I live in a relatively new housing estate in central Scotland. Like many recently built housing estates our area neighbours extensive social housing. The local primary school has a great mix of children and parents talk at the gates or in the playground when dropping off or picking up children. For nearly two and a half years the referendum was scarcely mentioned. But when the schools went back in August the referendum campaign was up and running and entering the final weeks, and people started to talk.

“have you had anyone at your door?”

Uniformly, across parents from social housing and those from the new estates the answer was no. This confused me. I thought it was just us. That our estate was identified in these demographic mapping exercises as clearly supporting one side or the other and consequently not worth bothering with. But it wasn’t just us. It was everyone. The media talked consistently of a massive ground campaign by yes supporters, contacting areas never previously canvassed for opinion. But not where I lived. Not in central Scotland. Not in a council area with two SNP MSPs. And watching the media something struck me. This massive ground campaign was filmed in one or two geographical areas.

Now I knew there were activists for the yes campaign in the area. indeed, one neighbour was an early adopter of the YES car sticker. But he did not have a window poster (in my area in a one and a half mile radius of my house they did not appear until the final week  after an unfortunate incident earlier in the campaign, and it was the yougov poll showing yes in the lead that prompted window posters although even then no more than a handful with “no” outnumbering “yes” (disregarding the enthusiastic homes, one on each side where three posters appeared in the windows of one home)). So where was the campaign?

I know some people are uncomfortable knocking on doors (I did it myself for a party in the late 80s and early 90s when enthusiastic and devoid of cynicism and am conscious that forcing yourself into someone else’s personal area requires you to be in a particular mind set) and would have expected lots of leaflets. But we didn’t even have that. Over the more than two years of the campaign we had (up until the final week) five leaflets that had no been delivered by the Post Office. One was for yes, four were for no. When these leaflets were delivered the person did not knock at the door, did not want to engage. On two occasions I tried to go out to speak to the leafleter (partly out of a desire to get information, partly out of mischief given that I had some questions I has been trying to persuade someone to ask the politicians throughout the campaign) the leafleter rushed off. Once I recognised the local SNP councillor, who – following my cheery shout – darted round the corner as if attempting qualifying for the Commonwealth Games relay squad. We were getting hardly anything, but there was the Yes activist in the immediate area. What were they doing? Where were they going?

When I raised this at my work, in central Edinburgh, I expected colleagues to regale me with multiple tales of canvassers. But no. Despite people living across different parts of Edinburgh only one of my work colleagues (from a sample of ten I had chatted about it with) was canvassed. One, living in the city of Edinburgh had, apart from royal mail deliveries, never had any leaflets from either side.

This seemed bizarre.

But then I spoke to my parents in Dumfriesshire. They were canvassed four times by one side during the campaign, never by the other. Four times. Now, as a long time apathetic former activist four time seemed unnecessary. My mum and dad were pretty clear in their vote. They had been clear in their statements with the canvassers. When I canvassed (Admittedly more than twenty years ago) we usually relied on the first response, would note probability, and may go back as a check potential swings, or to encourage our supporters. And once identified it was about getting those supporters out to vote. But if the yes side was canvassing avowed no voters four times I had some queries. The media proclaimed the database of the yes campaign and the SNP hugely impressive. What sort of database needs you to go to the door of someone supporting the other side four times? What was the record keeping really like? And why, when I knew so many areas were uncanvassed, was the same series of streets in a small town in Dumfriesshire, being done four times?

The use of resources seemed inexplicable. Moreso, when told by parents that a team of sixty canvassers descended on their home town in the final weekend of the campaign for another go at the same streets in an area near the border that was nothing like SNP or pro independence territory – while I lived in central Scotland in a town with two SNP MSPs and had never had anyone at the door.

That weekend 6,000 yes supporters attended a protest at the BBC protesting against BBC bias and the temerity of the political editor of the BBC asking political questions. And we got another no leaflet. And no one from yes came to the door.

On the night that thousands of yes supporters rallied in George Square in Glasgow, less than half an hour away on the train was a sizeable chunk of a Scottish town – where ultimately over 100,000 people voted – where the yes campaign had never made any contact. The night that the rally took place in Glasgow I saw my neighbour, the yes activist. It was at the train station as he left for Glasgow and I got home from Edinburgh. Knowing that I watched pictures of the rally, and videos appeared, I was reminded of Kinnock’s rally at Sheffield. It looked like a victory rally. That night we had a no supporter at the door.

The following day I saw a car with two saltires drive round our estate. The driver stopped and dropped off boxes at my activist neighbour’s home. We did not get a leaflet until much later that night. Just after the one from no arrived.

I voted early on 18th September, completing my referendum journey. As I wandered round I reflected on questions I had raised with friends that were activists that had gone unanswered, questions that had been asked to representative bodies for the campaign based on readings of directives and other legislation that had been answered with one line emails, I reflected on my childhood weekends, on my family, and my job, and my home, and I reflected on a twitter exchange which exemplified a feeling that neither side really understood the emotions of the other and lacked any empathy. I got my ballot paper. I marked my cross.

That night I went to the local corner shop. I passed the car with two saltire driving around. The shopkeeper and I chatted about the number of people who had voted. He closed early to go to vote himself. I returned home and saw the car with the two saltire driving around my street aimlessly. What was the driver doing? Given there had been no canvass if this was a get out the vote operation where was he going? I stood at the door and watched it drive past my door three times in five minutes as it followed the loop of the road. Going round and round in circles.

I closed the door and waited for the results.


About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
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  1. An interesting take. Thank you for this.

    I live in the St George’s Cross area of Glasgow. My home had one Yes campaigner in the final week and no No campaigners at all. I’m housebound and a light sleeper, so I know we didn’t miss anybody.

  2. Luke says:

    “Once I recognised the local SNP councillor, who – following my cheery shout – darted round the corner as if attempting qualifying for the Commonwealth Games relay squad.”

    Could be that they know of your twitter feed and feared a cross examination on the correct pronunciation of scone and that section of the Land Charges (?) Act that so interests you.

    But very interesting to hear from south of the border.

  3. PETER says:

    I live in a new estate in Cambuslang,we had BT canvassers twice over a four week period in the run up. No one from YES at any point in the campaign. Asked around but nobody in an estate of over 2000 homes hadn’t seen or heard from anyone in the YES campaign.

  4. Steven Hope says:

    I got a Scottish Government leaflet that had a UK Government leaflet inside, both of them tucked inside a big leaflet of Iceland offers alongside something from Dominos and cheap life insurance for pensioners. In another piece of brilliant targeting I got a reassuring leaflet from Yes Scotland about my pension, with a picture of an old bloke that looked like my Dad (and he’s dead).

  5. iamamro says:

    Interesting perspective.
    Maybe it’s just a social media thing? People mistake social media with real life sometimes, especially journalists.

  6. PeeLee says:

    “People mistake social media with real life sometimes, especially journalists.” How true, and it’s a mistake getting made again and again. There are leaflets, newsletters, meetings and personal contacts still to be used, all part of and creating networks and encouraging thought and discussion. Social media exist but it is no one camp alone in a campaigning context that has access to them. Interesting report, by the way. Worth reading.

  7. gimpy says:

    Living in the ‘City of Yes’ I had a different experience. The ratio of Yes to No leaflets was about 20:1. No were so inept they even delivered a leaflet advising me to post my ballot on the eve before the referendum.

    There were also canvassers, although I don’t open the door to such people.

    Yes did exceptionally well, but I don’t know if this was because people were persuaded by arguments you could measure in reams, or if these reams were a measure of local enthusiasm.

  8. A very interesting blog post, thank you! I agree that Yes campaigners were unevenly distributed, and many of the ones that were most active on social media were from the strong Yes areas where they could leaflet all houses dozens of times. Whenever I suggested bussing around campaigners, I was always told it had to be done locally.

  9. Shopgirl says:

    I live near the centre of Edinburgh. I wish now I had kept a running tally of the leaflets that came through the door. I’d say perhaps marginally more from the No camp. But no door knockers at all. None. Apart from someone from Yes at 1pm on voting day, at which point I had already voted. They knocked so inaudibly that I didn’t realise they had done so until I spotted them walking away down the street. And yet there was a Yes stall a stone’s throw from my front door every Saturday for the previous couple of months in the run up.

  10. fehvepehs says:

    That was interesting to hear your experience during the run up to the referendum and beyond. Like one of your previous commentators, I too live in the YES city of Dundee. I was out door chapping with RIC and YES Scotland for months before the referendum. Others had been doing it for considerably longer. The effort put in by the Dundee team was tremendous. Possibly because we lived in a “bubble of Yessers” when the results came in there was utter disbelief and the resultant despondency was plain to see. I had tears streaming down my face as the results came through as I never thought that we could lose.
    It is hard to come in from work and then go out again and engage with people on their doorstep, but if that’s what people respond to then it has to be done.

  11. twoseventwo says:

    In Morningside (which admittedly was unlikely to have been a Yes target) we got probably slightly more No than Yes leaflets but lots of both, at least two sweeps by No canvassers (I was out the first time, but there was a “sorry we missed you” leaflet) and none by Yes.

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