Belfast Telegraph

Scottish independence: No camp drowned out by noisy, flamboyant and abrasive rivals who sense historic win

By Adrian Rutherford

Lunchtime in central Glasgow, and the piercing sound of bagpipes fills the air as shoppers and workers hurry along Buchanan Street.

It's just after 1pm and as the city's main thoroughfare comes alive, the Yes campaigners are out in force.

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Less than 48 hours before polls open, the battle for the hearts and minds of Glaswegians is entering its final, crucial phase.

Soon they will be asked to decide in a vote which could change the way of life here forever.

Along the bustling street, pro-independence campaigners are noisily making the case for ending the 300-year-old Union. At one end of town a piper is surrounded by a group of young people excitedly waving Scottish saltires.

As he belts out tunes, one of his audience hands out leaflets in a last-ditch bid to sway any still undecided passers-by.

Further down the street, the booming voice of Keir McKechnie suddenly cuts through the clatter.

Clutching a microphone, he takes a deep breath before launching into another angry assault on David Cameron and the Westminster government.

"Vote Yes, end Tory rule for ever," he bellows.

McKechnie describes himself as a Glasgow socialist.

"For the last 33 years Scottish people haven't voted for a Tory government, but we've ended up with one," he says.

"The Union campaign is an unholy alliance between the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems. All of them are committed to austerity. This is an historic chance to have a new start and a new opportunity to do things differently."

Glasgow is Scotland's biggest city, and arguably where the historic bond between Scotland and Northern Ireland is strongest. Home to the Old Firm, it has long been divided by religion and football. The independence question has created another schism.

It divides communities, lifelong friends and even families.

Yesterday I found Rangers fans who say they will vote Yes and Celtic fans who want to maintain the Union.

They may be in the minority, but it underlines that this is a question which is not being fought along traditional fault lines.

With a population of 600,000, the city is one of the key battlegrounds for the rival camps.

Gerry Braiden, a journalist with The Herald newspaper, is originally from Belfast but has lived here for the last 15 years.

He believes how Glasgow votes will decide the national result.

"Whichever way Glasgow goes, the country will go," he said. "That is particularly the case if it is a Yes vote, given the strong Labour tradition here.

"You have everything in Scotland here in Glasgow. You have the political, the class, the ethnic divide.

"There are very many factors and dynamics at play here, perhaps more than elsewhere."

Walking through Glasgow, what strikes you is the apparent absence of no voters.

The pro-independence side is everywhere, from the noisy activists pitched up on Buchanan Street to the ordinary people walking about proudly displaying Yes badges.

A handful of No campaigners arrived shortly after 3pm.

Among them is Eddie McGuire, who says: "You can still have change without breaking up the UK." However, he is quickly drowned out by the Yes side.

Braiden, though, has cautioned against reading too much into this.

"The No vote has not been as visible," he added. "There are many, many people out there who don't care about the debate but will vote No.

"There is a silent majority out there. A lot of people haven't spoken a word on the independence question but will vote No.

"That number is large and many."

Braiden predicts a No vote, possibly by as much as 55% to 45%. Yet the opinion polls still suggest it is too close to definitively call. The No camp has seen a 25-point lead whittled down in recent months because of people like Sarah Gibbons.

She was planning to vote No but began wavering three months ago. Six weeks ago she decided to vote Yes.

"To me the positives of a Yes vote outweigh the negatives of saying No," she said.

In the centre of town, Piers Doughty-Brown has a saltire with a giant Yes wrapped around him. He believes tomorrow could mark the start of the break-up of the UK.

"The biggest fear for Westminster is that the rest of the UK will look at Scotland and ask why do they have it so good," he said.

Kenneth McIntosh has arrived from the Western Isles to help the Yes side in its final push. He is confident of victory come Friday morning.

"I've put too much into it to dream about anything other than victory," he said. "I cannot contemplate failure."

Soon he – and the people of Glasgow – will have their answer.

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