An American's Experience During the Scottish Referendum

If you had told me a few years ago that when I went off to University I would be caught amidst a fight for independence, I would've thought you were crazy. Being an American, "Independence" seems like a thing of the past- something that's written in history books, is talked about on the Freedom Trail, and is celebrated once a year with fireworks and barbecues.

But here I was, not even two weeks into settling into University life, and the country I was living in was fighting (and fighting hard, I might add) to gain it's own independence. You should probably know by now that the referendum resulted in a "no" vote, but being in Scotland during this tumultuous time was certainly an experience, independence or not. 

Now, I'm not going to bore you with a list of facts about what would have happened had the yes vote won, because you can easily Google that and, to be quite honest, I don't know all of the details. But I will give you my firsthand account of what it was like being in Edinburgh during the referendum vote. 

First off, I felt like a bit of an outsider during the days leading up to and during the vote. I was kind of plopped in the middle of it all, knowing some basic knowledge on the topic. That being said, I was dying to know what everyone thought. However, I did so mindfully, as people's opinions were, of course, split. 

Two of my close friends here, both from Glasgow, were decidedly no-voters, which I thought was strange at first. I mean, if you were from Scotland, wouldn't you want to be autonomous and free from the shackles of the English rule? Or, perhaps, that's just my knee-jerk American reaction- because, you know, Americans are all about freedom (#murica).

What I realized, though, is that my Scottish friends who didn't want independence were hesitant to voice their opinions out of fear of being judged as unpatriotic. Yes, they love Scotland, but no, they do not want independence. 

The Scottish flag hanging outside of a window in my dorm building.

English students here, too, were fearful of speaking out as they didn't feel it was their "place" to say anything. After all, the Scottish were trying to get away from the English (oddly enough, it seems like there are more English students here than Scottish students). 

The "Yes" side was incredibly vocal. 

This shot was taken just outside of a polling station.

On the day of the vote, tensions were definitely high. People wore their "Yes" or "No" badges with pride. And while they ultimately didn't win, the "Yes" side was far more vocal than the "No" side. The signs hanging from the windows of people's flats were prominent. The town was draped in blue and white. There were kilts, of course, and lots of bagpipe music. I'm sure the guy piping on Princes Street that afternoon made a lot of money. 

The "No" voters having their say. 

An un-biased approach. 

Stickers were littered all over the city... even on walk signals! 

As night fell, I expected campus and the city itself to be bubbling over with excitement. But mostly, it was just nervous energy. People got drunk, but in the pubs and not on the streets. High Street was ominously quiet, aside from a sidewalk performer singing a solemn rendition of "Hallelujah." When I was out with a couple of friends, we happened upon a beautiful display of lights that came together to form the Scottish flag. People took pictures, but nobody spoke. At that point, the polls were closed and everyone was just waiting. 

We couldn't help but stop and stare at the gorgeous display of lights. 

Down at Parliament it was a drastically different dynamic. All of the rambunctious ones had supposedly decided to head down to the Parliament building to protest. There was chanting, cursing, and flag waving. And the press from across the globe took up spots along the side to set up their cameras. 

A large crowd gathered outside of Parliament. 

While I headed in at around midnight that Thursday night, others stayed out into the wee (ha) hours of the morning awaiting the result. I wouldn't be able to tell you what it was like at 2 AM in Edinburgh, but I'm kind of glad I didn't stay out that late since I had class the next morning. 

Even though I'm not Scottish, nor am I English, the independence referendum night and the days leading up to it are definitely going to be lasting memories for me of living in Edinburgh. Seeing the action and excitement surrounding the vote was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. 

And the best part? I got to take it all in without having to pick a side :)            

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