To the Bridge

YESYesterday was my birthday. Usually, I remember them fairly well, since by design, they only come once a year. I can remember nothing concrete about 6 August 2014. When I cast my mind back to last summer, all I can recall is that I felt hope and nervousness, but was imbued with a sense of purpose. I had an unquellable belief that we might be about to change the world. A belief that fortified my political leanings into unshakeable convictions – a belief that fuelled a hundred debates, countless doorstep dismissals and early morning rises to stand on stalls and leaflet houses in parts of Scotland I didn’t know. It was the summer where we could do anything in the world, if we wanted it enough. It was dizzying, and that self-belief feathered out into every area of my life. It was one truly beautiful moment of my life so far – which made it all the worse when our hope was splintered by that resounding two-lettered rejection, one month later.

Edinburgh, my home, voted no, and I couldn’t bear to look at it. I’d spent the evening watching what I could stomach of the results with a friend, before conceding to take some sleep over sadness. When the morning came, and our democratic fate was sealed in a thousand column inches, I didn’t stick around. I remember crying quietly into his chest, exchanging a few dejected words, before stepping onto Leith Walk to try and make some sense out of it. The hour was early, it was overcast, and the empty streets hung with hurt. I’d previously grown tired of my surroundings, but never before had I felt suffocated by a place. I needed to run away. But how do you run away from your feelings?

I opted instead to skip the city. She and I were not currently on speaking terms, so I packed a small bag, grabbed a snack, and got in the car. Glasgow was out of the question – too many days spent canvassing in tower blocks and too many friends to see in pain. Dundee it was. Yes City, they’d said. Nowhere within driving distance was far enough, but at least we’d have a different backdrop to our dejection. If you’re going to cry in the street, at least do it somewhere where nobody knows your name.

My partner and I sat in silence for the whole journey. There was nothing to say. We were weary from trying. Weary from believing that things could be different. So there we sat, eyes on the road, neither of us daring to needle at the fresh hurt with so much as a syllable. Knowing that almost everyone close to me was going through a similar state of grief was too much to contemplate.

We walked the streets without purpose or direction. Beating down familiar routes from my university days. My route to work. The walk to the library. The backstreet that led to the flat I’d shared with my first love. Everywhere we looked, Yes signs gazed out of windows. The ghosts of a thousand strangers’ dreams. It was too much, so we made our first considered decision, and looped down towards the river. Nothing adds to indulging your own sadness like a body of water to gaze pensively over.

We headed to the rail bridge and stopped for a while. I couldn’t bring myself to talk, so I fixated on the foundations of the old Tay rail bridge, jutting out of the swim like a row of discoloured teeth. I remember the first time I saw them, as a seventeen year old student, discovering their story, and shedding a tear for people whose names or faces I didn’t know. I’d come back down to the water often in those days, when I’d needed a quiet moment. It took almost a year of solitary pilgrimage before my focus shifted to the new bridge. The one that stands proud, and that for so many years has carried people safely on their way; bridge that never would have existed without the failure of the other.

This year, I spent my birthday evening by another one, sitting with my twins, taking in a moment of quiet reverence at the foot of the Forth Rail. We perched on a wall at the edge of the water, where the two metal giants stride across the firth to Edinburgh, watching boats drift by. We ran out on the jetty until its surface dipped beneath the lapping water, and we watched the sunset. As the day disappeared and the lights came on, I noticed the pillars of the new Queensferry crossing – jutting of the water, tall, strong, glowing like enormous torches. I recalled Dundee, but I more importantly, I realised that I could think back a year without sadness. Right in front of me, was progress. Scotland had kept going, bit by bit, even if it wasn’t in the way we’d hoped it would.

I’d have liked to have been part of a bridge. Part of something solid that took us from what we know to somewhere new. But now, one year on, I’ll take being part of a try. Without failure, we’d never know what needs to change to get it right.

Comments (33)

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  1. Justin Kenrick says:

    Superb piece.

    Echoing so much of what so many of us felt then, and feel now.

    Way beneath the bickering froth, and the flotsam of unpleasant jibes, this huge turning of the tide continues, in the most unexpected personal and public ways.

  2. Mary says:

    Those memories are mine also; I’ve learnt from them though and I have hope that we get it right next time.
    Here’s to hope, here’s to keeping it alive.

  3. Chris Welton says:

    I just love that:- ‘ a moment of quiet reverence ‘.

    Thank you.

  4. Big jock says:

    There were 1.6 million others sharing the grief.

    I remember feeling like I was a foreigner in someone else’s nation. I felt rejected and utterly alone in my hollowness. My therapy was walking the streets of Glasgow giving change to every homeless person I met. Because it was about them and I wanted to tell them, I wasn’t one of the selfish no voters. Their reaction was a smile and a chat about betrayal.

    Then like you grief gets replaced by anger and determination. The SNP landslide proved Scotland was still breathing.

    We will do this no matter how long it takes.

    1. Ian Rhodes says:

      Selfish no voter – I think not – I was a No voter and I still believe that the correct side won the referendum. My worry is that the SNP will try and again and again to get it’s way until finally it get a Yes vote and by then it will be to late….
      Just like a scorned child that wont take no for an answer, they just keep asking and asking until they get what they want….
      Imagine we had voted Yes and six weeks later the oil prices crashed and the industry was torn apart-who would have rushed to our add – not the rest of the UK that we had just banished.
      In my house I voted no, my wife voted yes – we cancelled one another out!
      The two bridges that the first author referred – probably two of the most iconic 18th century structures on this planet – could an independent Scottish railway afford to spend the millions of pounds on these structures that the last two decades have seen – I somewhat doubt it.
      Be careful what you ask for – you might not like what you see!

        1. JBS says:

          Damn the comments on this site. That was for Ian Rhodes, not Big jock.

  5. John Page says:

    Belated happy birthday, Vonny……..I always enjoy your writing

    Recall spending that day being really angry…….then taking the TV aerial down, cancelling the TV licence and joining the SNP…….

    John

  6. Brian Kass says:

    Aye, let’s get up, get out and get on with it. Abuse is intolerable! Let’s stop crying about it and change our world.

  7. Saor Alba says:

    An excellent post Vonny and I hope you had a good birthday.

    My reaction was similar to Big Jock’s and my response was similar too. A little later, I got rid of the TV licence as well, just like John. I have not indulged in the mainstream press for years and so there was no need to avoid the MSM. I already had.
    Something quite tangible has arisen from the referendum result and Scotland is awakening. Scotland is, indeed, breathing again and the YES movement is alive and well. We are also well represented down in Wasteminster by 56 excellent and ‘honourable’ SNP representatives, who have conducted themselves admirably thus far.
    There are also voices of sympathy and solidarity from the South and this is interesting. It may be slower, but the awakening is spreading.

    Alba gu brath. Saorsa!

  8. Leal says:

    Knowing that Yes had fought the good fight by using the People of Scotland alone to put our case to our Citizens. On the other hand NO had to go Cap in hand to Westminster to beg for help in scaring the People of Scotland in to voting No. This was only the opening Skirmish and each side played its part correctly.

  9. Alan Webster says:

    Great article. Thank you

  10. Anne Milligan says:

    Not all of Edinburgh voted no, the highest yes count for Edinburgh was in the south east seat (traditionally a die hard labour seat) I’m so proud of everyone who campaigned and we were even led to the polling station wi the guy wi the fire breathing bagpipes, good times, everyone round here knows its only a matter of time…

  11. Morag Gray says:

    Friday 19th September 2014 was a bleak day. Energy sapped. Hope diminished. My husband and I headed to the Baltics – small, independent countries – to get away from our seemingly frightened subordinate one. In the days that followed hope returned, SNP membership snowballed and activists rallied together again. Now, approaching September 2015, some astonishing things have happened. Scotland feels independent and self-confident again. More determined than ever.

    1. Robin Turner says:

      Please do not believe that the Baltics are wonderful places. In Derby a friend of mine is an ethnic Russian from Latvia and he describes the discrimination that he and ethnic Russians suffer there.

      He is a bright hard working young man and has created an association in Derby of ethnic Russians from the Baltic states who are living here. As his local Derby City councillor and his party comrade I was invited to address the association’s inaugural meeting to talk about Derby’s ethos and my small part in it as a Labour Party member.

      I have also been to two events the association organised – the Easter event and the Victory Day event (Victory over Nazi Germany). On both occasions I was struck by the appropriate and courteous behaviour between adults and their children.

      I believe that history is the ideological analysis of selected events.

      The union of Scotland and England was achieved through bribery and corruption and during the campaign in Scotland last year on the referendum I came to the view that the campaign should have been left entirely to Scotland’s residents.

      I also believe that the UK is an English empire with England itself being originally a Wessex empire. I believe I can understand how people in Scotland must feel being ruled almost perpetually by English Tories and I feel that way too as an Englishman with the same experience.

      Best regards from

      Robin Turner

      Labour Derby City Councillor, Sinfin Ward.
      robin.turner@geo2.poptel.org.uk

    2. Robin Turner says:

      2015 UK General Election result was more bleak though for all of us.

      1. sandy ritchie says:

        Agreed

  12. Brian Watson huh says:

    Touching stuff , reolenent of authenticity , felt the same way

  13. Mike McCann says:

    Well, having read the piece and all the comments that followed, all I can say is that, sad as I am for your loss, do get a grip of reality. Your childlike believe that Scotland really should be a Nation is ludicrous. The people spoke. Accept. By all means, try to change their mind via the ballot box, in due course. Be aware that you will/may change nothing. Until the SNP has a genuine, inclusive reason for leaving the Union, ( which, at the moment they patently don’t), please let us get on with being British.
    As for this mad, obsessive hatred for the Tories/Socialists, what is that about? If you don’t like a particular party’s views, you vote against them! You don’t spew pathetic vitriol against them. They are politicians. They are not Gods. Neither, contrary to your mad views, do they hate you, have a plan to destroy you, or, for that matter, a plan to put Scotland in a box and send it into oblivion. They mostly, care about themselves, which means that it is in their interests to maintain the Union. Believe me, I’m not just talking about WM MPs!
    Get real children, for that is what you are.

    1. John Page says:

      Not sure what you are hoping to achieve by describing the above contributors as “childlike”, “mad”, “ludicrous” or “obsessive”. Neither am I sure that your “reality” is something that I should accept because you say I should……..a wee bit arrogant one might think.
      I have absolutely no intention of “getting on with being British” because I am not.
      I am totally bemused why you would choose to make this contribution: to influence? to give gratuitous offense?

      John Page

      1. JBS says:

        Good questions, John.

        Who knows, maybe Mike McCann is just another one of those unionists who’s been sooking lemons too long.

        I reckon he needs some pink bunny hugs, and I’ve got lots to give…

  14. John Craig says:

    I found Vonnie’s article to be emotive, probably too much so. It’s now many years since I got my sore knuckles, Hamilton first, followed by that brief glorious feeling that was Govan. But there were many years where disappointment was the norm. Life goes on, the status quo is not a death sentence, it’s something to be modified to achieve the desired result. Essentially it’s a hearts and minds game as it always was. Neither is it just about new converts to the cause, it’s about holding those you have. I have never doubted the right of Scotland to self determination, but I have grave doubts at this time about the caliber of those who represent us at this time. Independence for me meant just that; no London, no Brussels. No named persons for our as yet un-born children, no armed police (in quick draw mode) on our streets. No Trident morphed to no Nuclear. Your dog kills a Rat and it’s a chargeable offence. Heavily armed neutrality, not part of NATO.This is all poor stuff and so much of it is at odds with what we set out to achieve. I, like many others of my generation voted no, not because we were blinded by the media, not because we were worried about our pensions, but because there wasn’t a safe hand on the tiller. The new faceless world of the internet also showed a degree of division within Scotland which will have to be addressed before we can go forward on a sure footing.
    Cheer up Vonny, it’s not all Del Amitri’s “Driving with your boots on”. Scotland will be around for longer than all of us.

  15. John Page says:

    John
    I wonder if you could explain your reference to a safe hand on the tiller. What was proposed wasn’t perfect but what we now have is truly dire……..Cameron and Osborne (or their neoliberal backers) steering the economy to some minimal state, unequal, environmentally degraded dystopia.
    John Page

    1. John Craig says:

      John,
      I don’t expect any fledgling government to get things right first time and for that reason I have to hope for better in the future. Two pieces of legislation spring to mind almost automatically as being of poor quality. Right to Roam was a clumsy warning shot across the bows of Landowners and the outcome of it’s poor construction was that nature reserves, golf courses and a variety of other relatively sacrosanct locations were inundated by people imbued with a desire to exercise their new-found rights. It has ended up with local councils applying for court orders to ban people from areas of the countryside because of their propensity for vandalism and general disregard for the great outdoors. This has caused no end of mirth in the halls of the Landed Gentry. It can however be re-visited and modified.
      That I now live in a country where I can be brought before the courts if my dog kills a rat is a similar piece of hokey. Once again, legislation against the upper classes and their penchant for hunting foxes becomes an indiscriminate , ill thought out act. Again, it can be re-visited.
      But how about the Named Person suggestion ? This one that resonated far and wide. The means of implementing it would look to be impossible without the Named Person being nominated by the state. A willingness to engage in such an enterprise is in itself cause for concern. And finally, Armed Police ; there was a great public outcry in Inverness and much of the North when police with semi-auto pistols started patrolling the streets. So much so that the practice was discontinued or was it ? A couple of weeks after the public outcry had died down, a Police Constable walked into his Inverness Station, accessed the armoury, removed a Glock pistol suitable ammunition and a holster and went out onto the streets of Inverness wearing this gear.
      Almost immediately there was another public outcry; the police response was pathetically inadequate. The constable involved basically got a telling off !
      This raises several questions. Firstly why did this man feel the need to carry a pistol; secondly how was he able to access the armoury without the consent of a superior. When he went out of the building, where was his Desk Sergeant ? Where were his comrades ? Why did no-one say hold on, what are you doing. I believe the simple answer in this case is that he was carrying out instructions from a senior officer. If this is the case, then most likely the senior officer was acting on instructions from the top. If it came from the top, then it would probably carry a political sanction. If you doubt it’s political import, then you have a Police Scotland with a very serious agenda. If that is the case you have dangerous governance one way or the other.
      As we move into what could well be the most critical time in all Scotland’s history, we need people whose commitment is to serving Scotland’s people, not ruling them. It is worth noting that
      my own representative in Westminster would appear to have developed feet of clay, so I hope you’ll indulge my doubts just a little.

  16. Sandy Ritchie says:

    Separation is not a bridge but a wall. A wall that divides the countries within UK and a wall that divides Scots. I’ll never ever forget the abuse that pensioners received online after the result. These moments after the referendum result summed up the nastiest of Nationalism. So I’m afraid I don’t recognise the piece above, albeit well written as it is.

    1. Allan Daly says:

      And I will never forget how people like you squeal pathetically about online abuse whilst you fall all silent about the fact that the majority of physical violence was perpetrated overwhelmingly by Unionists.

      Truly sick to the back teeth of this false narrative from Unionists about sinister nationalists when Pro-UK goons rampaged through my city assaulting teenagers and Heil Hitlering.

      That’s who I associate No voters who bring up the ‘sinister nationalism’ meme with.

      1. sandy ritchie says:

        Exactly my point Mr Daly…Nationalism brought out the worst of both elements on both sides of the wall created by Nationalism. Divided working classes when they should be standing against the common enemy that is the Tories and big business in the form of the multinationals. And for your information I was also sickened by the scenes after the referendum carried out by so called Unionists…aka Rangers supporting bigots…

    2. JBS says:

      Genuine question, Sandy.

      Has it never troubled you that, time after time, Scotland has got a government at Westminster that the majority of Scots didn’t vote for?

      1. John Page says:

        This was another attractive piece from Vonny which gave a personal view of her sadness around the IndyRef which clearly struck a chord with a number of readers.
        I don’t really understand the last few negative posts…….the only question is it worth trying to engage and influence to ensure a better result next time.
        There will be an irreducible core of people who value unionist symbols and myths and who have a strong self image as British…….I think outreach to them would be a waste of precious effort………if they remain comfortable with this BritNationalism in the face of recurrent Westminster scandals, the destruction of public services and gross inequality, then we need to work on the gap between the 45 and the 60 who might be more open minded
        John Page

  17. arthur thomson says:

    Yes John, in my view it is a waste of time and effort trying to persuade the Britnats. The contempt they feel towards Scottish independence is entirely mutual so far as I am concerned.

    For my part, I see it as no less a waste of time to try persuade those on the extreme left or right.

    Those on the ideological left and the right are equally concerned about walls because they each see walls as an impediment to their desire to harness the masses to their vision of utopia. Supporters of these creeds can point to shining examples in the last century of how the other murdered and maimed countless millions across the world in the name of warped ideologies that claimed the right to transcend all borders. But it is all for the good of all people, of course. We might as well try to persuade the lunatics who support ISIS – they don’t like borders either.

  18. John Craig says:

    It’s worth considering that 15% of Scotland’s population comes from England, mostly in the last twenty years. I’ve never seen any surveys on how this slice of the electorate voted, but no prizes for guessing. Some of those who came from south of the border came for the quality of life Scotland offers compared to the rat-race down south. This group may have generated a little support for the Nationalist movement. What’s a cert though is that the remainder, who came for cheap housing, have no allegiance to Scotland whatsoever and voted No. That’s a big block vote against independence that should never have been allowed. Scotland’s future to be decided by Scot’s born and bred should have been the order of the day. Holyrood was too busy promoting it’s egalitarian credentials instead of going for the obvious format. I can’t think of any country which would have offered a criticism this action.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Not that simple really. Apart from the definitely indigenous Tories and loyalists who voted “no”, there was also a number of the native born elderly who did, thanks to scare tactics and lack of access to alternative media.

      On the other hand, I do know a number of people of English origin who voted “Yes”. And also their children.

      p.s. Off topic but… loved your column on Gaidhlig in the National BTW.

      1. sandy ritchie says:

        Thanks for repeating the ageist remarks…a constant theme amongst Indies… Better wait for a generation for the next referendum then…by then we’ll all have popped oor clogs…

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