Like the French Revolution it’s a bit early to say what the referendum result means. The next steps need to be open, inclusive and fast but more of that in another post. In this I thought I’d talk about the day itself.
I’ll start at the end: ultimately the result was a slightly pyrrhic victory for me. Despite a clear, decisive and consistent No across Scotland we just as clearly lost Glasgow. If you’d told me at the start that we’d stay competitive in Kelvin (which was Yes by approximately 2000 votes) I’d have been very happy with that: we’re one of the few constituencies which voted for AV in 2011 and are a close 3 way marginal between Labour, the Greens and the SNP. We still lost though, and clearly need to do more work.
The count started ok, I met a lovely Green while sampling who was good company during the bits we weren’t staring at piles of ballot papers. Feel very sorry for the staff on our table who had to recount one box three times because somebody had put their polling card in as well which buggered up the numbers.
It didn’t stay friendly though. Once the overall result became clear the SNP contingent went quietely up the back of the room and the Greens seemed to dissapear leaving the front by the stage to the RIC crowd who began chanting in an increasingly aggressive and antagonistic manner. Classy.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with friends old and new, some of whom I’d met that week or that day, in the Emirates with a lump in my throat and a lack of feeling in my legs waiting for the news we knew was coming that we’d lost Glasgow was a really powerful experience. Not one I want to repeat again.
But that was the end of polling day. The day had started for me at 6.30 when, having managed to avoid the early morning leaflet run, I got up to stand on my local polling station for 2 hours.
When I got there one of the many non-party Labour No activists who turned up in the final run in was there, along with 3 Yes people. My heart slightly sank as I recognised one of them.
The Saturday before we’d run a stall at the local farmers market which had gone well (turns out people appreciate it if you pay for a proper stall rather than setting up your own trestle table at the edge) and had been harrangued by her because the only reason she could think of for me not supporting Yes was because I hated democracy. Having tried to explain to her, actually, I thought Yes would reduce our democratic control she moved onto arguing that a Yes vote would mean we had the power to reform local government. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it had been devolved in 1999 and substantially reformed by the second Labour / LibDem coaltion.
A few cheery exchanges and a Brady Bunch-esque mantra of ‘morning!’, ‘morning!’ from the assembled politicos to each and every voter one of said voters explained she was voting No because she didn’t want the years of economic turmoil that would follow. Which is surely a fair choice, but elicted a rather petulant “well we don’t want the votes of rich people anyway!” shout from this Yes woman. Perhaps not the wisest thing to shout out in Hyndland…
A providential supply of biscuits from a passing voter were duly shared before a phone call informed me that CNN were at the polling station around the corner. Turns out one of the Labour stalwarts staffing it probably ended up on media in at least half a dozen countries.
When the second shift arrived I took off for a shower and breakfast before we started the GOTV. Didn’t really have any idea if that was going to be necessary or not given the predicted turnout but, as it turns out, I’m very glad we did.
After an initial run at some of the social housing around Whiteinch we decided to throw the strategy in the bin (I mean take a tactical decision at grassroots level) and just knock every door in the tower block. That worked out pretty well: a few yes voters who were going to vote anyway were outnumbered by a few “well, I don’t know if I’ll vote but if I do i’ll vote No”. That turned out to the theme of the day.
Based on that I made a run into Bath St to get some wider ranging contact sheets that had everybody except confirmed Yes voters on them and it was around then that, in retrospect, I lost it.
It started innocently enough. Having leapt out of a car, up some stairs, grabbed some folders, waved at the phone bank and leapt down a woman standing on the street introduced herself, said she was a visiting MP and asked if we were going to campaign rooms. I didn’t quite bite her hand off as I bundled her into the back of the car but it wasn’t far off.
Not long after I was balancing a phone between my ear, clipboard in one hand, pen in another dispatching her and others to the doors of pensioners (it was 2pm, they’re the only people reliably in at that time of day in numbers in Partick) 3 stories up. I wasn’t quite inhabited by the spirit of Jamie the angriest man in Scotland but it wasn’t the most dignified thing I’ve ever done either.
Another run to Bath St to set phone bank strategy for the evening, a sit down and a quick passive smoke. By this time it was quite clear don’t knows and undecied and uncontacted Labour voters were breaking pretty heavily for us. Which felt pretty great, I have to tell you. It’s easy to know, but not to feel, that you’re not talking to the opposition at this point and I had no idea how that would translate overall picture. As I mentioned, Kelvin is a weird constituency.
I headed to Thornwood primary school for the evening rush with some apprhension. For the previous fortnight two stalls had been at Partick station, one Yes, one No. Neither associated with the main campaigns – Yes Partick West had a private facebook page and a locked twitter account and was hadning out Green Yes and A4 photocopies about secret oil fields. The No stall was run by Labour councillors from the very distant past, the communists and the lodge. Police had stepped in at least once during the previous week. Fortunately neither had shown up at the polling station as we’d feared: the biggest threat was apparently the drivel being talked threatening to lead to fatal boredom.
Having gathered another volunteer I headed off for the last run of the evening. One of the things they never tell you how much of politcs is that quite a lot of it involves hanging about on street corners with a clipboard waiting for other people to show up. When everyone had arrived, sorted out who was going where and divvied up the last of the material I set off with two people: one of whom I’d known for less than 12 hours, one for less than 20 minutes (both lived up the road, albeit across a cruical constituency dividing line). Polling day is weird like that.
I’d say I’d never known a final knock up like it but I’ve only really known half a dozen so it’s a small sample set. You could have built a house on it it was so solid. Low rise blocks of mixed social housing, some shared equity some socially rented. When we got to the top of the first block I thought we were in trouble. One of the “I’m voting No” out cards we’d put through when canvassing a few days previously was lying on the mat. Wondered if someone had pushed it back through. Happens sometimes. Marked them down as “Voted, Yes” and moved on. Same thing on the the floor below except it was outside a door of someone who I knew had already voted No but post. So we knocked the others anyway.
Turns out the residents in that block had gotten so fed up of Yes canvassers they’d put them the cards out to ward them away. Same in the next block. A few people were voting Yes (and one who had done so by post said she’d regretted it now) but I was feeling pretty good by that point.
Then we got outside. One block left to do, and a group of half a dozen small kids aged between maybe 6 and 10 come up to us and slightly suspiciously ask what we’re doing and what side we’re on. When we explain we’re No it changes.
They go utterly ballistic, we give out the last of out stickers, posters and anything else left in the bag and demanded we go to their houses as their parents had already voted No. The rosette I’m still wearing from polling station duty causes some infighting as I try to explain they need to share. In retrospect “polling and sharing resources” was perhaps not the best phrase to use but I was phyiscally knackered and emotionally all over the place having wildly swung between feelings of “this is going OK” to “we’re going to lose badly” previously.
It was a very good note to end the GOTV stuff on though.