Scotland ‘City of Yes’ is no pushover

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A day before Scotland votes on whether to become independent, Dundee looks like it is already holding a victory parade for the Yes campaign.

With hours to go before polls even open, the so-called “City of Yes”, a heartland of Scottish nationalism, is in celebratory mode. But behind the noisy independence campaign, there are plenty of “shy No voters” even here – enough to make Yes supporters distinctly nervous.

Those who have run the independence campaign in Dundee are optimistic for now, predicting a winning margin of about 65 per cent to 35 per cent.

Mike Strachan gave up his job running a pet food shop to take charge of the Yes campaign office in Dundee. He turned it into a “hub” where volunteers, activists and generally interested people can come in, pick up some leaflets, or even a free sweatshirt, and join in the debate.

The sense in the hub is of a ground-level campaign reaching its climax. Mr Strachan says: “Dundee is massively Yes.” Stewart Hosie, the Scottish National party MP, adds: “Dundee is no longer a frightened city, it has refound its confidence under an SNP administration.”

The SNP has a majority on the council here, and has wrested one of the two Westminster seats from Labour.

Around the city centre, the sense of excitement from Yes supporters is palpable. A blue fire engine sits next to a van blasting out “Flower of Scotland” on repeat. Two dogs in Yes vests sit patiently to have their photographs taken by passers-by. At 5pm, activists stage a parade through the centre, which they call the “Sea of Saltires”.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why it might be difficult to be a No voter – not least because the official Better Together campaign looks to have virtually deserted the city. Near the Yes office, four students hand out No literature while struggling to be heard over the blare of the loudspeaker being used by “Radicals for Yes”.

The Better Together office, meanwhile, is deserted, and the students appear unsure of who is organising the campaign. A call to the office of Jim McGovern, the local Labour MP who has been at the heart of the city’s No operation, goes unreturned.

But while the No campaign may have taken a quiet step backwards, its supporters are here, even if they are too shy to say so loudly. Michelle Montague, one of the few people brave enough to wear a No sticker in Dundee city centre, says: “Half my friends are No voters, but you see how hard it is. People get shouted at for wearing No stuff – Yes supporters stop them and call them disgusting.”

Every No voter seems to think they are alone. Doug Paul says: “I am a big No – but you won’t find many of us about.” In fact, nearly half of those stopped by the FT feel the same. Mary, a Dundee resident who does not want to give her second name for fear of coming under fire from friends and colleagues, says: “They tell us we can’t be Scottish if we vote No.”

The Better Together campaign believes these “shy No voters”, who may not have told pollsters or campaigners they are likely to vote against independence, will give them a more resounding victory than the polls suggest.

No strategists also say they have received intelligence from inside the Yes campaign suggesting their canvas returns from Dundee show undecided voters are swinging for No by a factor of two to one. Mr Strachan denies this, but warns: “Some people are expecting Dundee to be 80 per cent Yes, but I don’t think it will be as stark as that. I think it is likely to be closer to 65 per cent.”

Bookmakers predict the city will vote more heavily in favour of independence than any other. But if there turn out to be enough quiet No voters to make the Dundee result anything other than a thumping Yes win, the nationalists can write off their chances elsewhere in the country.

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