However I vote, the Scotland that I call home will never be the same again

My friends are pitted against each other, and our debates are turning nasty

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The Independent Online

The other day I watched 18 year-olds arrive for fresher’s week, and realised with a shock that it’s ten years since I arrived in Scotland as a first year undergraduate. Apart from brief spells in London and France, I have been here since, and though not a true native, I feel I belong here now.

For the past few months I have been caught up in the excitement of the looming referendum. The possibility of an independent Scotland fascinated me, as did the passion of many people involved. Armed with a notepad and dictaphone I traversed the streets of Edinburgh interviewing shopkeepers, printers, anyone who would speak to me.

As we moved closer to polling day, friends have planned referendum parties, playlists – we can’t go on together with suspicious minds – and fry ups the morning after. I don’t think I know one person in Edinburgh who plans to sleep on the night of the 18th, and we are all thrilled with anticipation.

So it was a shock when the sadness of the referendum suddenly hit me, and I could only wonder why I hadn’t felt it sooner. It came as I ran through Holyrood Park on a misty evening and looking down from Salisbury Crags saw the city shrouded in cloud. I suddenly realised that whatever happens next week, Scotland will never be the same. Perhaps I had been running too fast and long and hadn’t eaten enough, but I got the dizzy sensation that the city was an island below me, and it was floating away.

This sounds overly dramatic, and I should say now that I still don’t know which way I’m voting. The Yes campaign, with its bold ambitions and left of centre tendencies, certainly holds its appeal; to place a cross in that box would feel daring, revolutionary – it would be taking a risk, which may or may not pay off. In contrast, the No campaign seems more staid and conservative – with a small and big 'c'. It appears safer, though I am not even sure of that. As an I-don’t-know, I seem to be in the minority – changing my mind depending on who I am speaking to at the time. I’m a political flibbertigibbet.

But it’s not the threat of Yes or No that I see changing Scotland as I know it, but rather the inevitable resentment and hostility, already at play, which will dominate once the votes are cast. The closer the result the more bitter the defeated side will feel, and it will hurt to see a country which I call home so bitterly divided.

In my own social group I already see friends pitted against each other, so convinced of their position that they are unable to see the other side. On Facebook, what began as friendly banter has turned to heated debate, sometimes moving into the realm of the personal. At a recent birthday party a friend declared she “didn’t understand how anyone with even a smidgeon of intelligence could vote Yes”. Everyone went very quiet, before one girl murmured, “Actually, I’m voting Yes.” The atmosphere turned to ice.

As an undecided voter I am bombarded by both sides. One friend worries about research funding for universities if Scotland votes Yes, another claims an independent Scotland will be a better off and fairer nation. And when it comes to discussing the other side, their tone turns nasty. “Better Together? I can’t stand them”; "If I encounter one more Yes poster on a tree I’m going to rip it to shreds.” One of my friends, a staunch No, patronisingly refers to Yes as “nice people but fatally ill-informed.” Someone else told me he was spat at handing out Yes flyers.

In the Talbot Rice Gallery, owned by the University of Edinburgh, there is an art installation with two huge canisters of confetti. In the case of a Yes vote these will be opened, showering confetti on the crowd below, if Scotland votes No, they will remain as they are, filled with confetti that is never to be released. A Miss Havisham of an exhibit, constantly trapped in the moment before that moment that could have been. Whether or not they explode next week, I know this for sure: for better or worse, the Scotland I love will have changed.

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