Reflections on the Referendum


I arrived at the Edinburgh count early. As I drove in to the large open field that served as the car park, I had a premonition that locating my car in the early morning would be a challenge. There were already hundreds of cars, with the prospect of many more to come. This was going to be quite a count. Fortunately, just ahead of me, was a car sporting a very large Saltire, somehow attached to its roof. Being a canny geographer, i determined to use the flag as my point of reference.

Of course, by the time I got back to the car park in the wee small hours of Friday morning, the car, its Yessers and its Saltire had long since departed. As the results began to roll in, so the ‘yes’ supporters began to roll out. When it was announced that Alex Salmond would not attend his count in Aberdeen but rather hop on a private jet for the jaunt to Edinburgh, some in the room assumed that he would attend the Edinburgh count. After all, the Edinburgh count was taking place in a hanger next to the airport. Not to be. Salmond’s limo sped on by, leaving the beleaguered supporters with even less to cheer.

In truth, it took time for both sides to comprehend what the results meant. Clackmannanshire? Who’d have thought it would be the bellwether for the rest of Scotland. As Ruth Davidson tweeted, ‘Get in, Clacks!’. The Western Isles shouted, ‘No’. The last time I was on Lewis, Jamie McGrigor and I were wading through ‘yes’ banners. It goes to show that you can’t forecast a result on the basis of window displays.

Only when the remnant ‘Yes’ supporters cheered the Dundee result, did we, Team UK & NI, realised that we had received each result in silence. Even now, as I look back on that morning I can’t quite tell you why that was so. Were we unmoved? No, of that I am certain. Were we shocked? Again, I don’t think so. In our heart of hearts we knew Scots were canny enough to get ‘it’. Maybe it was just the intense sense of relief that Scotland had come through, just as we knew she would. There was certainly no sense of triumphalism. Needless to say, after the Yes camp cheered, every result was greeted with a loud whoop. After a long, hard campaign, it was actually good to shout out loud and clap till our hands were raw from the slapping.

Alex Salmond and I both went to St Andrews University. He graduated in 1978; I matriculated in 1990 (alongside with my fellow MEP Catherine Stihler MEP). Alex stood for the presidency of the Student Union in 1977. It is said that he can still tell you by how much he lost that election. Until last week it was the only election he had ever lost.

The motto of St Andrews Student Union - ‘Stat Scotia, stat aula’: Stands Scotland, stands the Union.