Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

A few thousand supporters of the union gathered in Trafalgar Square in a low-key effort to urge Scotland to vote No in Thursday’s independence referendum.

The event was an attempt – albeit with far smaller numbers – to echo the Unity Rally held in central Montreal in 1995, when 100,000 Canadians made the journey to plead with the Québécois to vote against independence, a call heeded by a thin margin.

Monday was Battle of Britain day, which the London organisers may have hoped was auspicious. But the rally to keep Scotland in the union was only announced last Friday and the details were finalised on the day itself.

Giles Hartwright, 30, an engineer, said he had only heard about the rally four hours before it started. “It’s a shame, I’m sure more people would have come if they had known about it,” he said. “The pro-union camp could have put on a much better show here.”

Yes Scotland’s chief strategist Stephen Noon said on Twitter: “In ‘95 Canadians made an effort to go to Quebec for their ‘love rally’. For us, No can only manage a 10 min walk from Westminster.”

Dan Snow, the historian and organiser of the Let’s Stay Together event, told the crowd: “We don’t have a voice but we do have an opinion and that is: we believe unity is better than division and co-operation is better than competition.”

The one-hour rally featured recorded music and included appearances by Eddie Izzard, Bob Geldof and Dan Snow but no politicians. The organisers tried to get supporters in the mood by releasing a Spotify playlist including tracks such as Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”, Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” and “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge.

Some big names have emerged for the No campaign in the past few days, with David Beckham, former captain of the England football team, the latest to make a public plea for the union.

But Rory Stewart, the Conservative MP, said that until recently it had been a struggle to get celebrities to do more than sign a petition. “For months there was no well-known celebrity we haven’t tried to contact, but every single one of them . . . hasn’t been prepared to join events, to record video messages,” he said. “It has been an uphill struggle.”

While the independence debate has electrified voters north of the border, interest in much of England has only stirred as the polls have drawn closer in the past fortnight.

Mr Stewart this year proposed that people from across the UK should hold hands along Hadrian’s Wall as an expression of “the human ties that bind in the name of love”. The logistics proved insurmountable, however, because they required 130 portable toilets and 75 ambulances along an 83-mile stretch, so the idea was dropped.

The MP then turned his attentions to “The Auld Acquaintance”, a circular stone structure built by hundreds of volunteers on the border between England and Scotland. The cairn of slate and granite has been created with more than 100,000 stones as a monument to the union.

Mr Stewart said he hoped the efforts were not too little, too late. “I think the blame is for everyone – it is down to journalists, comedians, writers, actors, citizens, politicians. There has been an extraordinary lack of imagination from England as a whole,” he said.


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.