Scottish Independence - the YES camp: Salmond leads his euphoric followers to the promised land

Donald Macintyre in Perth sees the First Minister promise ‘a day Scotland will never forget’

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Indy Politics

When Alex Salmond urged his tremulously expectant audience in Perth’s concert hall last night to “catch our breath for the day ahead, a day Scotland will never forget” – it was impossible not to wonder at how far the SNP’s astute, skilful and ruthlessly determined leader has come since Scottish nationalism was dismissed as an eccentric foible of British political life.

Whether this has been, as he told the 1,000 or so Yes supporters “the greatest campaign in Scottish history –and you the greatest campaigners” there were few in the Gannochy Trust Auditorium on Wednesday night who did not believe that they were living in history – on the eve, as he put it, “of the most exciting day in Scottish democracy. “This has been the greatest campaign in Scottish history – and you the greatest campaigners”

With due caution he did not actually repeat what he had said in one interview earlier in the day that he was “totally confident” of the outcome of what he called last night “the opportunity of a lifetime”, but the crowd seemed in little doubt as they waved their Saltires and sang “One Great Thing” that Salmond was on an eve of referendum roll yesterday.

 

Maybe you have to be to get away with being as late as he was earlier in the day to visit a manufacturing plant privileged to be on his itinerary: Hyspec, a company making components for – topically – the oil and gas industries in the little East Ayrshire town of Stewarton. The loudspeaker van played the usual co-opted – some might even say usurped – by the Nats – Deacon Blue’s Dignity, Runrigg’se Loch Lomond, the Proclaimers’ Letter from America The Corries’ version of Flower of Scotland. Again and again.. The enthusiastic supporters waiting with their their “End Tory Rule For Ever” banners--can any other party organise this sort of welcoming reception on a working day? – waited. And waited. You had to wonder whether the handful of faintly sinister looking security men in their black suits and black ties were really necessary sine the small crowd was calm and there was just one dissident, Kerry Hamilton an unemployed 33 year woman with a modest sized union jack.  When at around 12.45, Salmond steel grey Skoda Superb swept into the car park and he immediately plunged into the grateful crowd, Ms Hamilton bravely pushed her way into the middle – and to everyone’s surprise shook the First Minister’s hand. “He told me it was for our children’s future. And I said ‘yes, that’s why I am voting no, for our children’s future’ . But I said: “’good luck on Friday.’” If Ms Hamilton had been deputed by No Campaign leaders increasingly claiming intimidation by their opponents to demonstrate that its own supporters know how to  behave she could have hardly done better. But she was a lonely dissident.

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Hundreds of Yes supporters gather in George Square to show their support for independence (Getty Images)

Salmond isn’t always as cuddly as he can sound. A radio reporter who asked one question too many aat the end of  interminable broadcast  –and since the company had not actually been warned I advance thst tey would take place on the factory floor – production-stopping interviews. Salmond briefly pursued his lips and clenched his teeth at him, as though he was swearing at him under his breath. Asked whether most of the accusations of bullying –including by Sir John Major no less, or bad behaviour were not mainly directed at the Yes campaign he said curtly that he didn’t “accept that analysis.” While a tiny minority had behaved badly on both sides “99 percent” he insisted had risen to the spirit of “joyous, empowering campaign, a democratic festival”.

Last night in Perth, that – and  yesterday’s damaging report he had applied undue pressure on the Principal of St Andrews University to toe the yes line-- was washed away on a tidal wave of bagpiple-fuelled euphoria among the crowd already inside and even more so among the Saltire- studded few hundreds waiting to be let in. Here at least it was possible for the faithful to believe that they were –literally – on the eve of the historic breakthrough no-one thought even a month ago would ever happen, to their opponents the tragic dismemberment of the United Kingdom, but as they hoped – what the huge banner dominating the auditorium proclaimed: “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands”.

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