Less than 24 hours earlier, the ‘Yes Clacks’ hub in the centre of Alloa had filled with volunteers, their eyes afire with enthusiasm and optimism as they set out to round up their voters.
The morning after the night before, the door was locked, and the place deserted, set to host only a postmortem or two and a big clear-up before the To Let sign goes up again.
Clackmannanshire council, led by the Scottish National party, had two aims in Thursday’s referendum: to get a bit of kudos and publicity by being the first local authority to declare its result; and to blaze the trail for a Yes victory and independence. It achieved the first ambition, at 1.30am, but not the second.
Instead “the Wee County” also known as Clacks lived up to its old reputation as a litmus test of middle Scotland, coming within a percentage point of mirroring the national vote. Ellen Forson, an SNP councillor and the Yes Clacks organiser, suspected the worst the moment she saw the contents of the first ballot boxes.
A week ago I followed the Forson team through sunlit streets, filled with seemingly friendly voters. Now the sun had gone, to be replaced by autumn mist and a chill reality for all the independence supporters.
In this, Clacks was also a microcosm. “It’s a bit like the World Cup,” as one Yes-man put it. “We’ve failed to qualify again.”
“The worst thing for me was this morning,” said Ms Forson. “Waking up my 11-year-old and telling him we’d lost the vote. The first thing he said was ‘When are we going to have another one?’”
Was it difficult on Friday night? “Do you know? It wasn’t. Everyone had worked as hard, there was a sense of achievement. We got over 46 per cent in this county. A year ago we had 24 per cent.” And, after two years of living this referendum, day-in, day-out, she was looking forward to two weeks in Corfu. “With my kids, with my husband, without my phone.” But it was not easy for her, facing the commiserations and a shopping trip.
It was not easy either for Yes Clacks’ London-born poster boy, Laurence Cribb, who filled the two front windows of his Alloa home with Yesses and a saltire. Come dawn on Friday, his front rooms were again filled with light.
“One lot came down at 3am,” he said. “The other lot at five.” Mr Cribb runs a children’s clothing business, selling across the UK: “From a business perspective we’re happy with this. From an emotional standpoint it’s horrible. Some of the things I wanted to change are not going to change.”
During the night, Yes supporters in Edinburgh expressed their feelings less eloquently. Most of the crowd who had gathered expectantly outside the Scottish parliament before midnight had lurched off home by the time the result was moving towards certainty at 3am. The remnants were beyond rational discussion.
Meanwhile, out at the Royal Highland Centre, the HQ for both counting the City of Edinburgh votes and collating the national figures, the sober work continued all night. Sustained only by light rations of Glacier Mints, the tellers tallied the ballots, by hand, in time-honoured fashion.
They would have had their own opinions, just like the drunks outside Holyrood. Yet there they were, putting aside their own beliefs to fulfil – conscientiously, even fastidiously – their civic duty. It seemed to me an extremely British thing to do. And by morning the notion of Britishness – after touching the very edge of extinction – had survived.