So last Saturday I took the plunge, turned up to a campaign meeting for ‘Yes’, and did my first ever canvassing. The rain was only drizzling to start with, as I was partnered off with a more seasoned campaigner. Michael was a member of the Scottish Socialist Party. He had become involved after last year’s ‘Fill the Hill’ rally in September: he heard someone talking about chapping on doors, and thought ‘Ah could dae that’.
I’ve written elsewhere about the commonly emotive and aggressive response of some No voters to enquiries, so I did have some apprehension as we strode out to our canvassing area. But after the first person had said she was voting ‘No’ and apologised, I started to feel a little more confident. After the first half an hour, working along Lochend Road, although most people were out, we were getting a majority of those that were in saying ‘Yes’ with happy smiles on the doorstep (there were, to be fair, one or two who said ‘No’, but they were significantly outnumbered). We were working from the electoral register for each property, which helped to tie in names and how many voters were registered, and made it feel a little more human and less random to engage people. Also, the fact that we were only asking two questions made things a lot simpler: on a scale of 1 to 10 are you completely opposed to (1) or completely supportive (10) of independence? (The second question was simply the referendum question.) The rain was starting to become more than a drizzle as we moved from stair to stair, so my main function was to provide Michael with leaflets, and keep the canvassing sheets dry. We gave up for the day after 2 hours, and headed back to the meeting point for the 120-odd volunteers that had turned up to leaflet and canvas that day, for a deluge of ‘Yes’ cakes.
Two residents were particularly noteable during that wet morning in Leith. The first was a retired lady, who said she was completely undecided, and kept moving between No and Yes. She seemed relieved when we were completely relaxed about that, and asked if there were any particular issues that she had concerns over. We had a good discussion, and early on she made clear that she did not like Alex Salmond – which was excellent, as Michael could jump in and say ‘let me tell you, I’m right there with you’ – although I was interested in elucidating from her exactly why.
Because I have never really ‘got’ that whole enmity for him that some people exude – someone who has managed to take Scotland through devolution to the point where they can decide their own destiny, in the face of the direct opposition of Westminster and the mass press, is surely the most skilled politician in the UK of this generation. I can understand this attitude in diehard tribal Labour supporters, who regard him as someone that has taken their ball away, but this woman did not seem to be one of them. She seemed to find it difficult to put her finger on, but his confidence does come across to a lot of people as arrogance, which I can sort of understand.
At the end, she seemed very reassured and a lot more comfortable, and was keen to receive some leaflets from us, and we all parted smiling. I had surprised myself with my ability to jump in with information and draw out arguments, and was getting more confident of how I would do next time.
But this was not – for me – the most remarkable doorstep encounter of the day. At the top of a dark run-down 1960s stair, a door held a surname close to my own. An older gentleman answered the door, and said that he wasn’t going to vote. You may recall I have some strong feelings on people not using their franchise, so I tentatively asked him why. “Because I’m religious.” That answer only served to confuse me even more – but Michael jumped in with a smile: “Are you by any chance a Jehovah’s Witness?” The gentleman confirmed that he was right, and as I continued to look with some bewilderment, he explained the rationale that as the world was ruled by Satan and not humans, voting was irrelevant, as it would not change anything. I was still dumbfounded by this, but managed to comment to him that it was somewhat ironic that he was having someone knocking on his door to talk to him, when normally that was what Jehovah’s Witnesses were primarily seen as doing. Some laughter ensued, and he asked if we’d mind if he got us some leaflets. I commented that we could hardly complain, as we had knocked on the door intending to give him leaflets, so we would be hypocrites to say ‘No’. (you see what I did there?)
He came back, we exchanged leaflets, and after a brief discussion, made our farewells and began to move back towards the stair. As we did so, he stopped us with one last comment: “I should say, that, if I WAS worldly, I would definitely be voting ‘Yes’.”
I was grinning broadly as we left the stair, heading into the rain for the next property. After all, if we were winning the argument so emphatically with people who on principle would not countenance voting for anything, then how could we possibly lose?
“A Yes is not a vote for Alex Salmond and the SNP. It is not an election. Salmond’s party is only one strand of the Yes campaign. Salmond is mortal, the nation is immortal, and it is the nation and its children this vote is about.” (Jim Sillars, March 2014)