Background: I’m 44 and married to Mhairi and we have two young sons. I was an active member of Farming for Yes and Yes Wigtownshire during the 2014 Independence Referendum campaign. I run a small business from my home in Lochans, Dumfries and Galloway supplying farmers across Scotland with feed supplements for their animals.
My very public support for Yes therefore created a very interesting dynamic amongst my customer base, most of whom were predisposed towards No. I suppose being vocal was a risk to the business, but I’m still trading. I’d hope that the majority at least recognised the honesty of my position, even if they didn’t agree with it. In any case, my silence would have felt like a lie.
Here’s the strange thing – the day before the vote I wasn’t even in Scotland at all, but was down in Shropshire at a dairy event. I remember having my Yes badge on and there was an incredible amount of interest from non-Scots. No tension, no arguments, just a genuine desire to know how I thought it would go. By the time I got home, it was straight to bed and up early on the 18th for a busy day.
How did I feel on the 17th?
A lot of things. I remember getting an email from a friend – farmer’s wife, strong Yes supporter – who’d been right behind the campaign from day one. She was like me in that they were a divided house – he was a No. She was having a major wobble about her voting intentions, and although I managed to win her over again it was the first time in a while I thought we could lose. I mean, if a strong minded woman of independent thought could have her doubts, what about those who were truly undecided?
Balancing that was a message I got from some neighbours – young couple from a large, Tory / unionist family. Quiet, nice, people. You know those texts that you can’t bring yourself to delete?
“Good luck tomorrow. Hope all your hard work pays off – we’re voting yes”.
It kept me going in the weeks and months after the vote. It still does.
I think Mhairi viewed it as a bit more abstract than me. Interesting, yes, but life goes on. I don’t for a second blame her for that, and indeed for all the talk of a democratic awakening in Scotland she probably represents the majority. An Aussie friend living and teaching in Scotland related going into work on the 19th September and being taken aback by the lack of staff room conversation about the referendum result.
Mhairi voted yes in the end, but to call us a divided house is probably overstating it. A yes vote wouldn’t have seen her putting the bunting out I suspect. We took part in a programme on radio 4 about families divided by the debate. Interestingly, the programme brought a lot of “divided” couples out of the woodwork.
The Campaign changed my life.
I was always interested in politics but 2013/14 was the first time I actively campaigned for something. I couldn’t have imagined a year in which I spoke at public meetings, debated in marts, appeared on radio and even on Norwegian television. I can’t imagine a time in the future when I’m not involved in politics in some level, and I campaigned for the SNP in the May 2015 General Election.
I now read the paper from front to back, rather than the other way round. And when I watch what has happened post Sep 18th I feel vindicated by my stance and glad to have stepped up. Yet I feel nothing but sadness that we missed the chance to move away from the austere neoliberalism of the UK and a government whose first instinct to a refugee crisis was to build a bigger fence.
It’s not all bad news though. I was speaking at a farmers meeting in Orkney – “No” territory – just after the vote, and while it wasn’t a political meeting per se I was aware that I was probably the only person in the room who had voted yes. I was asked a question about the Smith Commission which gave me two options – give a diplomatic answer or say what I thought. Option two it was then. With that out in the open, the conversation was brilliant and we headed for the bar. At that point I thought: yeah, we’ll be ok.
As far as Mhairi and I are concerned, we just accept that we are different. She was probably just relieved to get her husband back after the vote (although I’d have to check) and I know the boys were pleased to see their Dad, or at least a better version of their Dad, not the rubbish one that’s missing their stories from school because he’s checking the latest Ipsos / Mori poll, or driving round the country at the weekend speaking in village halls.
But I’ve changed.
Someone once said that the best thing in life was victory and the second best thing was defeat. The defeat in 2014, awful as it was, was the best experience of my life. ￼
Alec Ross is a regular columnist for The Orkney News