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17 September 2014updated 24 Jun 2021 12:58pm

Scottish Yes and the myth of the masses

The belief that waves of proletarian Scots will carry the nationalists to victory seems far-fetched. 

By Jason Cowley

In repeated animated conversations and meetings I had today in Edinburgh, which feels febrile indeed, one subject came up again and again: turnout. I spoke to several prominent supporters of Yes Scotland, including the journalist Alan Taylor, who wrote the Sunday Herald’s pro-independence leader (the Sunday Herald, by the way, is the only newspaper to have endorsed independence). Taylor and others I spoke to believed that the result could well be determined by the significant number of people – perhaps as many as 20 per cent – who will vote for the first time in the referendum. Why would they bother to vote if it was to vote No, when they are hardly being well served by the status quo? Or so the argument goes.

It’s certainly inspiring that nearly 4.3 million people have registered to vote, 97 per cent of those eligible – and turnout could be as high as 80 per cent or even higher, testament to a nation’s democratic awakening. (Turnout in the 2011 Scottish election was 50 per cent.)

Prominent Yes supporters were today publicly urging Scots living in the so-called abandoned or forgotten communities of the big housing estates and schemes to rise up and effect change by exercising their democratic right to vote, for they have been let down by Labour.

Elaine C Smith, the actress and Yes activist, praised the engagement of the poorest Scots living in Craigmillar and West Pilton in Edinburgh, Easterhouse in Glasgow, Torry in Aberdeen and other housing schemes. If they vote in large numbers, she said, Scotland would become an independent country on Friday. This all seemed rather condescending to me, a respun version of Winston Smith’s “If there is hope, it lies with the proles”.

But is this part of the myth of the masses? The way Smith was talking – fervently and with absolute conviction about “reaching for Utopia” – it was almost as if we should be expecting great surges of people to storm the polling stations on Thursday, in a great revolutionary outpouring of working class unity. Think the Winter Palace in 1917.  

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It seems far-fetched to me, but still if large queues start to form outside polling stations something quite remarkable might just be about to happen in Scotland. As I said, it all depends on the final turnout.

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