Scottish independence: Even in Better Together heartland Aberdeen, the Yes campaign fights on


Jonathan Brown
Tuesday 16 September 2014 09:58 BST
Street campaigners in Aberdeen rallying for the Scottish Referendum Vote
Street campaigners in Aberdeen rallying for the Scottish Referendum Vote (Rex)

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Louise Thomas

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If the No vote had a heartland, Aberdeen and its surrounding shire would surely rank as friendliest territory for Better Together.

Private polls for Labour have suggested a lead in the Granite City of some 40 percentage points over the independence campaign. You do not have to look far to see reminders of its proud links with Britain.

Union Street runs through the heart of the city past the statue of Edward VII. Union Terrace Gardens lead to His Majesty’s Theatre while a shiny new shopping centre has risen on the site of Union Square.

And then of course, there is the oil which has given Aberdeen the highest number of multi-millionaires anywhere in the UK, and delivered an unemployment rate of just two per cent.

All, it seems, is well for the status quo.

But this weekend, as Rupert Murdoch jetted in to town reportedly to consider whether his newspapers should come out in support of independence, 1,000 Yes campaigners packed into the Castlegate area of the city.

It was the same spot where two years ago volunteers established their first stand – an event which generated a near universal lack of interest among passing Aberdonians.

Times have changed and as the Prime Minister flew in to rally support for the Union, Yes campaigners toiled once more away under slate-grey skies in St Nicholas Square which has been the frontline in local campaigning to date.

Gillian Martin, a corporate video maker has devoted countless days to the cause standing outside the shopping centre in the drizzle after helping found Women for Independence 18 months ago.

“It’s not a feminist issue, but we have got a different approach,” she said. “We wanted to have conversations rather than debates. We wanted to do it in a way that women could feel comfortable putting their hand up and saying ‘I don’t have a clue about fiscal policy’ and to not feel stupid. Town hall debates are good but they can be very male-dominated,” she added.

Polling data from rural Aberdeenshire was “better than you think”, she said. Support in Alex Salmond’s constituency of Aberdeenshire East was also believed to be high.

“I have never been politically active in my life apart from going on an anti-Poll Tax march when I was a student. Most of us have got Thursday off and we will be here from 7am until it gets dark. It is really important to catch the last few people who have not made up their mind yet,” she added.

Lecturer Myshele Haywood was putting the final touches to her poll day battle plan too. She has spent recent months along with around 15 fellow supporters as part of a group called Radical Independence which has gone out into communities persuading people to register to vote many of whom have been missing from the electoral roll since the Poll Tax.

They have been visiting Aberdeen’s estates, which have not shared in the oil bonanza, places such as Northfield, Middlefield, Woodside and Tillydrone, where in some neighbourhoods as many as one in three children grow up in poverty.

She claimed canvassing returns in Northfield last week were 90 per cent in favour of Yes.

“People say if we are better together we would already be better off. It can’t get much worse,” she said.

They have worked with other groups too. They hosted a public meeting for Polish supporters tonight, whilst tomorrow it will be the turn of Africans for Independence.

Although she admitted she would “probably cry” if the vote was lost, she said the objectives of the group would continue.

“When we started forming the group we thought not just about winning but about what kind of society we wanted to create. It is about empowering people and democracy and wanting people to be more included,” she said.

Not everyone is convinced that there is either the need or the demand for independence in Aberdeen.

Peak oil may have passed but the resource remains highly lucrative. Bosses at BP and Shell have urged against a split from the UK while local tycoon Sir Ian Wood has disputed SNP claims over an independent Scotland’s future oil wealth prospects.

By contrast Martin Gilbert, chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, Europe’s biggest independent investment group, which is headquartered in the city, has remained steadfastly neutral in the debate.

Lewis Macdonald, the Labour MSP for North East Scotland was out pressing the flesh in St Nicholas Square today. He said he believed Better Together was “well ahead across the city” and that uncertainty over the economy remained the number one issue.

“We would hope to see a No vote everywhere. The clearer the majority and the more widespread it is the better it will be for everybody. We want to move on from here quickly and positively and that will be easier to do if all areas vote in the same direction,” he said.

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