Referendum week at the Green Yes TARDIS

For twelve hours a day for the last nine days of the referendum, Sarah ran a Green Yes stall from an old police box on Leith Walk, Edinburgh. She wrote these thoughts on polling day.

Sarah Beattie-Smith
29 September 2014

The Green Yes TARDIS on Lieth Walk - Ric Lander

For the last nine days of the referendum I campaigned out of an old Police Box on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk. I wrote these thoughts on polling day.I hope they reflect the ups and downs, the tears, the dancing in the rain with a huge grin on my face. Here’s my time in the Green Yes TARDIS...

The first day, I arrived at an empty TARDIS to meet Laura – a woman I’d never met before who simply wanted to help. We started with a chair on which to put some leaflets. We smiled at passers by, offering them a Green Yes leaflet and pausing to have conversations with undecideds. On that first day I had one woman shout in my face that I didn’t understand economics and then stand and call me “disgusting” and “a traitor to the British Empire” while she waited for the bus. Needless to say, the first two insults hurt a lot more than the third.

I met a woman in her fifties who’d never voted before. She asked us how it worked – did you do it online or did you have to go somewhere? And was it just the 18th or the 19th as well? Later a family of incredibly thin, haggered looking folk came past. Only the mum was registered but she was voting yes. The man and teenage daughter asked how they could register, not realising they’d missed their chance. As we talked, they hungrily scrambled for the caramel wafers I had on the table. Eventually I gave them the whole tub and it was gone in seconds. For them, change can’t come a minute too soon.

By the end of the day, we had 300 likes on the facebook page and the offer of a table for our leaflets. We collected more posters, leaflets, badges, stickers and the ever popular Stewart Bremner-designed Green Yes t-shirts which sold out almost instantly. The offers of help from volunteers flooded in and the sunshine kept spirits high.

Days two and three were long – we were out 8-8 every day – and involved a mixture of people bringing us cakes and thanking us for our efforts and the odd No person telling us to “fuck off you bastards”. The number of volunteers grew and the increase in Yes supporters was tangible. On the Wednesday I watched as an increasing number of very thin, ill looking men started to gather a little way down the road. After an hour, the Care Van turned up to give out soup and sandwiches. One guy told us he had registered for the first time so that he could vote for something better than this. Another didn’t even know there was a referendum.

Thursday brought Bernie – a man who’d slept in a doorway the night before and who had spent every penny he had on alcohol. He took a banana from my wee fruit bowl and wolfed it down with glee before regaling me with tales of watching his much loved Rab C Nesbitt videos in the hostel where he sometimes gets a bed for the night. He went off to ask his housing officer if they could help him find out whether he was registered to vote so he could vote Yes.

On Friday the fabulous folks from National Collective came by with tunes, the big Yes sign and bucket loads of energy. It was truly infectious and kept us going, even when a passing commuter spat on us and called us vile.

By Saturday, we could hardly move for volunteers, including my partner Nat who was up from London for the weekend. We had people leafleting the Walk on both sides, others delivering the message to voters at home and more still building the buzz at the TARDIS with tunes, thanks to a good Labour pal.

With 15,000 Orange Order marchers in town, tensions were running high. We had thought that we’d be safely out of the road, but then realised that we were right next the Edinburgh Masonic Club – a popular hangout for Orange men. As it happened, most of the folk who passed us draped in Union flags or Orange regalia were perfectly polite and we were relentlessly cheerful back. That said, one of them told Nat he “deserved to be hanged”. We’re still not sure if it’s because he’s black, a Yes supporter or just surrounded by Green things. That night we were urged to pack up early by fellow Yes supporters who’d had police tell them to shut up shop for their own safety. We reluctantly followed orders but by 7pm, there was still no sign of the apparent trouble.

Sunday was cheerier, with TradYes musicians, sticker-giver extraordinaire five year old Aedan and his dad Niall, a shiny new table and an awful lot of donated cake. In the afternoon we welcomed the brilliant Independence Choir who brought their special brand of cheerful Scottish singing to the streets. That afternoon I took a wee break to see a couple of friends whose birthday I’d missed the night before. In the pub we bumped into a couple of Tory Better Together campaigners (Iain McGill and pals) and in a wonderful act of kindness, one of them put a tenner behind the bar for me and my friend to buy a drink with. We wished each other well and shook hands.

By Monday we had over 900 likes and over 30 volunteers taking shifts to spread the Yes message. Despite the dreich haar turning to drizzle and then torrential rain, we kept our spirits up. The wonderful Laura and her husband donated a beautiful green parasol and Teresa used her sailing and climbing skills to rig up some tarpaulins. Just enough for us to stay dry(ish) while we danced and grinned and chatted and listened.

On Tuesday the rain had passed and we welcomed what felt like several hundred media bods to the Tardis as Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone – our two MSPs – joined volunteers from around the world to campaign with us for Yes. Some lovely guys from Bristol unfurled their incredibly impressive 100ft banner, urging us to say Yes. Later, some young Greens from across Europe came out and leafleted with us. I overheard one talking to an undecided, saying “I’m from Slovakia – we’re independent and you can be too, more successfully than us!”.

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Young Greens from Germany, France, and Slovakia at the Green Yes TARDIS

After another handful of folk telling us we were disgusting and that as Greens we ought to be ashamed of ourselves, unthinkingly following our leader into economic oblivion, we packed up, ready for the last day of campaigning on Wednesday.

Wednesday came and with it, my 29th birthday. The ridiculously brilliant Alys Mumford took the key off me and opened up early so I could have a lie in. When I arrived at lunchtime, I was greeted with a *TARDIS shaped* birthday cake, singing, a banner, poppers and a giant badge. I am truly blessed with the most wonderful friends.

The rest of the day was full of last minute conversations with undecideds – more so than any other day. They knew how important the decision was and were desperate to talk through their concerns and be given good enough reasons to vote Yes. One guy spent about an hour with us, arriving as an ardent no and asking us to convince him otherwise. He left with a Green Party membership form and a yes badge. Job done.

As we packed up that night, a woman I’d spoken to the previous day came past with a gift. A potted white heather as good luck. I couldn’t help it. After the abuse and support, the laughs and the generosity, I burst into tears on her.

The week taught me so much about people – about our capacity for selflessness, hope and relentless positivity in the face of heartlessness, empty promises and negativity. I truly believed in my heart that we could have achieved independence, but even though we didn't, I know we’re ready for much needed change and that there are countless people in Scotland and beyond who are ready and willing to graft to make it happen. Thank you to all the incredible people who have helped out. We can still build a better Scotland.

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Scottish Green Party co-convener (& Dr Who fan) Patrick Harvie, at the Green Yes TARDIS.

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