Scottish independence: Support from Catalonia

ENGLISH teacher Marta Vallbona is gathering up armfuls of pro-independence leaflets and checking off names on a list.

Marta Vallbona is very aware of Catalonians nationalism. Picture: Getty
Marta Vallbona is very aware of Catalonians nationalism. Picture: Getty

She is heading out to canvass voters in a bid to convince them to vote in favour of Scottish independence.

But Marta has never lived in Scotland - nor is she eligible to vote in the poll. She has travelled from Catalonia, Spain - which has its own independence movement - to help with the final three weeks of Scotland’s Yes campaign.

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“I feel I can hugely identify with Scotland,” she says. “In Catalonia, we can only imagine the powers of full democracy which the people of Scotland could have. I would hope that if Scotland becomes independent, it would be a catalyst for us, which is why I am here. I want to help - it has to be a Yes vote.”

Marta Vallbona is very aware of Catalonians nationalism. Picture: Getty

Marta is not the only overseas volunteer to turn up at Yes Scotland’s Glasgow Kelvin hub - and to become an integral part of the campaign. The group has had support from pro-Yessers from all over the world, with one woman travelling from as far away as Australia to add her weight to the pro-independence lobby.

The volunteers gather nightly at the office, a few minutes from the city centre in a disused shop underneath a modern housing association tenement just off the main thoroughfare of St Vincent Street. The walls are plastered with copies of Yes! Magazine - a publication produced by the campaign - and ward maps.

Organiser Patrick Grady, who has taken three weeks’s annual leave from his job at a charity to be the “lead volunteer” for the Kelvin area, says the group is attracting around ten to 20 campaigners a night to quiz householders about their voting plans.

“It’s a form of polling, but it is canvassing as well,” he explains. “We ask people how they think they will vote, but we’re also there to inform them a bit about the campaign. A lot of our supporters are people who have never been interested in politics before, but feel strongly that Scotland should be independent - and that has an impact on the voters they’re speaking to on the doorsteps.”

He adds: “Some people join in the campaign with us, others do it on their own. It doesn’t matter.”

He talks about one man who, entirely off his own back, nipped off to Argos to buy a couple of trestle tables and set up a voter registration stall in Partick.

Veteran canvassers cluster around piles of leaflets and handouts which the group plan to give out to interested people they meet on the doorsteps.

The campaigners are paired up and handed lists of people registered on the electoral roll living in streets the group wants to target.

The area we are assigned has already been canvassed once. Confirmed “no” voters who, it is felt, are unlikely to change their minds, are not on tonight’s list. However, those who have previously ranked themselves on the ten-point scale (with one a confirmed no and ten a yes) as three or above are considered fair game to be approached - alongside confirmed supporters of independence.

For first time campaigner Sophie Macdonald, it is a chance to become part of a cause which she has felt strongly about for years.

“I’ve been interested in the idea of independence for a long time, but it was only talking to people at work that made me realise I wanted to actually get involved in the referendum,” said charity worker Sophie, 25. “A guy I work with said at lunchtime that he was going to pop down to his local Yes Scotland office after work and I just thought ‘I should do that too’. So here I am.”

Sophie is paired up with experienced door knocker Eva Bolander, a Swede who arrived in Scotland as a young woman in 1995 after learning to play the bagpipes in her home country.

“I wanted to get a chance to take some tuition in the bagpipes and take part in competitions and so on, which we obviously don’t have in Sweden - it’s not exactly a popular instrument there,” she explains. “Then I met a man and stayed. I became aware of the issues of independence around the Millennium when it seemed that all the focus and the money was on London. I just feel very strongly that Scotland should be independent.”

We all pile into Ms Bolander’s blue Nissan with artist Tia Macfarlane, 32 - who has been involved with the campaign since the beginning - and Matt Noble, 27, a computer science student.

“When I’m door knocking, people always ask ‘Are you SNP?’ and the answer is no,” explains Tia. “I am a-party political, but I want Scotland to be independent. I think that surprises a lot of people.

“The most difficult part of it is when people want guarantees. We can’t give them that. What we can promise them is better democratic choice if we have independence than if we do not.”

Having deposited Tia and Matt in their assigned area close to the hub, we head to Stewartville Street in Partick - a row of red stone tenements. Ms Bolander describes it as a “mixed area” in terms of independence support.

The first knock is not promising. In response to Eva’s request to ask “two quick questions”, the door is swiftly shut.

“I’m sorry, no,” the man says. She is not deterred - and, it turns out, for good reason. The next woman, although she doesn’t want to chat and refuses Eva’s offer of window posters and Yes campaign badges, expresses her strong support for the cause.

“On a scale of one to ten? I’m an eleven,” she replies, before heading back inside. But Sophie is not impressed.

“I just don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to put a poster in their window if they’re a supporter,” she says. “There’s only three weeks to go. Why do they not want to help?”

The next resident is a girl with an English accent who says she has only recently arrived in Glasgow and doesn’t want to vote. Eva tries to sign her up - this is the day before the deadline to get onto the electoral roll - but has no luck.

With a few door knocks now under her belt as an observer, Sophie is now offered the chance to do her first solo canvass.

She is nervous, not helped by a practice role play with me as a householder, in which I pose as a floating voter with serious concerns about Alex Salmond’s Plan B in the event of no currency union with Britain.

“What if they ask me questions I don’t know the answer to?” she asks. Eva tells her she can direct them to other sources of information, such as the Yes Scotland website or the leaflets the canvassers are carrying around in their bags. She responds well and is deemed to be ready for her first proper knock.

Chatty householder Lorraine McGreechin answers the door with her two young sons, Dominic, seven and Brendan, four. She is a real floating voter, with concerns over the future of her husband’s business in the event of independence.

“My partner, James, has a kitchen fitting business and we’re worried that if house prices go down or interest rates rise, people won’t move and his work will dry up,” she says. “We were both definite No voters, but I was talking to one of my friends at the weekend and now I’m swithering. I told her to convince me and what she said has got me thinking. To be honest, I don’t think we’d previously heard enough of the Yes argument.”

Eva asks her why she thinks that interest rates would rise in an independent Scotland. She is thrown for a minute.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I’m scaremongering really, I suppose, but how do we know what will happen?”

In the next tenement, an elderly lady admits she doesn’t understand the referendum at all.

“Who should I vote for?” she asks. “I’ve not heard anything much about it. I just think it’s a load of bloody nonsense.”

At the next stair, no-one at all answers the door.

“It’s disappointing when that happens,” says Eva, traipsing down from the fourth floor. “But at least I’m probably going to shift a stone by the referendum with all of this stair climbing.”

At our final stair - much more than a two hour stint and any canvasser is exhausted, says Eva - undecided IT programmer Iain Baird, 30, is happy to speak to the campaigners, but says what they have to tell him is unlikely to influence his decision.

“I’m more likely to make up my mind talking to my friends who also don’t know which way they’re going to go,” he says. “It is more interesting to talk to people who are closer to the middle rather than people who are just going to give you one viewpoint.”

His neighbour, student and mother Emma Hilling, 21, has not signed up to the electoral roll. Eva produces a form which needs to be filled out and handed in by the next day. The campaign group are doing a run to City Hall the next morning to deliver any last-minute sign ups. The woman agrees to join the roll, saying her friend’s mum is a staunch Yes campaigner and had told her the previous night that she needed to vote. She goes away to find some details for the form.

Outside the door, Eva and Sophie are elated. “Success!” they hiss. Emma is a confirmed Yes voter, who, without their turning up on her doorstep, would not have voted.

“She could be the difference between and independent Scotland or not,” says Sophie. “She could be the decider. You never know.”

Emma returns with the completed form. She knows that she should have signed up earlier, but had forgotten.

“Most of my pals are doing it,” she says. “People are talking about it at college. But I just hadn’t got round to it. If it wasn’t for them coming to my door, I wouldn’t have bothered.”

Back at the St Vincent Terrace hub, Patrick is looking over the forms handed in by the campaigners. The data will be entered into the campaign’s spreadsheets, giving them a clearer picture of exactly where and how strong their support is.

There have been over 175 campaign sessions from this office alone - including leafleting, canvassing and street stalls - since May. And he is confident of success.

“A lot of people are going to go into that polling station not sure or planning to vote No and then they will look at the words on that ballot paper: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’,” he says. “Then they will change their minds.”

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