel was. When the mic was given to him he waxed lyrical on Salmond doing this that and the other, relevance to the issue being unimportant to him. This guy was pure comedy gold. It's as if the Fast Show had come out of retirement. In my husband's inimitable style, he approached Stephen after the broadcast and borderline Kenneth Williams-like asked him "Were you the passionate young man behind me?" Our new friend then launched into a diatribe about how Yes Scotland was jeopardising his chances of fulfilling his lifelong ambition to be a Labour MP. Meester M loves a challenge so stayed with him longer than I.
Weeks later I saw him again. After months of Yes Aberdeen and Women for Indy stalls taking up the forecourt in St Nicholas Street, a Better Together stall appeared for the first time. And there he was. Suited and booted and shouting "Wave goodbye to your pension!" to anyone who rebuked his advances with the indication that they were voting yes. We still laughed at him because he was ridiculous, often manically heading people off at the pass as they made their way towards us. Folk like him were our secret weapon, I thought. For every Eastern European girl who came over in a state after he and his pals had told them they'd be deported, they'd be more who thought he was barking mad. I thought, they are actually working for us! People will see through this nonsense.
He then appeared at a school debate a friend was organising. The pupils laughed at him as he seconded for his Better Together pal from the Lib Dems, and got all crazy horse, shouty and excited. The Yes gang smirked and let him win the debate for them. Our secret weapon. Let's invite him to all our debates.
I'll come back to more Stephen later but in between all this I met and debated with another secret weapon for the Yes campaign. This time it was local mogul Charles Ritchie, owner of the Score Group in Peterhead, a massive employer for folk in the area and a big purveyor of apprenticeships for young folk. Trouble is Mr Ritchie sees himself not just as an employer but also as a patriarch to the people he employs. Before the debate a pal gets in touch "Just so you know, Charles Ritchie told all his employees as a staff meeting last week that if they were thinking of voting Yes they might as well hand in their notice. I've two pals who work there".
I worried about meeting someone like this, but Mr Ritchie turned out to be more comedy gold. In the debate he shook and thundered and threatened and to be honest he came off as completely unhinged. He too had an obsession with Salmond, despite asking the First Minister to open his new premises some months before and glad-handing him to the max. His debating partner Christine Jardine of the Lib Dems was kicking him under the table for most of the night and I'm sure privately making a vow to never share a platform with him ever again. His threats to close down his business and move away in the event of a yes vote made him seem quite mad. His frothy mouthed prophesying of doom was like something out of a Dickens novel. Another secret weapon for Yes, I thought, as me and my debating partner delighted in the huge swing to Yes in the exit poll which in all fairness we had to credit to Mr Ritchie.
I never met Mr Ritchie after that but I saw Stephen plenty. Not least on the last Sunday before the referendum where all of a sudden the Better Together stall was massive, and staffed with a good ten people I had never seen before. A lot of them sporting Union flag accessories (someone with an internet shop is rolling in it right now cos of these guys) . I now know that some of them were from the National Front. You'll have seen the pics on Twitter. Some local Labour MPs were less than careful about being photographed with them. I went over to have a look at the literature (as I often did. It's a good idea to know what is being given out to the people that may come and visit your stall afterwards) and got shoved out the way by young Stephen who was pinning a Union Flag to the table. "I hope you aren't as cheeky to the other folk that come over here, Stephen" I said, smiling. "Get out of the way, this is our stall!" he shouted at me. Ah, comedy gold. Our wee secret weapon. Keep on keeping on, son.
Later that day some people were protesting against BBC bias and one of the new BT gang ( a chap with a skin head and union Flag bandana) went behind them and tried to grab their banner off them and did something to the back of one of the chaps holding the banner which must have hurt because he immediately reacted and turned round angrily. Nine months of peaceful campaigning from both sides and now it looked for a second that it might go pear shaped. Our worst nightmare. But it didn't. Thank god.
But ten minutes after this the indy quines and I felt this was enough for the day and packed up. In the side street where my car was parked young Stephen was on his phone telling his pal how they'd wound up a Yesser and he totally went for it and they got it on film and everything and how great it was. I coughed and he turned round to see me. I pointed to my ear to let him know I had heard and he terminated the call. He then chased me all over the square telling me that "What happened happened, it wasn't set up! It wasn't set up!" Protesting too much. I turned round and said "For months we have been campaigning peacefully and amicably side by side. Whatever happens on Thursday I'll know I never lied, I never did anything to cause trouble. What about you?" He continued to chase me like a wee kid pleading for me not to tell his Mum he'd been caught swearing.
After all this happened I wanted to blog about it. But I didn't because I had to stay positive. having a go at "the other side" was their thing, not mine. I had to move on and keep campaigning positively, ignoring the things I'd seen. The same goes for things I saw at the count- the cheering by some Labour supporters when Michael Gove came on the telly, or young Stephen standing beside me watching an enumerator and loudly asking his pal if they had enough champagne designed to get a reaction from me as they no vote pile got bigger and bigger in the Mannofield box count.
Why am I writing this now? For one reason. Because for me, I genuinely think we are the winners. If we'd genuinely managed to get the Yes vote we would have been able to sleep at night knowing that we did it by being honest, by being dignified and being a bottom up people led campaign with us all doing it for no personal gain. I am so proud to know so many of you.
It wasn't to be, but those who perceive the No vote as a win, can you honestly say the same? Blair McDougal, who led the Better Together campaign said at the Labour Party Conference they'd have had a hard job winning without fearmongering. He admitted that! Finally! Gordon Brown who, under whose authority I'm unsure, promised federalism and Home Rule for Scotland the day before the vote, is conspicuously absent this week, not even turning up to vote in the Commons as they decide to take us into war. Ian Wood, who came out for Better Together with a proclamation of doom with regard to Scotland's oil wealth has been awarded fracking contracts in our country by the UK government. BP who wanted us to stay in the UK and kept stumm about Clair Ridge, this week say it's boom time.
And young activists like our Stephen who started off campaigning to ensure he'd have a political career, or Charles Ritchie who frightened his employees to ensure his own personal wealth , I'll ask you one thing:
Are you aware of the phrase "a pyrrhic victory"?
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