I was in Edinburgh last week for work, and found myself one evening sitting at the bar in a pub waiting for a friend.
A man next to me, also by himself, noticed the unusual beer I was ordering and asked what it was. We got talking. A former soldier and now in the building trade, he had lots of good stories to tell from his army days. As the conversation shifted to me, he asked what I’d studied at university.
“Politics” I replied.
“So, what’s your answer?”
I laughed at the way he put it.
“If it’s the question I think you mean it’s yes.”
“Aye, that’s what I meant. I’m a no myself.”
I asked him why.
“Better the devil you know.”
“Well, the other devil on offer is ourselves,” I argued. “It’s either decisions get made by the UK, or by ourselves.”
“But I just don’t trust the SNP,” he said.
It’s a common argument: people disliking independence because they don’t like Alex Salmond or the SNP. It’s a perplexing one too, though, because if you think about it the SNP have plenty to lose upon independence as this poster on this website argues. I’m not convinced myself that they’ll disappear in a flash upon a Yes vote, but in the longer term they’ll struggle to remain relevant if they don’t find a new core purpose. At the very least, they’ll lose a small number of votes from recent converts.
“That’s OK,” I replied to my new friend. “Imagine another party in control instead.”
“So… when we vote Yes/No…” he chewed over the issue slowly, clearly one he’d thought little about. “…will we be voting for a party too?”
“No, it’s a straight yes/no,” I said. “There’s Scottish Parliament elections due in 2016. If we vote yes, they’ll be elections for the first independent parliament. If we vote no, it’ll be elections like normal. It could be Labour running an independent Scotland, for instance.”
“And could they go back again, and renegotiate the Union?”
I thought for a moment. What an unusual question. I’d never really thought about it.
“I suppose they could,” I conceded. “After all that effort it’s hardly likely, but technically it’s possible.”
Now it was his turn to think as he mulled over my answer.
At that moment, the friend I was waiting for turned up and my conversation with the chatty ex-squaddy came to an end. I’d happily have talked more about the referendum with him, but in a sense it was perhaps better I didn’t. Having learned some basic information a seed had planted in his head, and he was no doubt ready to think about it more by himself without a further barrage of partisan arguments from yours truly. It chimes with some of Yes Scotland’s research that those who feel they’re better informed about the referendum are more likely to vote yes.
In our short chat I certainly hadn’t turned him into a yes, but with just that wee nugget of information about the 2016 election he’d probably shifted from no to “don’t know”.
Not bad for a quick chat in a pub.