Nicola Sturgeon is about to set off to knock on doors in Easterhouse, six miles from the centre of Glasgow, when she is distracted by a loud shriek from across the street. It is not an outraged No voter; nor is it an excitable teenager recognising her from the television. It is Martin Farrell, a local resident who only popped out to buy some teabags but happens to be her biggest fan.
“I’ve always wanted to see Nicola,” he said, after warmly shaking Scotland’s Deputy First Minister by the hand and exchanging a few words with her. “I think she’s been here once before – I bolted out of my door and ran down the shops when I heard but I missed her. I really like her, she really comes across well.”
Such is the aura that now surrounds Sturgeon, who has long been front and centre of the campaign for independence. The 44-year-old, who joined the SNP at the age of 16, has been described as the “heir apparent” to leader Alex Salmond and has made no secret of her ambitions to eventually succeed him.
If Scotland does vote Yes in just over a week’s time, Sturgeon will play a key role in the negotiations with the UK Government over the thorny issues of a currency union and immigration policy, to name but two. And come the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections, she could find herself right at the top of the newly independent country’s government.
Like many politicians, she is warmer and more engaging in person that she appears on television, where in recent weeks she has most frequently been seen locked in steely debate with her opponents on Better Together. And like most politicians, she never allows herself to wander off-message.
As the small group of Yes campaigners assembled outside Easterhouse Baptist Church wait patiently for her to emerge from her broadcast interviews, her well-rehearsed soundbites drift over the air: “panic measures”…“the crumbs from Westminster’s table”…“people aren’t daft”.
Today she was joined in Easterhouse by Bob Holman, 78, the anti-poverty campaigner who famously gave Iain Duncan Smith a tour of the area in 2002 and opened his mind to the deprivation faced by some Britons. The experience is said to have brought the then Conservative Party leader to the verge of tears. Although he is a lifetime Labour supporter, Holman is ignoring the party's stance on independence and is now supporting the Yes campaign.
“Three years ago the thought of not supporting what Labour said would have been too much for me – but over the last few years, poverty here has been the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “I’ve never really seen hungry people before. Whatever the Labour party says, I’m voting for independence, because they’re supporting the cuts.”
The underlying message behind the Yes campaign's visit to Easterhouse is obvious: these are the people forgotten by the big Westminster parties. Stephen Armour, one local resident who has decided to vote Yes, admitted that going it alone was a gamble but said it was one worth taking.
“Labour and the Tories are just as bad as each other – they tell you what you want to hear but you never see what they say,” he said. “They tell you things just to get your vote but as soon as you vote, you don’t see a change. Nothing changes. I’m a bit scared of the unknown, but what have we got to lose? It’s not like it could be any worse.”
But not everyone in Easterhouse believes that independence is the solution to Scotland’s social ills. Although she spoke to their Yes-voting neighbour, Sturgeon wisely leapfrogged the home of Anne and James Burrowes, who are both passionate No supporters. “Why mend something that’s not broken?” asks Anne, emerging to challenge the Yes campaigners outside. “We’re all getting by. She’s never bothered with the people here before, so why come now? Because they’re wanting your vote.”
“It’s a deprived area, aye,” adds James. “But if Scotland goes independent, you’re going to bring people down lower again – it’s going to make it worse. If people find it hard as it is at the moment, they’re going to be scraping their arses along the ground soon, because we’re going to be starting off with nothing.”Reuse content