Two short words have divided Scotland: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. The referendum on independence has been a subject of heated conversation in pubs and homes for two years.
Polls have shown the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns almost neck and neck, and 97 percent of the electorate has registered to vote — proving interest is keen, among all sorts of people.
Café owner Philip Bartholomew has felt Scotland should go it alone since the 1980s. He can’t wait to vote ‘Yes’.
We joined him and his niece at his establishment in Edinburgh, for a good-natured family exchange.
Philip Bartholomew said: “There’s no time like the present. Scotland’s been waiting decades to get to this point. It’s a golden opportunity. We can do it and we should do it now.”
Sarah Bartholomew, a student, has other ideas.
She said: “It’s not that I think we can’t go independent, it’s just that I think now is the wrong time. I think give it maybe another decade or two and then it would be the right time.”
Surveys show that the economy is what weighs most in people’s opinion about independence, with Scotland’s oil reserves in the North Sea dominating the debate. But both in the public and the private sphere, the arguing has mostly stayed civilised, especially among family members and friends.
“Scotland has got huge resources, you mentioned oil there, that’s just one of all the other resources,” said the elder Bartholomew.
“It’s our main resource though,” said the younger.
“It is not our main resource. Our main resource is everything that we have, which is water, tidal power, wind power, fish, farming, whisky, all these things are much bigger than oil.”
(In fact, oil-related exports, by some calculations, account for less than food and drink, and finance, retail and other services represent around 70 percent of all Scotland’s economic activity.)
Philip said: “Because it’s a Yes/No thing, obviously there’s a big, big division. I think there’s not too much animosity between friends and people, but I do know friends that have fallen out over this; hopefully they’ll get back together again.”
“Yeah, because they’re ‘better together,’” Sarah joshed.
“Well people are better together but not in a silly, political, sloganised way. That’s just daft. It’s like ‘No thanks’. I mean, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ ‘No thanks’ — we’re talking about our country here! Not a bloody cup of tea!”
A poll earlier this year showed that 42% of families are divided over independence for Scotland.
Scottish-born Ian Shepherd and Australian-born Wendy Shepherd are retired, living in Ian’s childhood town, Montrose, which has traditionally supported the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
Mr Shepherd said: “Politics hasn’t been divisive in the house because up until now our politics have been one and the same. It’s only this question of independence which has brought about a difference.”
According to Mrs Shepherd: “We agree on many things. I mean, I’m very concerned about going out of the EU, and Nigel Farage [leader of the UK Independence Party] and these people upset me greatly.”
Her husband said: “We’ve got the same views over how we’d like to see society operated. It’s just how you pursue the means of bringing about change. I’m not saying it’s going to be utopia or panacea in Scotland but I believe it’ll be a step towards the improvement which maybe the next generation could benefit from.”
Ian and Wendy differ in how they intend to vote in the referendum.
Wendy refers to the maximum level of autonomy for Scotland, short of full independence: “I’ll be voting ‘No’ on the 18th of September. I don’t think it’s necessary to have this huge change to go to full independence. I’d be very happy with maxi devolution.”
Clearly, some will by happy and others sad with the referendum result. UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledged “extensive new powers” if the Scots reject secession and “a painful divorce” if they take it. It’s a tense time.
Our correspondent in Edinburgh, Joanna Gill, summed up: “Yes or No? In Scotland, it’s the first question everyone asks whether at the pub, at work or at a wedding. Between economics and emotions, the answer has divided the nation down the middle. After two years of campaign, families, friends and colleagues may be happy to take a rest from talking politics.”