On a warm grey morning in Glasgow, the city of decisive contradictions and figurative language involving tiresome Braveheart renditions of "Freedom!" and kilts and haggis, I clambered into a taxi just off of George Square. My previous experiences reporting live from the belly of the beast in attractive war zones taught me that it never gets old to equate an entire country with one city and jumble them all up with repeated stereotypes and imagery. I was eager to begin my intensive, award-winning analytical journalistic probing of the most loquacious specimen of any given native in a foreign country: the driver.
As a white van nearly corralled us off the road by veering into our lane without so much of a blinking indicator, the driver-- as testament to the universality of all other cab drivers in the world-- swerved to one side and swore.
"What the fuck are you doing you stupid wanker!"
My alien but otherwise cultured self savored the swear words as my senses tingled with the colloquial litany. I briefly imagined myself at a dinner party relaying to a captive audience the unique experience of being in a car with a foul-mouthed taxi driver. I smiled inwardly. Everyone will be so jealous of my awesome adventures, I thought.
We pass by Queen Street, and I seize the opportunity to get the conversation flowing.
"I bet that name will have to be changed once independence comes," I remark offhandedly.
The driver chortles.
"Pity the queen loves Scotland," I press.
"Aye, it's true. She has an estate called Balmoral she always comes to. Look, I don't mind the queen as a person, I just hate what she stands for, you know, the entire establishment."
"So are you voting yes?"
"Of course sister. And I'll give you two reasons why. Bloody traffic!" he suddenly yelled.
"Traffic is rather unusual at this hour," I offer.
"I don't fucking get why though. It's never like this."
"I'm getting to that. First of all, I want my vote to count. Whoever I vote for has to represent me and my community and not be in fucking Westminster all the way in London. The second reason is that I don't want my country to be involved in foreign bloody wars. Blair, Gordon, Cameron- what's the difference? They're all pricks."
"So where are youse from?"
My insides deflate. "Palestine," I grumbled.
"Oh I'd love to go there! Um..so you've got family there?"
"Yes," I reply stoically.
"Are they ok? Do you know any charities I could donate to? I'd love to help-"
"The armed resistance? That's a good idea."
The driver laughed nervously. Then he shouted, "Fuck! Stupid GPS just turned off! I have to pull in this road, this will only take a couple of minutes, sorry."
That night, at a packed dinner party that served vegetarian haggis and bolognese, J. walked in the room with a dog called Ruben that had a Palestine flag tied around its neck.
"Some guys on my way here didn't like that," he said as I stroked the dog's head. "They were all like, is this Scottish independence or Palestine independence?" he rolled his eyes. "I told them I'm for the autonomy of all countries. They looked confused, like 'autonomy' was too big a word for them to understand."
We talked more, about how we were hopeful and nervous and optimistic and cautious for the following day's vote.
"All our lives we've been told, no you can't do this. No you can't live here. No you can't have this job. Yes is...it's different." He closed his eyes and lifted his face upwards. "When people hear yes, yes, yes, yes..it's what we need." He suddenly opened his eyes. "And fuck the socialists, the ones who have a mortgage to pay and are proper middle or upper middle class. How long are you here for?"
"A few days."
"I lived in London once. I actually liked living there. They were easily hiring anyone to build Canary Wharf, and they'd pay me a few hundred quid a week, banknotes straight in my hand. But the English are such arseholes. Once I asked someone for directions and he shouted-" here he imitated the inevitable Cockney accent-"I don't have any change! Get lost guvnor!"
Before I left, J. gave me one last pearl of wisdom.
"When we hug, we do it on the left side so that our hearts can touch. The British introduced the handshake, a formal way of greeting to show the other person that you weren't carrying a gun. We're having none of that though."
I don't understand first world countries. They get offered independence like it's a fruit platter and they reject it politely with a "No Thanks." What kind of official anti-independence slogan is that in the first place?
Want some tea?
The best reaction I saw was in Edinburgh. A guy, obviously still recovering from the crushing disappointment and drunken nights was walking with his two young children wearing a blue t-shirt with the words "55% of bed-wetters" emblazoned on it.