This blog fell by the wayside over the summer, so for posterity’s sake I’m publishing a selection of Facebook posts I made in the run-up to, and immediate aftermath of, the Scottish Independence Referendum on 18th September 2014. I’m over it now.
TALE OF A VOTER REGISTRANT’S NEAR-FAIL
*only minor embellishment guaranteed*
Glasgow, 2nd September 2014
I’d recently moved into a cosy wee flat in Garnethill with my brother, so getting the paperwork finished to register to vote in the referendum was always going to be a last minute endeavour. In the end, it wasn’t until yesterday – only a day before the deadline – that I printed off my form and toddled along to the Electoral Office on John Street to makes sure my own little voice would be heard when deciding our country’s future. I could’ve sent it first class, but living so close to the office anyway, I didn’t feel like taking any chances. And sure enough, once I handed my form over to the woman at the desk, and watched her stamp it off and file it away, I knew I could rest easy. My polling card would arrive in the following weeks, and my own contribution on the 18th would be assured. Or so I thought.
Earlier today I was working on my thesis at home, when my natural procrastinatory instincts led me to Facebook. My status feed was abuzz with friendly and urgent reminders of the impending deadline. Suddenly, these good-natured prompts triggered a terrifying realisation. I had completed the form as instructed, I had printed it off in crisp monochrome, I had even folded it into thirds as if to give some pretence of officialdom. But I had no memory of signing the paper upon which my own future as a politically engaged citizen, and perhaps even Scotland’s future as a sovereign state, depended.
But wait, I thought, that’s not to say I didn’t sign the form. Besides, the woman at the desk had stamped it – surely she had given it the cursory glance to make sure, as the Germans might say, alles in Ordnung. Reassured by this line of reasoning, I adopted the “everything’s probably fine” mentality that has served me so well over the years, and returned to working on my thesis.
Minutes later, my phone rang. It was the mildly ominous but always exciting ‘withheld number’. I answered to a female voice at the other end. ‘Is that Calum Rodgers?’ Well technically it’s Rodger but whatever, probably no point in correcting her. ‘Speaking.’ ‘I’m calling from the Electoral Office, we have your voter registration form here but it appears you haven’t signed it.’ ‘Ah, that’s funny!’ I replied, genuinely amused by the coincidence. ‘Only minutes ago the thought occurred to me that I might’ve made that mistake. And it turns out I have! So, umm… can you just, like, accept verbal confirmation on the phone?’ The response was curt: ‘no, you’ll have to come in and sign it.’ ‘Right. Aye, sound.’
By this time the form had made its way from the John Street offices to a nondescript glass edifice on High Street, where the murmur of innumerable worker bees were at that very moment processing the voices of the Scottish citizens into a bureaucratically recognisable form. Naturally, humble citizens such as myself were not permitted entry to this hive, lest our country end up like Macauly Culkin at the end of My Girl. Instead, we arranged a rendezvous at a coffee shop around the corner.
I arrived early, ordered an espresso and a glass of tap water, found a seat that offered a good view of the comings and goings of the place, and attempted to remain discreet. She arrived moments later, right on schedule. I recognised her immediately on account of her upright but self-effacing bureaucratic air, offset by her barely perceptible clandestine intentions and comedy fake moustache. She recognised me immediately as exactly the kind of person who would hand in a form having forgotten to sign it. We nodded to each other as she sat down opposite me at the table.
She spoke first, in an inexplicably Russian accent: ‘in Scotland the nights are fair drawing in this time of year.’ I glanced around furtively and responded in hushed tones: ‘you have the registration form?’ There was a pause. ‘Aye, here it’s ya numpty’, she said, passing me the signatureless paper I had handed in so confidently only 24 hours ago. I looked at it sheepishly. ‘You don’t have a pen, do you?’ I asked. ‘Nah, only kidding’, I continued, and pulled out my recently purchased faux-Bic biro. I signed and dated the form with a flourish and handed it back with a wink. She smiled as she stood up to leave. ‘I guess you can take that fake moustache off now’, I said. ‘I’d love to, but I can’t’, she replied solemnly. ‘Government regulations.’ ‘Not to worry,’ I said, ‘there’ll be some big changes around here before long.’ She looked at me impartially. Well, it’s her job, I thought. All the same, I couldn’t help but read a conspiratorial sparkle in her eyes as she returned to her hive. I finished my espresso and got up to leave.
I left the coffee shop with a spring in my step, relieved that my voice would be heard and with fresh affection for the generosity of my countryfolk. The hard bit was over. All I had to do now was put a cross in the right box and party through till Monday. Obviously there would be another hard bit after that, but whatever, we’ll cross that bridge.
Walking through George Square, I saw little flocks of starlings fluttering to and fro as the city went about its business. They reminded me of the late, great Edwin Morgan, as I imagined him sitting on the benches with the tourists and the drunks writing his poem ‘The Starlings in George Square’. ‘There is something to be said for these joyous messengers, that we repel in our indignant orderliness,’ he wrote, half a century ago. The lines seemed imbued with fresh meaning somehow, though I wasn’t sure what. Even if, I reflected as I crossed up to Dundas Street, what I saw were probably seagulls. Like bureaucracy, avian identification has never been one of my strong points. Be that as it may, it’s still a damn good poem.
SHOCK NEW POLL: YES 97.6% – NO 2.4%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
*admittedly this poll was conducted by scrolling through my friends list and counting the people with yes and no ‘twibbons’ (I’m still sufficiently ‘uncertain’ that ‘twibbon’ is a real word as to place it in scare quotes). which probably makes it approximately *as* reliable as your ipsos moris of this world. frankly, if my facebook friends list isn’t a reliable index of the political predilections of the Scottish people – why, pinch me in the yes badge and call me cloistered!
A VOTER’S REFLECTIONS IN RHYME
‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
To be honest I wanted so much more
I don’t need Rabbie Burns, but they ask me so abruptly
And ‘yes’ or ‘no’ don’t lend themselves to metaphor
Then there’s the trek to the community centre
With its wee metal boxes and flimsy stalls
Some auld yin at the desk, pencil and paper
The tech, the venue, the staff – a bit rustic, that’s all
But, I have never been a fraction as excited
At Caesura, the Sub Club or Yellowcraigs beach
As when making that mark – as if something ignited –
A spark that turned talk into serious speech
I knew I’d be buzzing, but something surprised
Beyond all the novelty and singular thrill
It started as a feeling, and then crystallised:
The graphite was etching my political will
A strange new electric, an unfamiliar frisson
A vote not felt to be futile and bored
I heard my own voice, and heard all who listened
Speech is only serious when it’s heard
‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’
Ask this question 4.289 million times
And listen as a million pencils bluntly
Change everything with two bisecting lines.
What beautiful platitudes, but here comes the postscript
I’m drunk – the sentimental stage has passed
This stanza’s slightly different – the BBC would have to cut it
Basically, yous better all be voting YAS
For when today tick-tocks into tomorrow
And the eagle comes swooping through the glen
If the winner is the one that’s filled with sorrow
You know the one, the one that starts with ‘n’
I’ll probably cry and never vote again
I’ll probably cry, and never vote again
fml. fuck my lothians. embarrassed to come from where I do. scotland is capable of so much but there’s a whole presbyterian-hangover culture that would rather not know it, who valorise suffering and self-doubt for no reason I’ve ever been able to understand. I feel like I’ve been fighting it my whole life, and so when the east lothian result came thru it was no surprise, but it cut me. as frankie boyle put it in my favourite line of the campaign, anyone who says jog on can fuck off. I hate the fact our country does half-measures everything, and it’s mainly my own little corner of it’s fault.
so to keep sucking on culture if only to remind me why I got out of there in the first place, but what use is that on a day like today, pesky with emphatic reminders that you can’t ever win, and can’t ever hide, from the idiots that exist things badly