The ancient myth of the phoenix is that it’s said to be reborn from the ashes of its predecessor . . . but the Yes supporters who crammed the wood-panelled interior of the Phoenix Bar with their burning desire to watch the votes come in for independence were left only with ashes in their mouths.
For eight hours they watched as four televisions on the Broughton Street pub’s walls all broadcast the same message simultaneously – their hope for the birth of a new independent nation was over.
By 6am, when Edinburgh finally declared itself a No city, shoulders draped in Saltires and Lion Rampants were slumped, paper flags of white and blue stuck into pony tails were wilting and faces painted with the cross of St Andrew were smudged and tear-stained.
Shopworker Lucy Galbraith, 25, and Stacia Stetkiewicz, 27, a PhD student, both wearing Green party Yes T-shirts, were exhausted and emotional.
“I thought this was an amazing opportunity to change things and get involved and feel as if you can make an impact . . . so I’m pretty gutted,” admits Lucy.
“I really thought we had a chance. It was such a positive campaign and it felt like people were really engaged. I can only guess it’s fear that has made so many people vote No. They didn’t want to chance it. But there’s been so much energy generated it can’t be allowed to fizzle out.”
Stacia adds: “I think the last minute offer of more devolution has swayed people, even if they don’t really believe it will happen. It’s less scary than independence. But I don’t think people will lose the feeling of wanting to and feeling like they could change things and make a difference..”
At the next table is Jamie Paterson, a 28-year-old nurse from East Dunbartonshire - another area which ultimately voted No. He and his friends had travelled through to the Phoenix as it was the only bar they knew would be open through the night. “I am upset that we don’t have independence,” he says. “But 45 per cent or thereabouts did vote for it and want it and that can’t be forgotten. “I hope people work together now in the interests of Scotland”
It had all started so well. The night began on a high as polling stations closed and the belief that the movement YesScotland had started would be triumphant was in the ascendence. So confident were those in the Phoenix that the TV volumes were down while loud music played, anyone actually watching the STV programme were left to try and decipher what the subtitles really meant – sterling the currency or Stirling the city? Outside a Yes flag flew from the roof hatch of a parked car, giving cheer to those queuing to get in, who sang that they were having a party while the Nos were in their beds, while inside foreign TV camera crews – as well as the BBC’s One Show – filmed the joie de vivre.
The maximum allowed in was 140, and it was quickly reached. Friends Jamila Ishaq, 26, a mature student from Leith and Kirsty Warren a 27-year-old customer services worker from Newtongrange sat with a bunch of Yes balloons, their badges and stickers firmly pinned to their clothes. “A few months ago I didn’t know how to vote,” admits Jamila, “but the motivation of the Yes campaign did it for me. I couldn’t possibly vote No because of it. It’s all about geting your say, that was the thing for me, feeling like I was making a difference.”
Kirsty adds: “I want to live in a fairer country. The way the country is run from Westminster isn’t right and it has to change.”
A Yes man who grew up in nearby Bellvue but now lives in England and wasn’t able to vote pulls at my elbow. “Watch that lot over there,” he warns, pointing to a group of drunken, aggressive men. “They’re Unionists. Well they must be.”
Turns out they too were Yes voters – one even sporting a paper yes hat at a decidedly rakish angle. But they were more interested in arguing among themselves than revealing why they’d voted Yes. And once the first result came in – Clackmannanshire for No – met with a resounding boo, they soon drifted out.
In the backroom watching the TV intently was Havard Haagenrud and Joachim Kjennerud who had flown in from Oslo with family and friends the previous day “just to be part of it all”. “It’s historic and in Norway you don’t often have the chance to experience something as momentous,” says Harvard. “I think Yes is the right choice but of course I’m going home and don’t have to experience the consequences.”
Joachim – whose Scottish wife was sporting a Saltire around her shoulders – was more direct, and picked up a refrain from the Yes camp. “I think the partiality of the UK media has been shocking.”
They go back to watching the results. Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles in quick succession all have voted No. The atmosphere begins to become mroe subdued. “We just need Yes to start winning somewhere,” shouts a bloke to a cheer.
The journey from the Phoenix to the High Street doesn’t take long. By now it’s after 3am and the crowd which had congregated outside the Scottish Parliament had dispersed. Bene’s fish and chip shop is doing a roaring trade – “never had a Thursday night like it”. It’s packed with young people, wearing Yes T-shirts, badges, flags . . . all now a litle bedraggled from the fine rain. One girl seems oblivious to the blue hair dye slowly dripping down her face. They’re desperate to eat but can’t take their eyes from the TV screen. “It’s not over yet,” shouts a young man. “We’ve started something today.” People cheer.
Outside there are a few stragglers and the odd burst of the Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond or 500 Miles as they disappear up the hill looking for taxis.
Back in the Phoenix the mood is very different. The news that Salmond has arrived in Edinburgh is cheered, then comes the Dundee Yes vote. Tables shake, flags are waved, friends are hugged, smiles are rediscovered.
West Dunbartonshire soon after causes the same eruption of elation – “it’s beginning to happen” someone yells. But then Midlothian goes No. Then Stirling – “they’ve let down Wallace” comes a voice – then Dumfies “we were gubbed”, but then North Lanarkshire and eventually Glasgow, set the place alight with hope.
The results are coming thick and fast now and are cementing the No vote. Nicola Sturgeon appears on screen not to concede but to say “Scotland has changed forever, it will never be the same again”. There are tears.
Soon it’s all over bar the Highlands. Edinburgh is resoundingly No. The pub begins to empty. Co-owner Samantha Roberts says: “It was amazing. I’m glad we stayed open and everyone behaved so well. It’s been peaceful and friendly. I’m proud of those who came.”
One of the last to go is Lynsey Burgar, a 22-year-old nurse still wearing her Saltire, the flags painted on her cheeks defiantly unsmudged. “I am feeling positive. It’s not what I wanted but the Nos didn’t win by 75 per cent, it was still quite close. It will still mean huge change for Scotland. That’s got to be a positive thing.”