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The Yes Campaign Didn't Win Over Glasgow's Poor

Rather than having “nothing to lose”, some were frightened of losing what little they had.

A Yes Campaign car in Easterhouse, Glasgow. Photo by Richard Gaston

“Britain is for the rich, Scotland can be ours”, was one of the slogans of the independence campaign, especially in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas. The refrain, the brainchild of the leftwing Commonweal group, was a common sight on t-shirts and badges ahead of Scotland’s historic vote.

The Yes campaign had hoped that an appeal to social justice would swing Thursday’s vote for the nationalists. With Britain being a barrel roll of unfairness, inequality, poverty and privilege that a lot of people blame on Tory government’s that Scots never vote for, it was almost taken for granted that the urban poor would vote to get out of the UK forever. Why would they want to stay somewhere that spends half the time being ruled by braying Etonians? Ahead of the referendum, polls suggested that a majority of those in working class communities were in favour of leaving 307-year-old union with England.


When I went to Easterhouse, in Glasgow’s deprived East End on polling day, it became clear that things were not going to pan out that way.

Easterhouse was the kind of place independence supporters had to win, and win big. Unemployment is high; jobs are scarce. Politically, Easterhouse has become the apathy capital of Scotland. In 2011, just 34.5 per cent of those registered in this sprawling 1960s – era housing estate on the outskirts of Glasgow bothered in the Holyrood elections.

Indifference seemed to evaporate on polling day. Although turnout in Glasgow – around 75 per cent – was lower than elsewhere in Scotland, it was still far higher than for any normal election. By midday, the St Rose of Lima primary school on the edge of Easterhouse was already on course for record numbers. Outside the attractive new build rival campaigners good-humouredly tried to appeal to the few remaining undecided to lend them their ballot.

“I’m feeling confident, I think we can do this,” said Tony Kenny, an activist with the local branch of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) as he stood outside the Easterhouse polling station. Kenny, who had spent three years campaigning for independence, wore a “Bordeaux Antifa” t-shirt. Out on the campaign trail with him was an activist from Dublin and a Frenchman who came to the cause via a website called “Celts for Independence”. “I came to help fight to win the vote,” said Pier.


In recent months RIC organised huge voter registration drives, even enlisting new voters outside job centres, and spent countless hours canvassing the kind of homes and neighbourhoods often neglected by politicians. But even in Easterhouse the Yes campaign, always behind in the polls nationally, seemed to struggle. While some voters sported bright blue “Yes” badges, many of those that I spoke to were “quiet Nos”. They did not put posters in their windows or placards on the lampposts outside their houses, but were deciding to reject the nationalist vision for independence.

“I think we’re better together,” said Marie Doherty, an Easterhouse mother after she voted yesterday. She was, she said, worried about the prospects for North Sea oil and the economic stability of an independent Scotland. “My husband has voted no, too,” she said.

Yes campaigners had hoped – many had even assumed – that serial election avoiders that did come out to vote in places should as Easterhouse would overwhelmingly back leaving UK, but that was not always the case on the ground. Rather than having “nothing to lose”, some were frightened of losing what little they had.

“I don’t normally vote at all but I was worried about this so I came out to vote no,” said one woman, citing concerns about her self-employed husband’s job as the main motivation for coming out to vote “for the first time since I can remember.”


Outside the polling station in Easterhouse, Yes campaigners were, as they had been throughout the campaign, the more visible of the two sides, handing out stickers and balloons. Nevertheless, the solitary No campaigner, Jamie, a Scottish Labour member was still confident. “Obviously there should be change and I want more change but I also think that the prospectus put forward by the yes campaign doesn’t add up,” he said. “I think we would be better off remaining as we are with more devolution.”

“If ain’t broke don’t fix it,” said one man. “This is the best country in the world.”

Photo author's own

Not everyone agreed that the UK isn't broke and in need of fixing. Just after lunch, a steadily growing chorus came from behind the metal fence that surrounded the school perimeter. Seconds later a cavalcade of mothers pushing prams turned up the path to the school and the polling station. In unison they sang “Flower of Scotland”. They wore “Yes” t-shirts and badges, and waved flags as small children rang among their buggies.

“These past few weeks I think Scotland’s found a voice. We know now that we don’t have to settle for what the government give us,” said Tracy, a mother who had organsied the group to come en masse to vote. “I want to have a better future for my kids, for my grandkids,” she said. “Scotland is going to be very different tomorrow either way. If it’s a vote it gives these kids the chance to say, ‘we can do it’. If we don’t do it they will.”


It had been said ahead of the vote that if the Yes campaign won Glasgow, long a stronghold of the anti-independence Labour, they would win Scotland. In the end that wasn’t the case. The nationalists managed to convince a majority in Scotland’s largest city but failed to attract enough votes in parts of Scotland such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh that have been happy hunting ground for the Scottish National Party in recent years.

Across Glasgow turnout was not high enough – or the margin of victory great enough – to reverse the nationwide vote for the union. In Easterhouse, Tony Kenny was deeply pessimistic about what life would be like after a “No” vote. “It’s not just me that’s going to be disappointed. There’s going to be hundreds of thousands of people who will be devastated because they know this was our chance to change things”.

But some independence supporters were more sanguine at the end of a campaign that mobilised and engaged tens of thousands across Scotland. “Even if it is a no I think the political landscape has changed,” said one yes voter on her way to the polling station in Easterhouse yesterday. “People are getting involved and want to participate in things that will affect their future. I think things will change regardless."

Glasgow’s poorest people didn’t vote as people expected – to create an independent Scotland that works better for them. But with people in one of the country’s most apathetic areas now switched on to politics, maybe they’ll play a decisive role in shaping the UK from now on.