Voter Intimidation Grips Scotland as It Votes on Independence
The decision to leave Britain after 300 years could come down to a few thousand people, and both sides are trying to scare the other into submission.
GLASGOW, Scotland — Scuffles have broken out in Scotland amid confrontations and reports of voter intimidation on the final day of an increasingly passionate campaign for independence.
Andy Murray, Scotland’s most celebrated athlete, joined a dramatic late surge for voting Yes on independence with a rallying cry on the eve of the historic referendum. “Let’s do this!” he declared. The tennis star’s unexpected change of heart has been replicated by hundreds of thousands of Scots who, according to polls, have swung behind independence in the last month, ratcheting up the tension ahead of polling day on Thursday.
The battle to secure a fully independent Scotland for the first time in more than 300 years reached dramatic new heights on the final night of campaigning when there was a stand-off between rival supporters in Glasgow, while a heavy police presence monitored the melee in Edinburgh. Street and police confirmed one arrest outside a polling station. Both sides accuse the other of bullying tactics.
“Vote Yes or Else!” was written on a polling station in the Dumbarton district on Thursday. The local Labour member of Scottish parliament, Jackie Baillie, described the appearance of the graffiti as “Shocking behavior from yes campaigners. [They] should not be trying to threaten and intimidate.” A poll published this week revealed that 46 percent of no voters have felt “personally threatened” by their boisterous opponents
One young voter told The Daily Beast he had been too frightened even to tell his friends which way he was voting. Another, Cristina Adams, 19, said: “I just hope Scotland doesn’t tear itself apart. I have a feeling it’s going to be carnage.”
Under dreary skies, Yes campaigners awoke on Thursday worried that the momentum behind their campaign appeared to be faltering just short of realizing their dream of following the likes of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, who fought for independence from England in the 14th century. The final opinion polls suggest the No campaign is hanging on to a slender lead, 52-48, but thousands of undecided voters could change that.
In George Square in central Glasgow on Thursday morning, two sets of Scottish flags, known as the Saltire, summed up an argument that has forced every Scot to examine his conscience, heart, and soul. A statue of Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest reigning monarch, was defaced with Yes campaign stickers, a poster, and three blue-and-white Scottish flags by those who are sick of being ruled from London. The current Queen, who urged Scottish voters to “think very carefully” before destroying the United Kingdom, would be appalled.
Barely 100 yards away stood the Cenotaph, flanked by two huge stone lions, which guard the memorial for those who died defending Britain in two world wars. Someone has added a small Saltire to one of the wreaths, paying tribute to a shared history that was forged in battle.
“There is not a cemetery where you don’t find Scots, English, Welsh, and Irish lying side by side. There is not a battlefield in Europe where we did not fight with others,” said Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister and a proud Scot, during a fiery speech in favor of preserving the union the night before voting began.
President Obama added his support to that of Britain’s prime ministers past and present. On Twitter, he wrote: “The UK is an extraordinary partner for America and a force for good in an unstable world. I hope it remains strong, robust and united.”
The unexpected surge of the Yes campaign, which only commanded the support of about a third of the Scottish public when it began in 2012, has been sustained with virtually no support from outside Scotland. World leaders, businesses, and economists have broadly supported the case for retaining the union.
The only mainstream British political party to support separation has been the Green Party, a growing radical force on the left of British politics. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett told The Daily Beast: “The Scots have an opportunity to choose to be able to craft their own destiny, have control over their own future. I’m not going to tell them how to vote, but I hope they do vote ‘yes.’”
In the absence of much heavyweight political support, the Yes campaign has been forced to rely on celebrity endorsements, like Sean Connery and Good Wife star Alan Cumming. Although it came late, Murray, the first British Wimbledon champion since the 1930s, is the Yes campaign’s biggest coup. Writing at 1 a.m. on the morning of the vote, he tweeted: “Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!”
After months of avoiding the question, and perhaps appearing to favor a “No” vote, it was a much needed late boost for the Scottish National Party and its leader, Alex Salmond. He admitted in his final speech of the campaign that his side were still outsiders.
“We are still the underdogs in this campaign, each and every one of us has a job to convince our fellow citizens to vote by majority for a new dawn for Scotland,” Salmond said at a rally in Perth. “This opportunity is truly historic. There are men and women all over Scotland looking in the mirror knowing that the moment has come. It’s our choice and our opportunity and our time.”