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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What referendum day would be like...

was a matter of conjecture, since something like this had never been done before, but I had any number of preconceived notions already. I thought it might all be over with early on, and that I would call Henry Hill, brave the British “ring tone of death”, and get past his James Mason-ish telling me the worst. I dreamt about it so many times, and the wild orgies of the Yes People, with Alex Salmond at their head, surrounded by Sean Connery and Mel Gibson and Dougie MacLean and Hazel Whyte on a giant “Just Say YES” float, liberally sprinkled with blue and white confetti, and the air rent by choruses of “The Flower of Scotland”, “Scotland Yet”, and “Caledonia”!

     Nightmarish, right?

    But the actual day, September 18, 2014, was actually quite different, thank heavens! Instead of moping around the house waiting for the foundations to crumble, I was unexpectedly called to duty when Ken, the studio engineer, announced that he had a space of time on that very day for me to complete my song, “Our Lady of Britannia”. We’d been working on it in bits and pieces for over a month, but never expected that space would open on that day of all days! I felt a lump in my throat. What did this extreme irony mean? Is Our Lady trying to tell me something??

    Before leaving for the Studio, I checked in with my Scotswoman on the street, Carol, who said she’d been off to vote “No” earlier on in the day, and that the polling centers were packed. “Nail-biting time, eh?” she wrote me. And indeed it was. But, as we headed off to the studio, I began to feel a numbing sensation, as if I were on a raft approaching a waterfall and the current began to slow before the end. The calm before the storm held as we entered the studio and completed the last tweaks on “Our Lady of Britannia”. But I must admit the lyrics began to have an intense effect on me. “Remember this, thy country, amidst the stormy sea/O may she stand united, a stronghold for the free…”

    As I headed down the hall at the end, I heard Ken mutter to my dad about the Scottish Independence Supporters, “What’s she going to do if they win?” My dad replied, somewhat humorously, “She’ll be destroyed.” But in reality, even though he is not a follower of British history and politics and could care less about the referendum outcome, he did appreciate how hard I would take it, and continued putting out encouraging messages on my computer screen to boost my spirits. One of them prophetically read: “Read my lips: There will be no new Scots-land. Drink to it!”

    Out in the car, my dad left me to listen to the song on our radio as he went into a pharmacy. I found that the emotions I had been suppressing all day suddenly rose to the surface. “Oh, Lady, this is love,” I whispered. “Will you not accept this love, will you not spare them?” I had put the whole thing under her protection long before that, and quite literally. The cute little Union Jack that stands on my desk with Old Glory and the Maryland State flag found a new place at the foot of her statue in my room. Also, the night before the vote, I went before her statue and asked for God’s will to be done, but if it were possible, that this cup might pass us by. Then I sang her song, and promised to promote her under the title of “Our Lady of Britannia” should we be spared.

        But anyway, getting back to the 18th, after dad returned from his pharmacy mission, we headed over to the rehearsal clubhouse (fondly known as “The Bunker”) to meet with Maestro Pat, give back the car he had lent us to complete the South Carolina trip, and have a catch-up session. So we reclined on his slump couch, and he regaled us with his many adventures since we’d last seen each other. I tried my best to focus on the conversation, but I must admit my mind my drifting overseas. I wanted to get home as soon as possible and find out what was happening. Or did I? Maybe I inwardly would rather not know. One thing I knew was that I never missed and worried about Henry Hill so much in my life, and was mentally querying, “Henry, where are you??” But one way or the other, Pat invited us out for dinner, and who was I to refuse that? So while he and my dad got the car started, I called mom to let her know where we’d be.

    She promptly informed me that she had flicked over to The BBC Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio, and that everyone was talking about the referendum. Hitherto, she had not taken a direct interest in the matter, although she was always very kind and attentive when I told her about my own involvement. Now she made it her own. “You know, this is serious,” she informed me. “The whole world will be at a loss without the UK!” How well I knew, how well I knew. But then she gave me some hope, and told me that an analyst who had done a poll after the voting put his name on the line and insisted that he was 98% sure there would be a “No” vote. I sucked in my tummy and braced myself

    In the car with Pat, we played the “Our Lady of Britannia” song again. It was our finished production; of course we wanted to show it off. But with circumstances happening as the were, the whole thing felt so surreal. “Our Lady of Britannia, ora pro nobis…ora pro nobis…ora pro nobis…” I meant it more now than I ever did in my life, and hearing me sing it, the intensity of the moment brought tears to my eyes. But no time for much fluff. We were going to a tavern. Yes, whilst the majority of the Brits were stakes in taverns to watch the results, I would be in one too! The main difference was that while they were drinking beer and whiskey I was drinking sprite and eating chicken tenders and French fries…

    After parting with Pat, we headed to the supermarket to pick up a few things before heading home. Again, I cannot emphasize how totally dream-like the whole scene felt. Here I was, on the day I had been dreading for some two years, still not knowing the outcome, shopping for dish washing liquid and mozzarella cheese! We called mom again to inquire about the store list, and she still had her ear tuned to BBC, and informed that the first three counties had come in for “No”. A good sign to be sure. I asked if Fife had come in yet, and it seemed to still be in the wings. On our way home, my dad and I prayed our daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and I’m sure you can guess what my main intention was!

    Back home things were heating up. The radio was blaring with British accents, and suddenly I felt quite sick. I went upstairs to keep my distance on it, and in that time several more counties came in, this time for “Yes”, although happily by small margins. My parents loyally kept me informed from downstairs, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciated it. Then there was a split: Dundee went for “Yes”, while Aberdeen went for “No.” We were leading, but it was getting progressively tighter. And my breathing was getting worse.   

     Going from my knowledge of the Jacobite Rebellions, I made the calculation that Edinburgh would probably vote “Yes” and Glasgow “No.” Okay, so things have altered some since the 1740’s. As it turned out, the exact opposite happened. I’ll admit I felt totally drained out as the results were coming in, and waiting for Glasgow to come in was like a nightmare. For the first time that night, the nasally British accents of the BBC announcers themselves sounded tinged with a sense of fear. I felt a sudden rush of hopelessness, almost visually seeing the worst in my mind’s eye, a re-run of the past two presidential elections, and of my own failure in the SAR contest. My throat constricted, and I felt I could not pray any more. Had it all been for nothing? Something jostled me inside, and I went down on my knees. “Oh, God, I can’t pray anymore; take the emptiness I feel.”

    Then the news came in that Glasgow had voted “Yes.” But there was a twist. It had been extremely close, and this referendum was still counting population. We weren’t out of the box yet. And then, quite quickly it seems after such a long wait for everything else, Edinburgh came in, for “No.” I felt absolutely giddy inside, confused and suddenly taking away new hope. Soon after, BBC declared for a “No” vote. There were still other counties to be counted, so the declaration wasn’t definitive, but I think most of us began to feel more confident how this long night would end. But I had to take a break from the pressure for a little while, so I turned off the radio.

    When I turned it back on, they were saying we had an almost unassailable lead. But in order to end the suffering once and for all, there was one county that had to makes its decision. You guessed it: Fife, the home of Carol and Maj. Pitcairn! We all waited with bated breath for the announcement that would determine the outcome of The Scottish Independence Referendum 2014…and it was “NO”! The BBC announcer intoned, “And there you have it. Scotland rejects independence. The United Kingdom survives.” All my pent up emotions finally gave way, and I embraced my parents, sobbing from sheer relief.

    Then Alex Salmond, leader of the YES Campaign, came on the radio, making his final speech, admitting that independence had been rejected “at this time”, and that he would continue to work for Scotland within the United Kingdom, and hoped the others would do so as well. Then came Alasdair Darling, leader of the NO Campaign, sounding enlivened as he announced that the bonds between Scotland and rest of the UK had endured. “May they never be broken.” Finally there was David Cameron, the Prime Minister of The UK, vowing to work for a fair system by which all the constituent parts of “Our United Kingdom” would be fairly represented. And then the BBC announcers came back, talking about the massive constitutional changes that would have to come, the work the British government would have to do the in the future…but we still had a future.

    Meanwhile, I was on Skype and email, contacting my sleep-deprived Unionists to share the moment. Henry, John, Carol, Rev. Yates, Graham, Wyndysascha, Auntie Joanna, and the next few days Alistair McConnachie, Jonathan, Dominic, Effie and more…It was such a wonderful sense of unity and common purpose. Sure, we all there was bound to be a rocky road ahead, and loads of infighting in the wake of the British constitutional revisions. Sure, there would no doubt be some negative repercussions from disillusioned Nats. But for the time being, we relished in the fact that the country had been given a second chance, that all our work had paid off, and that Our Lady of Britannia had saved us to fight another day. And so we move on, on a mission of reunification and reconciliation, and through the grace and mercy of God, hope to come out all the stronger and better for it.

Better Together; Better for Us All