A woman with a night-black ponytail strides across the square, one arm cradling a ginger-headed baby, the other hand holding a parasol. The shade falls carefully on the babe. The woman squints as she passes the young boy crosslegged on the grass. His gaze, and face, follow the crane’s reaching sweep across the sky and he gently overbalances, a portrait of surprise. Now, lying on his back as the grass tickles his ear, he listens to the tick-ticking of the sculpture students chip-chipping at their stone. Tourists, each with two bags, stop heavily by the sculptors and smile. Their holiday is beginning.
I could see Fife then
I couldn’t but
I could see the Forth then
I couldn’t but
I could see outside the window then
I couldn’t then
Kilts and backpacks and Scotland shirts.
Anticipation and beer.
Cancelled flight tourists swoop round airport staff.
They would not accept a crushing bloody defeat. 51-49 or 52-48 would give fire in the belly for the fight to come; 55-45 would be a hurt for a generation. 60-40? That could never happen if Scotland was honest with herself.
Robbie put his cross where his heart was and breathed out. That was it. Let that be an end to it. He folded the paper once, lifted the curtain aside and walked over to the ballot box. As he dropped the paper in, the mechanical buzzing in the box grew louder, died away again. But nobody heard. Not then.
Some mid-season tourists were hanging around in the Gardens, waiting for the explosion. It was a couple of minutes to one and that was all there seemed to be to do. The locals were busy with their voting but the shops were open and you could still buy tartan towels and travel rugs.
Jan had sold the experience to the boys as an explosion rather than the One O’Clock Gun. She’d get them to look up to the castle and see the smoke before they heard the bang. But it was five past, ten past, now and the boys were getting bored. Just a couple more minutes, she told them, the soldiers must be having their dinner. And then – it was strange – she heard the explosion but didn’t see the smoke. She wondered why the gun was so late – 13.14, she remembered later – and the boys gave a little cheer.
After the boys had gone to sleep, she went down to the hotel bar. And that was when the gun sounded again, just before quarter past eight. The windows shook and rattled and Jan screamed a cut-off scream into her drink. She worked near the embassies and had been on edge for twenty years. ‘Colonist!’ A man at the bar spat. Jan had no idea what he was talking about. He carried on.
‘No more bowing down to the rich man’s whims and wishes, that’s what it means.’
The barman: ‘Unless they’re Scottish, I suppose. The rich men. Then we’d have to bow and scrape.’
‘It’s started, no matter how the vote goes. Hear the glorious guns of Bannockburn and Independence Day?’
The next day Jan bought shortbread and a Jimmy Shand CD. She was at Waverley in plenty of time but there were no trains south.
(First published in The List magazine’s referendum special 23 January – 20 February 2014)