Edinburgh is completely energised by politics ahead of vote

Mark Austin

Former ITV News presenter

Edinburgh is completely energised by politics ahead of the Scottish referendum. Credit: Robert Knight/Eye Ubiquitous/Press Association Images

Much has been made of the intimidation and unpleasantness that has crept into the closing stages of the Scottish referendum campaign.

My colleague, Tom Bradby, says he experienced less personal hostility working in Ulster in the 1990s than in recent weeks in Scotland.

And there is no question there has been a nasty side to campaigning here.

Better Together's Alistair Darling and First Minister Alex Salmond during the second televised debate. Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

For what it’s worth, it seems the vitriol has been more prevalent following the ill-tempered confrontation between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond in the second televised debate.

The seismic nature of the first poll putting the Yes camp ahead also seemed to mark a rapid rise in the temperature of the campaigning.

And Tom is right. Particularly unedifying has been the crass and unsubtle attempts to intimidate journalists simply doing their job.

No campaigners have also been out in force ahead of Thursday's vote. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

But and here’s the point, there is a bigger, much more optimistic picture here on the eve of one of the biggest days in modern British history.

In Edinburgh this afternoon, I walked through a city completely energised by politics.

On the streets, in the pubs and restaurants the talk is only of the referendum.

There is nervousness, anxiety, excitement, apprehension and expectation…all fuelled by an atmosphere unlike anything seen before in recent UK politics.

The debate is fuelled by an atmosphere unlike anything seen before in recent UK politics. Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Suddenly politics matters, people care. And those previously dismissive and disillusioned are embracing the arguments, devouring the information produced by both sides and are preparing to have their say.

A few days ago, rather foolishly, Alex Salmond likened events here to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.

He was rightly derided for such a comparison. Mr Salmond, for all his qualities, is no Mandela and in South Africa 25 million oppressed and brutalised people were voting for the first time to end the evil of apartheid.

People flocked to the polling stations in South Africa in 1994 as 25 million opposed could vote for the first time. Credit: REUTERS/Juda Ngwenya

I was there that day 20 years ago and a more emotional day of voting I have never witnessed.

They knew, as they queued, that they were voting to change their country and their lives forever.

The result, of course, was never in doubt, but still that vote was the most important political act they would ever carry out.

So in that sense, and only in that sense, there is a similarity.

Ballot boxes and polling station signs are loaded into vans in Edinburgh. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Tomorrow millions of Scots will never cast a more important vote.

It will determine their future, it will shape their life and that of future generations here. It is that important.

Scotland knows it and is electrified by it. If you don’t believe me, just take a stroll through Edinburgh.