A year ago the busiest year of my life ended. That busy year was spent working with the digital team at Yes Scotland HQ, where mostly I kept my head down and concentrated on the task at hand. I was there to create Yes Scotland’s social media graphics, as well as to share them and help moderate the social media accounts.
The import of what I was doing was a little too much to consider. My job, literally, was to make graphics that would hopefully be seen by every single person in Scotland. Not only that, they had to help persuade them to do something polls said most of them did not want to. Every day brought new stories, new messages, new events and I made graphics for all of them. Hundreds of graphics, touching on every subject discussed, in countless styles, not only for Yes Scotland but also for almost every major Yes supporting group. (Much later, when I was submitting them to the National Library of Scotland, I counted over 1,200 of them!)
The pressure was intense. We were the lightning rod for the media onslaught, the eye of the storm. One slight slip by any of us could have serious consequences. While I and others railed against the despicable tactics of the corporate media and the No camp, our public faces remained calm. It was seen as imperative that we gave our opponents no cause to discuss the messenger, rather than the message.
During the final two months of the campaign, from waking to make notes from ideas dreamt in the night, to working on the train and a long day in the office, then more work on the return train and just not stopping until I went to bed, every day I worked like I have never worked before. I pushed myself beyond any capacity for endurance I knew that I had.
On the 18th, one year ago today, the digital team’s job was already over. All we had to do – so to speak – was to mind the shop. As messages of goodwill and support from across the world (from more than 80 countries) flooded our social media accounts, as our final graphics reached previously unknown heights of exposure, we knew we had done what we needed to do.
On that last day our Facebook reach crossed 1,000,000 – amazingly more than three times the number of page likes. Sometime in the final hour before the polls closed, that number of likes surpassed those of David Cameron’s page and we celebrated. We knew that, regardless of the referendum outcome, online we had won and won massively.Hours later, I was standing with three colleagues in Our Dynamic Earth, when the outcome became clear. In an echoing room full of strangers at Yes Scotland’s referendum night bash, the mood was strained when that first result came in. It was clear straight away that we’d lost. Soon the four of us said our goodbyes and left.
I walked home, past the Scottish Parliament where Yessers were partying into the night, unaware. I felt numb, dislocated. At home, I tore the Y, E, and S posters from my window. I called my wife in America, barely able to speak. I couldn’t sleep either. The futile flickering embers of hope had me watch the results until after the sun had come up. But there was nothing.
The next day, I lay on the sofa, utterly exhausted. Numb. Tears never did come. The loss was too great to encompass. Only numbness.
We’d lost. It was too massive to take in. I could feel the overpowering grind of the establishment yet again turning, spinning the world as they wanted it, reducing us to spectators after a couple of years feeling like we might have been players.
It was all too much and yet numbness prevailed. I didn’t feel a goddamn thing, other than a flat, empty and exhaustion. I ordered pizza and watched animated films and flickered again and Pavlovian again through social media, searching for something, for anything.
I was still on the sofa in the early evening, when Yes Scotland switched off our staff accounts. It was about the lowest moment, scraping that numbness towards the spectre of depression. It was all over.
...and then the unexpected. People began to reach out to one another. Through their grief, a determination was born. All the work we had all done would not be in vain. Again and again, the message was ‘I will go on’.
I put together a final graphic. Paraphrasing Alasdair Gray who was in turn quoting Canadian author Dennis Lee, I added ‘Let’s work together as if we are living in the early days of a better nation’ to my best-known graphic. We put it out and that was me done with campaigning. Or so I thought.
As the bitter weeks following the loss passed and my exhaustion slowly lifted, friends and supporters kept buying prints from the online shop I had created in June. It took me utterly by surprise. They still wanted my work. They wanted to show that they were still Yes. Didn’t they know it was all over? But no. I realised that people were serious about not stopping and in that I realised so too was I – there would be no going back in the box.
With the time that my print sales bought, I returned to making political graphics. At first, and to let off steam after being squeaky clean for far too long, I ran a social media competition to find Scotland’s Most Despised Politician 2014. It may have been childish, but it gave vent to a lot of people’s frustrations. From it I learned that I was in a position to provide a voice for many Yes supporters online, just as I had throughout the campaign. I decided to do my best by the dedicated and hard working people all across the country who had also done their bit. Their hard work was, and still is, an inspiration for me to keep going. (For that and for your continuing support of my work, you have my heart felt thanks.)
A year ago today we were just hours away from having our hopes for a better Scotland dashed. A year ago today we were a day away from realising we are made from stronger stuff than we knew and that we would not give up.
I want to live in a better and fairer Scotland. That desire did not go away with a loss, particularly with one based so wholeheartedly on lies. While there is plenty that we can do now to help bring about that vision of Scotland – land reform being a great example – ultimately I do not believe British state will ever tolerate fairness for all.
I believe an independent Scotland is the only way we’ll ever have the hope of a fair society and I will not stop working until we win that independence.