POLITICS

Scottish Referendum Day In An Edinburgh Pub, Independence Tastes Nice But Comes At A Price

18/09/2014 21:07 BST | Updated 19/09/2014 21:00 BST
Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Pipers play in George Square, just a few hours before polling stations will close in the Scottish independence referendum on September 18, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. After many months of campaigning the people of Scotland today head to the polls to decide the fate of their country. The referendum is too close to call but a Yes vote would see the break-up of the United Kingdom and Scotland would stand as an independent country for the first time since the formation of the Union. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

EDINBURGH - The Green Mantle pub, within stumbling distance to the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, is one of just eight bars in the Scottish capital that has been granted extended opening hours for referendum night. The staff are preparing for a busy, and raucous, evening. A small table in the centre of the pub is reserved for the BBC. And cameras from Sky News and a Japanese TV channel are also set to arrive soon.

This is a 'Yes' pub. The owner supports independence and has been inviting like-minded friends to drop by for a pint as the results trickle in. But one young barman is less keen. "I'm a quiet 'No'," he says in hushed tones at the end of the bar. "I'll say no more. I voted this morning and tomorrow I hope it is all out of the way." He does not want to give his name. Outside the bar, 'Yes' posters line Nicolson Street. And it's clear that the owner of the Saltire festooned car that drives past is not flying the flag for devo-max. "It's not mob rule," the barman says of the noise made by the pro-independence campaign. "But it's close."

The barman quietly chuckles as he pulls a pint of 'Independence' ale. "It tastes nice," he admits. "But it comes at a price."

His 'Yes' voting colleague and friend is less shy. "Revolution," she shouts, smiling. Hannah Findlay, 23, is an enthusiastic supporter of Scotland going it alone. She is serving Nick, 58, a retired British Army officer. He does not want Scotland to break away from the UK. In his 29-years in the armed forces he says he fought alongside the English and the Welsh, including in the Falklands, and does not want his friends to become foreigners. He also has practical reasons for voting 'No'. His pension. And the oil, he says, will run out. This is the head versus heart referendum argument, young versus old, being played out over an Edinburgh bar.

pub edinburgh

If the vote on independence was decided on who made the most noise and hung the most signs then the 'Yes' campaign would have it in the bag. After all, the independence movement had a bagpiper leading voters to a polling station in the East of the city while shooting fire out of his instrument. But the most recent opinion polls, including one published today, have shown a narrow, but consistent, lead for 'No'.

However most 'Yes' campaigners that spoke to The Huffington Post in Edinburgh, a vibrant and energised presence on the streets of the city, do not believe the polls. The pollsters have underestimated the 'Yes' vote among the working class, the grassroots independence advocates claim. There is no previous referendum poll to judge the current surveys against. Look at how many people there are wearing 'Yes' stickers. Can you even see a 'No' poster?

The energy of the 'Yes' campaign has also attracted some international attention, if not quite all the "eyes of the world" as Alex Salmond would have it. Alongside native Scots, separatists from Catalonia draped in the Saltire have been campaigning and celebrating in the city. Monsi, 33, from Barcelona, is one of several Catalonians, eying independence from Spain, to have made the trip to Edinburgh for polling day. "We want to support he Scottish people to get 'Yes'," she says. "It will probably help us, because they started it before us. It will make it easier for us."

Closer to home, Mabon Apgqynfor, from North East Wales, sporting a giant 'Yes' logo on his shirt, is enthusiastically handing out blue stickers and hats. He describes himself as a "revolutionary tourist". He chose Edinburgh to campaign in as it is seen as more unionist than Glasgow. "If this is the hard area in Edinburgh, it gives me hope for a 'Yes' vote," he says, analysing the level of support for the break-up of the UK on the streets of the Scottish capital. A muffled shout of "you fool" from a van evidentially driven by a 'No' supporter is ignored as it passes by. The desire to shed the conservative English is a running theme. "It's mainly Ukip down there now," the Welsh-Scottish nationalist, sighs.

The shock YouGov survey two Sunday's ago, that gave the 'Yes' camp its first lead, , caused panic in Westminster. But there is a feeling on the ground among 'No' campaigners positioned outside polling booths that the survey, accurate or not, was a good thing. It is seen as having galvanised the pro-Union campaign and, bluntly, gave the Better Together politicians at its head a much-needed kick in the arse. "If [the YouGov poll] it had been closer to today, that would have been worse," one girl promoting the unionist cause argues. Like the barman in the Green Mantle keeping his head down, most 'No' campaigners believe the prospect of a separatist surge has helped secure a silent majority in favour of the United Kingdom.

Rachel Holmes, an ex-JP Morgan finance expert who has been involved in the independence movement for 35-years and is manning a campaign stall near the Royal Mile, can hardly believe referendum day has arrived. "I'm very nervous. Very up and down. I'm trying to control my emotions. Trying not to think too hard about winning, in case it's a hideous disappointment," she says.

If the 'No' campaign under Alistair Darling wins, as polls suggest they will, then Holmes is hoping there is not too much "hideous jubilation" from the unionists.

But if it is a 'Yes'? For this long-time campaigner who was present at the SNP's 1988 Glasgow Govan by-election victory that saw Jim Sillars elected to the Commons, a 'Yes' vote would mark the culmination of a lifetime of political activism. "We won the Scottish parliament election in 2008. No one saw that coming. It was the undecideds that did it.

"I never thought I would see the day we would even have a referendum," she says. "If it's a 'Yes' it's a game changer for this country. My God."

A woman approaches the 'Yes' stall looking for some merchandise. Holmes hands her a blue paper cap "Here's a magic hat you can wear," she smiles.