On the night of the referendum vote, Yes supporters gathered outside the Scottish Parliament for a party. Yesterday, it felt more like a wake.
Where hundreds of enthusiastic young voters had celebrated, lighting up the night with songs and flares, the following afternoon there were just a few small knots of dejected Yes supporters huddled together around a couple of Yes flags, digesting their defeat. The weather reflected the mood as they held a damp and drizzly vigil for their lost hopes of independence.
Edinburgh said No on Thursday by an emphatic margin of 61 per cent to 39 per cent, but there was little sign of Better Together campaigners celebrating that success. The only real sign that the referendum had taken place at all were the camera crews in their tent city opposite Holyrood, relaying the results to viewers around the world. Instead it was business as usual, but with dark rings around the eyes of those who had stayed up late or woken up early to try to catch the results.
“A lot of us are tired,” said Green party activist, Yes campaigner and University of Edinburgh rector Peter McColl. “I’ve had three hours sleep in the last 36, so we’re all suffering. There’s a bit of a campaigning hangover. If we’d won, we’d be dancing in the streets.”
The drowsy melancholy was far preferable to the scenes from Glasgow’s George Square yesterday evening, where Yes and No supporters angrily faced off in the city centre and had to be separated by lines of police. Union flag-waving No supporters were seen setting off flares in the middle of busy traffic.
Outside Parliament, Yes campaigners huddled together for support, and to nurse their anger at a result many blamed on the media and complaints of underhand campaign tactics. “The word I’d use is dreich, because that’s how it feels,” said Yes campaigner Stacey Devine. “Edinburgh feels flat today. There’s no buzz, there’s no excitement. There’s no nothing. I just see disappointment.”
Earlier in the day, in an attempt to rekindle some of the energy that had been ever-present during the campaign, there had been music, bagpipes and dancing outside Holyrood. The festivities were short-lived. Just as they tried to dust themselves off and raise their spirits, Yes supporters were dealt a second blow as Alex Salmond announced he would be resigning as SNP leader and First Minister.
SNP members or not, most saw him as a figurehead, and the news set many Yes supporters on the road home. “We were having a ball, and then the news broke about Alex Salmond, and everyone just went flat again,” Stacey said. “If it wasn’t for him and the SNP, we would never, ever have had this chance. Affection isn’t the right word – it’s about respect. I have a lot of respect for Alex Salmond because of what he’s done,” she added.
“It was gutting,” said Claire Jones, 32, who had come up from Cardiff with 200 fellow Welsh nationalists to help secure a Yes vote. “It was the chance for something new. Everyone saw the attention that was on Scotland from all over the world.”
Claire was among the raucous crowds outside Parliament on Thursday night.
“We were all thinking about the possibility of what Scotland could be,” she said. “As the results started coming in, that was ripped away.
“It’s back to the status quo. That optimism is gone. You can see, walking around Edinburgh, that there are a lot of heavy-hearted people around.”
Leaning against the large granite sign pointing to the entrance of Holyrood was a sign Claire had brought, spelling out Yes against a Welsh dragon. Written in black pen in one corner was a poignant message: “Alex, you’ll never know what you mean to us. Thank you doesn’t come close.”
Outside Bute House in Charlotte Square, the mood was equally sombre as Yes voters gathered to see out the end of an era.
Philip Camp, 42, from Stockbridge, has been an SNP supporter for the last ten years.
He said: “I’m English but I’m utterly disgusted by Westminster politicians. I think some people are going to regret their No vote when it comes to the general election this year. They will think – what if we had got rid of Cameron?
“But I don’t think there’s much more the Yes campaign could have done. I think in the end, people turned up at the polls and got cold feet.”
Friend Helen Henderson, from Bruntsfield, called last night’s result “searingly sad”.
She said: “I’m really shocked about Alex going. It’s a really huge, massive loss – I can’t put it into words. We had a chance and we didn’t take it.
“Alex Salmond is the best politician in the UK. I think he’s a very dignified man, with integrity.
“He’s just handed it over to the people – that’s what his whole life has been about.”
But she insisted this wasn’t the end of the independence issue.
“I think there will be another referendum,” she said.
“There is a young generation who have been energised like nothing I’ve ever seen and I don’t think that will go away. The seeds have been planted.”
Yes Campaigner Derek Scott, 29, spent yesterday canvassing for independence and said the result was a “missed opportunity”.
He said: “I think Alex Salmond stepping down is just a waste, really.
“He is the best politician in the country but from his point of view it’s probably the right thing to do.”
Yes voter Sara Hastie, 28, from Dalry, said: “I feel quite broken-hearted. I thought today would be the start of a new chapter in Scottish history, but you have to be graceful in defeat.”
Mr Salmond told the media he made his decision yesterday morning, and the suddenness of his departure clearly caught some of his own parliamentarians off guard.
Edinburgh MSP Marco Biagi said none of his colleagues in the SNP group thought the First Minister’s resignation was “necessary”.
He said: “Alex Salmond put in a good performance in the referendum.
“He was unquestionably the paramount figure of the Yes side. He has been a superb First Minister. I don’t see there is any need for him to resign.
“But he has clearly taken a personal decision that 20 years as leader of the SNP and seven years as First Minister is enough for him, and that’s his decision.”
He added: “The First Minister’s resignation shows that we’re going to need to have a thinking process as a party about where we’re going. That’s going to be healthy, and it’s an opportunity to discuss what now.”