Scotland is shrouded in a muggy haar today, and it feels as if we’ve been cut off from the rest of the world in order to concentrate and exercise our democratic right to vote: for or against independence. It feels like a reason to talk to strangers, smile at passers-by. We’re making history.
There’s a real sense of anticipation in the air – from both sides. And rightly so. This morning I visited (by which I mean went to the outside of) 13 different polling stations across North and East Edinburgh (I was cycling so I was avoiding hills).
In previous elections, I’ve either passed by polling places on my way somewhere else or only visited my own. Sometimes there’s someone going in or out, sometimes I’m on my own in the polling place.
Today, there were queues outside polling places before 7am. There is a steady stream of voters going in and out of schools, church halls and community centres.
In Portobello, to the North East of Edinburgh, voters were waiting to get in at 7am; when I arrived at St Christopher’s Church Hall in Craigentinny a couple of hours later I thought things would be slower, but in the five minutes I was there I easily saw 20 voters come in and out.
Hermitage Park Primary, just off Lochend Road, was bustling. A wee boy trailed after his Mum, pouting. “You’re part of history” I said, my sense of pride in my fellow citizens swelling my heart. (He got to play on the climbing frame after his Mum had voted.)
At St Mary’s Primary off Leith Links I took a coffee break and caught up with the office. Whilst sat in the playground for 20 minutes, at least 100 folk passed me, many smiling at me or saying hello. A young couple stopped to take a selfie as they left the polling place.
South Leith Parish Church Halls is practically in a Lidl car park. It was easily the busiest polling place I saw this morning, a constant stream of four or five people at a time entering the hall. A Sikh family came out together, still holding their polling cards – which seem to be fast becoming a souvenir.
Just a few minutes away (Leith is a densely populated area), John Miller, a long time SNP campaigner was standing outside Ebenezer United Free Church, as he has done for countless elections before now. Again, folk flowed in and out. I asked him how many people he reckoned had come by already (this was about 11am). He thought about 190, but it’s only a small electorate who are allocated this polling place – about 800. So almost 25% of people here had already voted.
On to North Leith Parish Church where a gentleman born in 1938 said: “I’m not sure I know how to do this.” Asked if he had voted before he replied: “Maybe, a long time ago.” Green councillor Chas Booth told me it was busier than he’d even seen it, even at General Elections.
Of all the polling places I passed today (some more than once), at only two did I not witness someone entering or leaving – and both of those I just cycled past on my way somewhere else. At one point a pair of No campaigners tried to hand me a flier as I was cycling by. “I’ve already voted,” I said. “Well done!” they cheered, smiling.
There’s definitely something in the air, and it’s not just the haar.