United or untied? How will Scotland vote?

"Yes" and "no"

They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.

Narrator, Braveheart

Thursday is the big day. Scottish voters will decide whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or become independent. Which way will they go?

When I arrived in Scotland a few weeks ago, the no camp was winning in the polls 60-40. I was in Edinburgh, which seemed distracted with its festivals. Except for the omnipresent yes signs and occasional festival skits, the referendum was rarely mentioned.

All of that changed when the results of a new poll were released last week, indicating the yes position was in the lead 51 percent to 49. Suddenly, the referendum was the hot topic. The yes csampaign cautiously rejoiced. Media coverage was intense. Politicians in London panicked and sent their party leaders on a road trip to Scotland to beg for no votes. This tactic was met with derision by many Scots. The joke was that David Cameron, the prime minister, needed directions to get here.

"No" signs

Westminster politicians also provided a list of concessions they will make to give Scotland more autonomy, if the referendum is defeated.

Some Scots asked sarcastically, “Where was that before?”

The primary argument against independence is economics. The big banks predict a depression. Some Scots worry. Others ask why anyone would listen to the same bankers who got them into a recession.

A few days ago another poll showed no in the lead 53-47, followed by another with yes in the lead 51-49. Too close to call. Where is Nate Silver?

I must say, as a non-affected outsider, the yes campaign is clearly running smarter and with more grassroots support. They were clever to adopt Scotland’s flag colors. Large yes signs are posted in the most remote areas of Scotland. Meanwhile, the no perspective is largely invisible. I have a sense the no voters are voting their pocketbooks and are a little embarrassed to be voting against independence. It’s almost like voting against Scotland.

The Scots I’ve talked to seem excited that they might actually be able to pull this off. At a minimum, they’ll probably get some concessions for more local rule. I’ve been absorbing Scottish history throughout my tour and I realize it would mean something special to them to separate from England.

Here are a few of the opinions I’ve heard:

  • If we go independent, we don’t have the leadership to guide us.
  • Our financial future is uncertain.
  • All the English want is our oil.
  • Voting no is negative and says we’re not capable of running our own country.
  • Other small independent countries, such as Norway and New Zealand, are proving it’s possible to be successful.
  • I’m tired of all of the decisions being made in London.
  • Why didn’t the pols offer these concessions years ago?
  • We are inspired by the American Declaration of Independence.
  • The English are desperate to keep us in.
  • This won’t be easy, but we need to do it for our children and our grandchildren.
  • My head says “no;” my heart says “yes.”
  • Now that’s it close, I want to vote on the side of history.
"Yes" campaign hq

There is something I’ve learned about the Scots: They celebrate their history. They are proud of their legacy for never giving up, never quitting. Musicians play songs in pubs about their historical heroes, something Americans don’t do. They sing about brave exploits, lost battles, the centuries of fighting for independence. All know the words and all sing along. I have sat next to hard-working fishermen who get teary-eyed when they join together in song about William Wallace or Bonnie Prince Charlie. They honor the good fight every day.

I was listening to a traditional Celtic music band in Inverness. Midway through a song, the band suddenly stopped and motioned for the bartender to increase the volume of the TV, so the whole bar could sing the Scottish national anthem at the start of a soccer game. I’ve  never seen that in the United States. The Scots are proud, patriotic people.

And this may be a special moment in history for them. Yea or nay, it’s their own choice. Either way, I feel lucky to be here to watch it happen.

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