The Yestival team arrives in Aberdeen early Friday morning, feeling slightly crumpled after a long night on a full-to-maximum-capacity ferry from Lerwick. It was a calm, clear night, though, a pretty crossing. I saw Fair Isle drift past, glowing in the sunset, while chatting to an American journalist who’d joined us about how Shetland ponies got so small – historical malnutrition or wind protection? (Answers on a postcard, please.) We’ll be back in Aberdeen tomorrow, so we’ll save talk of the Granite City and its northern lights for later – all I’ll mention is our bemusement at the piped-in seagull and wave noises in the Union Centre toilets.
Before long we’re on the road again, heading back north towards Lossiemouth, the minibus belting out I’ve Had the Time of my Life, and our new singalong favourite, Budapest. For yoooo-ou, yooo-ou, I’d leave it all! We’ve been tuning in to local radio stations along the way, and Zara’s started a one-woman campaign for regional accents in adverts, frustrated at the ubiquity of BBC English. Honourable mention, though, to the glazers claiming that dreich weather looks better through their glass. The place names we pass recall a history, Bennachie’s legends, the bothy ballads slagging off farmers and encouraging irresponsible use of tattie chappers.
It’s proper taps aff. You can almost hear the fields of crops drinking in the sunlight. HEAVY RAIN FORECAST, says a roadside information sign. Accurate weather reportage it may very well be, but against today’s background, it may as well say WE’LL PAY FOR IT. That classic catch-all phrase to bear in mind in case you find yourself enjoying yourself too much. Is this Calvinist outlook still evident in Scotland? I feel it in myself sometimes, the vague sense of guilt for enjoying life, even when there’s nothing else you could reasonably be doing. You feel like you’re waiting for someone to come along and give you detention.
It’s related, perhaps, to the lack of cultural self-confidence that we tend to suffer from. Like I said to the audience in Kirkwall, one of the best pieces of storytelling advice I’ve ever heard came from the Traveller storyteller, Jess Smith. She said that, in her younger days, she felt a sense cultural self-hatred (the triple-whammy of being Scottish, a woman and a Traveller gives you plenty of options for put-downs.) Jess likened this feeling to wearing an ugly cardigan – one of those BHS jobs that we all have in the back of the wardrobe, which isn’t comfy or flattering, but, for some reason, you keep putting it on. (In my mind, it’s black.) Her journey to becoming a really good storyteller involved putting that cardigan firmly into a psychic binbag. No one’s wardrobe is entirely free of dodgy acrylic shadows, but sometimes it looks like Scotland’s gone wild at the blue cross sale.
I’m working on myself, gradually, and it’s starting to feel like the rest of the country’s doing the same. We’re all blinking in the sunlight, listening to each other talk about what matters to us, and being amazed when nobody tells us to sit down and shut up. The headlines in the papers, day after day, say WE’LL PAY FOR IT.
In Lossie, we get a heroes’ welcome from Rós’ mum, Rosemary. After breakfast and a little rest, we decide to make the most of the clear skies and hit the beach. I swim in the amazingly clear blue sea, under the lighthouse watching over the bay. Jamie plays harmonica on a rock. Euan and Alex bury Robin in the sand. Simon’s proclaiming the joys of The Littlest Hobo – “it’s like Lassie, but more vagrant!” I get attacked by a unionist crab while on a diplomatic ice-cream delivery mission.
We’ve taken the Vote Yes! letters to get photos with the waves in the background, and, as we try to persuade the letters to stay upright in the sand, is a couple and their dog come over for a chat. The woman is a firm Yes, her husband more undecided. They’re planning to come along to the event later. As we wander back through the streets of Lossie, we see a lot of posters for tonight on lamp posts and shop windows. We’re refreshed after our mini beach holiday and feel ready for anything.
Just as well. (If I was in a more cynical frame of mind, I might even have said, we’ll pay for it.) We turn up to the booked venue at the appointed time, still brushing sand out of our ears, ready to go. We knock on doors. Wait. No response. None from the venue contact’s phone, either. Oh dear. It’s half an hour to start time and we’re no closer to getting in. But the local Lossie Yes voters form a crack team of venue finders, and lend their cars to ferry people and equipment. We soon find ourselves on a breakneck dash along the seafront to the Social Club. Oh, sorry, not the Social Club, it’s the Football Club that’s got space for you. So round the corner again – a short hop – and we set up with a speed never seen before or since in indyref campaigning history. The bar taps host a makeshift photography exhibition.
Floating outside the social club to redirect audience members, several of the cars bedecked in Yes stickers of various colours and campaigns. A man out for a smoke says, ‘You’ll have William Wallace along next.’ ‘We cannae afford his rates, this is all voluntary,’ I reply. Another smoker wishes us the best of luck. Once everyone’s found the new venue, we begin. The audience, and team Yestival, are enthused and ready for anything, rather than harried and deflated. We hear two Journeys to Yes from Lossiemouthers – Lorna Wiles’ passionate defence of public health services re-galvanises us, reminding us how important it is to be doing this. Liza-Marie Hill, a first-time voter, shares her concerns for education and employment prospects within the union.
All musicians, touring and local, are on fine form. The Yestival team dance on the sidelines, sing along to Jamie’s choruses. It’s Declan’s last night on the tour, and he definitely makes the most of it. We keep him on stage with chants of the new tour mantra, one mair tune! A man gets me to take his photo with Declan after the gig. Some of the team make the most of being in a football club by having a quick kickabout with Rós’ young nephew, who’s been worth his weight in gold helping on the stall and taking pictures tonight.
Back at Rosemary’s, we give Declan a suitable farewell to the tour – Euan gets drafted in to pipe a bottle of Prosecco into the living room. “This is normal,” says Rosemary’s partner Doug. “You should see when we do it with a cauliflower.” Alex and Declan put on glasses and become stars-in-their-eyes Proclaimers. Euan and Rós’ sister Lia are trying to figure out how to play Disney songs on the small pipes. It’s one of these nights, I find myself laughing til my face hurts. And no guilt, really. Sometimes, you just have to accept it’s a good summer.