„What now? Are you going to litter the whole neighborhood again with that crap? It is beyond belief how much paper is wasted to fulfill wet dreams of that idiot and this cow of his!” – elderly lady walking the street with her york was obviously not too happy with us blocking the pavement outside local Yes Shop in order to unload new delivery from the printing works.
“Of course that Salmond is an idiot, and I can’t stand that Sturgeon lady as well” – answered young boy with pierced face who was wearing a white “Yes” shirt – “but this is the very reason why we should vote “Yes” next week!”
Before we finished with unloading the van, young man managed to lay out his twisted line of reasoning and the old lady seemed to be leaning towards voting for independence. Before she left, she asked for some booklets to give out to her friends. Because every reason is good to vote for independence. Even that Alex Salmond, a prime minister of Scotland and leader of Scottish National Party, is an idiot.
* * *
My van boy does not know yet how is he going to vote. He does not even pays much attention to the Yes Scotland leaflets we deliver. Because we are not volunteers. I found myself on the front line of the independence campaign by accident – it just happened that I had an opportunity to earn a few quid extra as a van driver, delivering campaign materials from printing works to the local Yes hubs. But with that job comes extra benefit – thanks to the fact that I am visiting several hot spots of the Yes movement, I have a chance to be an eyewitness of the last moments of long going campaign. And for Scots the oncoming referendum is much more than just some election – it is a historical event, that I could compare maybe only with first Polish free elections on 4th of June 1989.
Because in the September 2014 the whole Scotland lives only with that event. Everyone seems to be aware of the fact, that on 18th they won’t simply choose the next set of talking heads on TV for the nearest few years, but they will make a decision that might change everything once for all. I haven’t met a single person yet who would be not interested in referendum. One can encounter heated discussion everywhere – not only in the university cafes but in the canteens on the construction sites. Everyone from clerks in the offices through people at the check outs in the supermarkets to kids sheltering themselves from the rain under big, already colorful chestnut tree are discussing independence. In many windows posters with YES or NO can be seen (the latter less often). The cars are plastered with round blue stickers YES or white square UK OK (the latter less often). On the fields huge signs urge to vote YES or announce “No, thanks”. But when the YES campaign is much more visible, the polls still suggest that eventual victory is somewhere in the fog.
“Why do you seem so surprised” – says Dan, with whom we chat while unloading two pallets of leaflets on his driveway. – “Every single paper here is owned by someone down South”.
According to Dan, retired logistics specialist, the fact that visibility of the Yes campaign does not corelate with the polls lies in tendenciousness of media. But his neighbor, who listened to our conversation, and who was not too happy that next door garage in quiet cul-de-sac suddenly became a distribution centre for the Yes campaign had different opinion:
“All these conspiracy theories and the fury with which you plaster the whole neighborhood with your posters just shows how desperate you are. You should use that energy to do something useful instead of trying to break apart your own country”
If it was Poland, wood chips would fly all round already. But this is Scotland, so after short discussion that gradually evolved into friendly banter and mutual mocking of the stickers on both cars (the neighbor’s Fiesta was informing that its owner is “Proud to be Scottish – delighted to be united”), Dan friendly waves to his opponent driving away with smile. But one of the arguments raised by his neighbor still hovers in air: “After you get your independence, Shetlands will show you their back and your Oil dreams will shatter”.
Dan himself was born in the Central Belt, but his family comes from Orkney, so he claims that he understands the Islanders point of view. As he already proved, that his knowledge of international politics exceeds greatly of what I would expect from an inhabitant of the shabby council estate, (he discuss with ease independence issues of post-soviet countries or the situation of Lithuanian-Polish union of 500 years ago) I decided to ask his opinion on that mater as well:
“Shetlanders would not do anything like that” – he seems well convinced about it – “they are shafted by English as much as we are, and if they decided to break away from Scotland, they would get only 12 miles of sea around their islands – and it happens that there is not much oil there.
Amongst the independence activists, Dan is not the only one who’s knowledge seems to be much deeper than what you could read in British papers. For a Polish reader, British papers are almost completely ignoring foreign affairs, except for three cases:
1. The scale of events make it impossible to ignore (Tsunami in Japan, War in the Ukraine).
2. Some British person is involved (British expat, tourist, soldier)
3. The news can be used to show how stupid other nations are (therefore Poland during the rule of Kaczyński twins was a recurring subject in British press with absurdities such as government minister accusing one of Tele-Tubbies of being gay drawing most attention).
But the crew that welcomes us in Yes office in one of the Eastern quarters of Glasgow is yet another proof of that Independence activists are not just a bunch of narrow minded nationalists, as often they are portrayed by the press. Two girls helping out with unloading of the boxes are discussing chances of Catalans in their fight for the independence. The guy at the other end wears a t-shirt that calls for freedom of the Palestine, his friend’s jacket display several badges proving that he is engaged in saving the world on several fronts. Judging from his long, unwashed hairs probably the only charity movement he had no chance to participate yet was Ice Bucket Challenge.
The next local office was a perfect example of the fact that fight for the independence helps put down the barriers between social classes. Two men, who met as at the back doors of old shop, converted temporally into local Yes hub, could not be more opposite to each others. Next to the tall, young, well dressed, well spoken guy who clearly received top-class education, there was a fifty-something, tattooed overweight guy complaining about hangover . He was stroking his ginger Lech Wałęsa style moustache and from under white YES t-shirt, a battered Rangers football shirt could be seen. On his baseball cap there were several badges with the world “Aye” on them, and it his look suggested that this word is much closer to his heart than the posh “Yes”. As my van boy, who during previous delivery could not take his eyes off the sexy volunteer girls, mentioned that he might consider voting Yes after all, both activists rushed to strengthen his views, showering him with knowledge.
“Several arguments of the opposite side are based on wrong assumption, or perhaps even complete misunderstanding of basic questions” – began his lecture young one – “Alex Salmond is portrayed as raging nationalist, voters are scaremonged with the perspective of him gaining the power over the fate of our independent nation. Meanwhile paradoxically it’s the unionist who begin every sentence with ‘I am a Scottish patriot but also a proud Briton’ instead of substantively focusing on the concrete aspects of our monetary politics, economical issues and solutions to our social problems proposed by the SNP”
“Aye, these bloody morons are too busy kissing arses of the Royal family to notice, that this not be Salmonds popularity contest!” – confirmed old one.
“It is unacceptable” – continued undaunted young one – “that Scottish taxpayers pay proportionally more to the budget, yet they have virtually no influence on how these money are to be spent. The government in Westminster is chosen only by the dominating majority in England. If you go back 100 years, there is not a single government that would be different if the votes of Scottish people were not taken into consideration. And thus since Scottish voice is completely unimportant, Scotland became a victim of the Westminster governments that use it to gain more votes south of the border. The most notable example here would be the government of Margaret Thatcher. Therefore it is the time now to ensure that Scottish people are able to decide on the matter of how their taxes are to be spent!”
“Aye, it’s like your old lady wuz ugly and you did not like her, but she takes all your money and just give you some pennies when you go to the pub. And still trying to tell you how much you can drink!” – the old one was definitely proponent of the simpler way to explain things.
I was fascinated to listen to this duet, as it was clear that despite their manner of expression was so different, they both have deeply considered the subject and they are not just repeating some slogans made up by the copywriters. But did any of it resonated with my companion? On the way to our next delivery we were passing a landfill site on the side of the M74 motorway. Part of it is now being recultivated and the piles of rubbish are now covered with rubble and turf. Between the pipes that dissipate methane building inside, there were several signs with “No, thanks” logo. “Look at this” – I said to my van mate.
“Nothing new, it was always stinky here” – he answered, and I wasn’t sure if he refers only to unpleasant smell, or if his statement had a second meaning to it…
Our next drop was located in a sleepy, little town over an hour of drive from Glasgow. At the address given in our paperwork, we found a little house hidden in the bushes of the rhododendron. The doors were opened by a stooping old man.
“All those leaflets again? I have nothing to do with that, it’s my son-in-law who deals with it. Just put it next to the garden shed, he will deal with that when he comes back.”
After giving us some extra instructions, he apologized that his age does not allow him to give us a hand and then disappeared inside the house. But soon he came back and started to observe us closely as we were carrying boxes one by one along the narrow garden path.
“Where are you from, boys?”
“I am from Poland, but my friend is born and bred in Glasgow” – I told him.
“Good” – said the old man, and kept watching us silently. After couple of minutes he pointed his finger on my companion saying “You! Don’t forget to vote, the future of your country is in your hands!”
My companion assured him that he will definitely vote, which seemingly made old man happy. He had still a more challenging task ahead of him, so from then he ignored my companion and his eyes were following me all the time.
“Where in Poland are you from?” – suddenly came the question.
“Wrocław – it’s in the South West”.
“Good”. It was clear to see that he still has no idea how to start the conversation. For the next couple of minutes only our steps on the gravel and sound of boxes being lifted and put down could be here. Suddenly came next question:
“Have you been in Scotland long?”
“Eight years”. That was something. There was a light in the tunnel.
“You know, there are some people in England, stupid people. They say that all Polish people will have to go home. Scotland is not like that, we like our Poles”.
“Yeah, it seems that Cameron and his pals are dancing to the fiddle played by Nigel Farage, Scottish politics seem to have much healthier approach to Europe” – My answer was a bit loud, as I just happened to be at the street, grabbing some more boxes from the van. My loud voice drew attention of some young girls walking down the street. The old man seemed to be a bit fazed with unwanted attention, but soon the relief took place of that feeling. Obviously I did not liked English politics, and I said some good things on Scotland’s leaders. That was probably enough for him to think that I will be voting in favor of independent Scotland.
“Nice weather we had recently, don’t you think, boys?”
Job done. Now we can just chit-chat.
The old man was not the only one who tries to reach national minorities. The Yes campaign prepared a lot of materials in Polish, I saw also some in Czech or Romanian. These leaflets aren’t just simply translation of English language materials, they instead focus on the issues that concern mostly foreigners living in the UK. At the same time some people feel that it is unfair that Scots living abroad have no right to vote. I asked one of the Yes activist who was in charge of one of the local Soutshide hubs how he feels that all Poles around him can vote and his son, living in London, not.
“You know, I have no problem with You, Poles” – He said – “You are here for some time already, you had time to make yourself familiar with politics and to understand Scottish affairs, and you are not stupid, so you will vote Yes. I am more worried by Bulgarians and Romanians, they are fresh off the boat here. But, what the hell, if they vote Yes, I don’t give a fuck. That’s why we are making all this materials for them. I would be even happy to see Tony Blair himself voting, as long as he would vote yes”.
It’s Sunday evening, our last drop this day saw us at the big villa in one of the better parts of Glasgow. Local activists turned out to be a mid-age couple who did not believed that we would work so late in Sunday, so they took us for volunteers. That gave us unique opportunity to hear what they really think.
“Oh my god, even more of that crap? What I am supposed to do with all of it?” – grumbled the man – “I have told already to this morons that this is very untypical location. Here people are not to keen about referendum, and even if I know that some of them will vote Yes, they would never advertise that fact. At least our council does not allows to display posters on the lamp posts. What’s the point of that? Is the number of decorated lampposts to convince anyone to change his mind?”
It was clear that he did not expected a visit so late at night and therefore he allowed himself to few glasses of the national drink of Scotland (and I am not talking about Irn Bru). His speech was maybe not clear already, but his mind was definitely sharp.
“It’s good that this is the last stretch of this campaign. There is no point now. If you need leaflets a week before elections, it’s either your voters suck or your campaigning is useless. But now is past the time of politely distributing the leaflets anyway. Unionist got scared, as they can see that Yes vote might win. This is why they start to play dirty. Edinburgh Agreement says that you should not introduce new elements of campaign during this last period. Political parties can only answer questions and talk about things that they have introduced before. Yes Scotland, Labour for independence and SNP are following that rule. But them! Heck no!!! They see that they are loosing it, and they began to throw something new in every week! We promise you this, we promise you that, they say. But it’s all bullshit. You have promised us so many things so many times and we never got nothing! Your empty promises will not gain you any points here!!!”
He paused. To keep the conversation going, I shared my observation that the campaign is much more civilized than what I am used to from my Polish experience.
“So far!” – he answered – “But it is starting already. Yesterday I was to a meeting and one guy was about to hit me! It would not end well for our campaign, as I would surely hit him back – this is my hot Scottish blood, I would not let anyone do such things to me. But such people are not the worst kind. The worst are those like that guy yesterday who was walking around our stands, smiling and praising a good organization, then leaning to us and hissing into our ears that we are traitors to our nation. Traitors! To our nation! So I am a traitor because I want my nation to be free? Where is logic in that! But you can’t expect anything better from them. And I am telling you, they still have plenty of their dirty tricks up their sleeves. Because the truth is that this is not about the place of Scotland in Europe – if we need London or not. This is a battle between the people of Scotland and the British establishment! And they won’t hesitate to do anything they need to win, because they are shitting their pants already. They cannot allow themselves to loose all the power and influence they gathered over the years. You will yet see, the last week will be a real slaughterhouse!” When I was putting boxes down in his hall, I have noticed that a picture on the wall – there was some child drawing with a brightly visible slogan written in rainbowy letters. It read “FREE GAZA”.
“That’s right, we are activists for the human rights. We aren’t just some Scottish nationalists” – he did not failed to notice my glance on the pictures. His voice got more serious – “After all, if you look at this, our problems are nothing compared to the problems of others. It makes me even feel guilty that this Scottish referendum pulled us away from our fight for Gaza. But the referendum is just around the corner, and then we come back full steam to work for the Palestinian nation” – he got his smile back – “And apart from that, our independence is in their interest as well. US and the United Kingdom are the two biggest allies of Israel. When Scotland will be independent, we will decide ourself on where we want to stand on that. And I can tell you, our stand will be significantly different!
The campaign was getting dirty indeed. Next morning we noticed that one of “No thanks” signs got damaged. Where used to be “No”, now there was a big hole. Next to it, new makeshift sign was placed with arrow pointing to the hole. It said “Indy sabotage!”
On Monday morning we got to deliver to one of the satellite towns of Glasgow. There was no vehicular access to Yes Scotland office. I pulled over and asked a parking attendant if he can advise me on the best way to deliver to the Yes hub.
“Yes Scotland?” – he said – “In that case just park here on these double yellow lines. I will make sure that you won’t get any trouble for that”.
Soon a group of young people approached us. They were well prepared to transport all the stuff to their office, as they were equipped with a several shopping trolleys. They were running with them, up and back, as if it was some kind of race.
Because the clock is ticking. Next delivery brought us to the Yes office in which the tactical meeting had place at this very moment. On the huge board on the wall there was a map of the constituency on which streets were marked with colour pens. Next to it there was a table with three columns of addresses. They were separated into three groups “still undecided” “not convinced” and “hardline unionists”.
“We don’t waste our leaflets on that last group” – explained elderly lady – “Instead we send them independent analysis and a translated articles from foreign press. We know that they don’t want even to speak with us, but if they read it and if they have brains, there is no chance that they won’t change their minds”. Meanwhile elderly gentleman terminated the meeting and the whole room instantly converted in well organized factory. Men were bringing boxes of leaflets. Younger girls were spreading them on the tables and older women were placing them into the shopping trolleys with “Yes” logo, used by the leaflets distributors. Before we had our lines signed, the first squad was already living for their assigned locations.
Next delivery turned out to be a bit problematic. Local Yes hub was located in narrow lane next to the busy junction, next door to the garage. In front of the Yes hub, at the “Keep clear” signs, a big 4×4 was parked. While volunteers started to consider possible options, I decided to pop into the garage to see if they know something about it. The garage owner jumped out from behind his desk and lunged at me, not allowing me to say even one word more. “This car is parked here, and it will stay here. I have to keep it, as otherwise all this yes lunatics will keep blocking access to my business! And I want you to live my premises!”. I followed his demand as it was clear that there is no point in further discussion. When I came back out to the street, I was greeted with laughter of the local Yes volunteers. “You probably noticed already that this guy is a Better Together follower” – smiled their leader. – “He keeps that place occupied with his car until his van, all plastered over with UK OK stickers comes back”
But his attempts to deter people from calling into Yes office were futile. As in most other places we visited, people were constantly flowing in and out, asking for leaflets, posters and other materials. Many of them were willing to fork out their own money to advertise the idea – one of the shops was even selling a huge YES signs to be placed on the fields or at the garden fences. This shop was no different, so when we decided that we had no other option as to block the lane and unload the van as swiftly as possible, we soon got a lot of help. First the Pakistani guy, who with his poor English was just asking for some posters to be displayed in his shop, dropped everything and joined us. The girl behind the desk, with whom we was talking, followed his steps. Every person, who was coming towards the shop was instantly joining the working team. When elderly lady put away her walking stick and rolled up her sleeves, people protested, pointing out that boxes are heavy.
“Don’t worry” – answered the lady – “I managed to bear English rule for over 60 years, I will manage a few boxes in my life”.
Some people attempted to carry boxes themselves on the whole distance, which quickly resulted in chaos as they were all bumping into each other in the narrow doors. But the elderly lady quickly introduced order into that chaos, placing them into the neat conveyor belt. I could not resist such a brilliant trolling opportunity:
“See, now we all can see that when it comes to achieving the common goal, it’s better together”.
After some shy laughters, I was faced with a row of unfriendly faces, but the leader of the local volunteers managed to disarm the tension:
“I see what you did here” – he waved a finger at me with laughter…
Back in the van, my driver’s mate was very excited. “Have you seen that lady? It was Nicola Sturgeon herself!”
“Do you mean the one who was not working with the rest?”
“Oh come on! She is a deputy prime minister! She did enough of work for the independent Scotland already! Stop your petty neat picking!”
The last job has lead us to the part of Glasgow inhabited by large number of Poles. Apart from the fact that there were two Polish shops nearby, it was obvious from the huge hand-drawn poster in the Yes Shop window. “To także Twój kraj! Wejdź, porozmawiajmy o niepodległości! Mówimy po polsku!” (“It’s your country too. Come in, let’s talk about independence! We speak Polish!”)
Inside we met mr Stanisław, who was telling someone his father’s story. His dad was a World War II veteran, who served first in Polish, then in Royal navy and after the war settled in Glasgow. Mr Stanisław noticed my Polish accent and he praised me for being involved with the Yes campaign. I felt obliged to explain, that I am not a volunteer and the leaflets for me are cargo like anything else.
“But don’t worry! He will vote Yes! I will convince him, I promise” – assured him my van boy.
* * *
I am writing it when it is not known yet how Scotland will vote on the day of referendum. But the choice will definitely show the opinion of the whole society – 97% of eligible people have registered to vote. One thing is sure – anyway it goes, on Friday things will not be the same any more.
This article was published in gazetae.com