February 19, The Brit Awards. David Bowie is awarded Best British Male Solo Artist. Model Kate Moss turns up sleek in a Ziggy Stardust outfit to accept the award on his behalf and to deliver his speech, ending with a simple sentence “And Scotland, stay with us.”
Watching Moss in London from my home in Glasgow, I remember feeling a bit bamboozled. Bowie? Eight months before Scotland’s historic vote on if it should become independent, and Bowie’s weighing in via supermodel. Are we dreaming this? Some people joked about packing up their sleeping bags for a sleepover at Bowie’s. “All Back To Bowie’s” even became the name for a series of events with music and referendum debate.
To my knowledge, pop megastars have never before decided to pontificate on Scottish political matters. Then again, our politics have never been quite as exciting as they are now. On Thursday, September 18, the people of Scotland (plus any E.U. residents living there) will vote on whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. And, right now, polls are pretty close to neck and neck.
Scotland is a small place, a country within the United Kingdom (composed mostly of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, with a handful of overseas territories left over from the Empire days). We have a population of 5.3 million people, while the U.K. is around 64 million. Scotland entered a political union with Britain 307 years ago, in 1707. Since 1999, we’ve had our own Parliament, with limited powers in the capital, Edinburgh, while the main U.K. parliament is in London. In November 2013, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill allowing for a referendum vote on one question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and set the date for Sept. 18, 2014.
The mood with people here has been cranking up slowly for the last two weeks as the vote approaches. I overhear conversations in the street, in the cafes. Twitter is flooded. More celebrities by the day come out in favor for or against. Topic on people’s lips and fingertips run from serious to less-so: What will happen with the currency? Will we still be able to watch Doctor Who on the BBC? Answers and counter responses fly back and forth. Now, the polls have narrowed from a huge lead in favor of a no-to-indy vote around the time of Bowie’s announcement, to neck-and-neck in the last week. No one knows which way it will go, but we’re voting visually with posters in our windows and parades in the street for both sides.
It’s all I’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks. I grew up between the misty Isle of Skye off Scotland’s northwest coast, and Edinburgh, and I’ve lived in NYC and Sydney, Australia. I’m married to an American (who sadly can’t vote in this referendum). So, on the one hand, I’m clearly a Scot, on the other, my life’s been global — even my musical tastes run the gamut from British pop like Bowie, the Arctic Monkeys, and the like to American Nicki Minaj and The National, to homegrown Scottish indie darlings Belle & Sebastian and Chvrches. I’m a whiskey-drinking, kimchi-loving woman. And, it’s time for me to admit it: I can’t stand our other national drink, Irn Bru.
Which way am I going? Well, I’m not affiliated with any political party, but like most people here I’m a lefty and strongly against the expensive nuclear warheads (known as "Trident," part of the U.K. defense strategy) in the submarines that sit under the water forty miles from Scotland’s largest city. Most people in Scotland are against Trident. If Scotland breaks away from the U.K., those weapons will either be moved down to England or hopefully decommissioned. I understand where “no” voters are coming from, but I’m more concerned with bombs than BBC (and I always watch TV on the Internet.)
I’ve never been moved to do anything political beyond voting, and once going on a march for peace. So, it was strange to find myself volunteering for the yes campaign, and standing at rush hour on the corner outside a subway station in Glasgow, handing out leaflets. Beforehand, I’d chosen my outfit carefully. A navy blue dress with a Breton top underneath, a scarf the color of a deep summer sky. I wanted people to see me as professional but approachable. I was paired with an older, gently-spoken Englishman who lives in Scotland now. We were both cheered by the response from passersby. In inner city Glasgow, as in any city, you see a diverse group. People with all kinds of head coverings and none, wearing business clothes or tracksuits, student chic or saris. By far the most common thing I heard was “Save your paper, I’m already a yes.”
Who knows, though, which Scotland will choose? The energy is immense, and the countdown to yes or no has begun. Whichever way it goes, by Friday, we’re sure to all be a little worse for wear. But, with our future made clear, whichever way it’s gone, ready to step forward, together.