Scottish independence: Lead by a flaming bagpiper, the Craigmillar Yes campaign burns bright

 

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The Independent Online

“Today is the day when the people of Scotland reclaim our nation,” Derek Durkin shouts into his microphone, his eyes fixed on the two 14-storey concrete tower blocks in front of him. Inside, residents gather at the windows and stare down at the spectacle unfolding below.

“Today we are here to tell the Westminster politicians from the Coalition of Tory, Lib Dem and Labour that we are prepared no longer to put up with their continued austerity,” he continues, his voice blaring out of his mobile amplifier. “Today is not about Alex Salmond or the SNP. Today is the day that the working class people of Scotland begin the fightback. Join us.”

There is a huge cheer from the Saltire-waving crowd gathered around him, as a lone bagpiper strikes up, flames spewing from the instrument’s modified pipes. The Yes voters of Craigmillar are about to set off on a “short walk to freedom” to their local polling station - and they want everyone to know about it.

According to Mr Durkin, a local Yes campaign organiser who used to be a trade union activist, the aim of the march is to “generate the atmosphere that will entice people out to vote that might otherwise sit in the house”.

Ahead of the event, concerns were expressed that the event would intimidate No voters. But Mr Durkin says this is nonsense. “Anyone that knows this area would know that a Trident missile hanging in the skies above them wouldn’t intimidate the people of Craigmillar,” he says with a grin.

 

The south east Edinburgh suburb used to be one of the most impoverished parts of Scotland outside Glasgow. Regeneration is on its way in the form of a multi-million pound redevelopment, but for some local residents it is too little too late.

“We suffered years of Thatcher – Craigmillar was one of the poorest areas in Europe,” says Chris Yorkston, who grew up nearby and has returned to his old neighbourhood sporting a Yes t-shirt. “Today, the people have the power. That’s why I’m here today – the whole world is watching Scotland and I came down to be with my people and feel a sense of pride that we’re moving out of Tory rule and governments that we don’t vote for.”

The march sets off, winding its way through the housing estates led by bagpiper Ryan Randall, whose impressive Scottish regalia disguises the fact that he is from Las Vegas and only arrived here two months ago. Since then he has been recruited to the Yes cause despite not having a vote. England is “paralysing everything”, he says during a short break between puffs.

He is not the only non-voter on the march. Matthew Houlihan, a jobbing actor from East London, has travelled to Edinburgh because he has been “inspired” by the nationalist movement and says he will move to Scotland in the event of a Yes vote. “There is such a sense of a decline in the political culture of the UK, but here in Scotland there is optimism, hope, a vision of possibility. I came up here to experience it and consider myself very much a part of it now,” he says, adding that he has met people from “all over the world” who have come for the same reason.

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A supporter of the 'Yes' campaign stands outside a polling station (Reuters)

The atmosphere among the marchers is celebratory rather than angry, but not all local residents approve: one man standing in his doorway shakes his head sadly as the crowd passes. He refuses to talk when approached by The Independent.

“Come on Scotland!” shouts one woman with the fervour of a football fan, as a sprightly elderly man whizzes past on his mobility scooter, his blue-and-white flag flapping behind him. A nearby nursing home appears to have emptied out, with elderly residents on wheelchairs being pushed along by their carers.

Local shopowner Abdul Aldiraifi, a Sudanese immigrant who moved to Scotland 14 years ago, is walking alongside his young daughter and is proudly wearing a blue paper Yes hat. “Our future is in our hands – this is most important,” he says. “There is something inside me that tells me it’s going to be good. I have a business here and I know it will struggle for the first two years, but for my daughter’s future, I think it will be good.”

Just as hopeful is Emma McCallum, a local resident who has lived in Craigmillar all her life. “I’m here for my kids and my grandkids. I’ve always believed Scotland should be an independent country. I think the No voters are scared of a bit of change, but that’s what we need – it’s not going to make us any worse off than we already are. If we don’t win, I think some people will be angry about it, but then God always loves a trier.”

Sheila Gilmore, the Labour MP for Edinburgh East, was one of only three No campaigners standing outside the polling station as the march arrived. She said she thought people have been “wary” of showing their support for Better Together, telling how one canvasser she knew had been targeted by an angry Yes supporter who ripped the No sticker off her lapel.

But as the marchers filed past her to cast their vote, there was no sign of anger. And that, those on both sides of the debate must hope, is the way it will remain.

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