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Scotland’s leading pro-independence blogger lives in a flat in Bath, keeps rats as pets, and has built a big following for his nationalist website despite spending almost his entire adult life in England.
Stuart Campbell, a video game designer and writer, uses his website Wings Over Scotland to demand an end to the 307-year-old union with England, attacking what he sees as the “lies” and patronising tone of the anti-independence movement.
While polls still suggest a clear majority for remaining in the UK in September’s referendum, both sides agree the outcome is far from certain.
With just over 100 days to go, Mr Campbell believes the internet has been one of the reasons the Yes camp is still in contention.
“I think we would be absolutely nowhere without the internet. If this referendum was taking place in 1979, when we had the first devolution referendum, we would have no chance. But now people have somewhere else they can go and check the facts.”
Wings Over Scotland is the biggest dedicated political website in the Yes campaign with 1.7m unique users since it was launched in November 2011, according to statistics from Google Analytics.
“That’s getting on for half the electorate of Scotland,” the blogger says during an interview in a pub near his home. “Google says 90 per cent of our readers are in Scotland. If we got 1.7m votes in the referendum, we would win.”
Mr Campbell, who writes 90 per cent of the posts himself, has no way of knowing the political leanings of those who use his site, because only a tiny fraction comment on his posts.
But he is confident he has had an effect. “If there is a Yes vote, I like to think we could claim to have played a part. I know for a fact that we have turned people round, because of what they tell us.”
Mr Campbell feels support for independence is a matter of personal pride. “I think it’s undignified for a country not to take responsibility for its own affairs. It’s like a 45-year-old man still living at home with his mum, not to look after her but just because he wants to get his washing done.”
He is clearly not used to the profile he now has in the campaign. “When I went up for the rally last September, that was very nice. I’d never experienced people queueing up to shake my hand and force money on me before,” he says.
Unquestionably an actor in the campaign – even from his distant location – he has raised £150,000 via crowd funding to sponsor opinion polls and take out advertisements.
The Reverend Stuart Campbell, or Rev as he is known by his followers, only ended up in this most English of cities – with its Georgian terraces and Jane Austen Centre – because of a job writing about computer games with a local magazine publisher.
As for the religious title, the 46-year-old claims he was once trained for church orders but is sketchy about the details, saying he does not want to bring religion into the independence debate.
He says today he needs the title to distinguish himself online from another Stuart Campbell, a murderer.
The rats are a long-standing hobby. He calls his current batch of 6 “girls” his “sepa-rats” – a pun on separatist.
Under the referendum franchise, Mr Campbell is not entitled to vote because he lives in England, the country where he has spent more than two decades. He was studying computing and data processing at Napier University in Edinburgh when he received a job offer in Bath and moved south without finishing his degree.
He is evasive about why – when Scotland’s future is at stake – he has not already moved back to register a vote, explaining “the referendum is not about me, where I live doesn’t change anything”.
“Part of it is I don’t want to find myself living in Scotland if it’s a No vote. I couldn’t bear it. I would feel I was living in the most cowardly nation on earth.”
In the event, he predicts Scotland will slip into a collective depression. “I don’t think there is any chance of public disorder but the No camp has been so relentlessly negative and so relentlessly dishonest, if it wins, the people on the Yes side will feel they haven’t so much been beaten so much as they’ve been cheated.”
He sees it as comparable to Scotland’s exit from the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, which many Scottish commentators say contributed to voters rejecting devolution in the referendum the following year.
As for why he backs England to win the World Cup this time, his logic is impeccable.
“It will never be off the telly and I think people [in Scotland] will be very, very sick of it, very fast.”
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