Photographer Jeff Mitchell gives us an insight into what it was like to shoot a political campaign on the scale of the historic Scottish Referendum.
It felt like I had been on this assignment for an age, however during the last twenty eight days of the Scottish Referendum, I realised that I would probably never witness a political movement of that magnitude in this country ever again. It will stay etched in my memory for a very long time.
Whether you were Yes or No, the people and the passion that we were witnessing, poured out onto the streets, packing town and village halls to gather information from both camps. It was clear that Scotland as a country was embracing the political arguments of this campaign like no other.
One of my first pictures from the campaign was from the TV debate with the ‘Better Together’ leader, Alistair Darling and First Minister Alex Salmond. It had taken weeks of negotiating with the TV Company to set this up as Salmond had initially refused to take part unless Prime Minister David Cameron was his opponent.
A specially selected audience had packed the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to watch the first of two debates between the campaign leaders. It was a fiery debate with both men clashing in lively exchanges as they thrashed out their views on the pound, North Sea Oil, remaining in the EU and other issues on whether Scotland should be an Independent country. It was fantastic to watch.
After the debate it really felt to me like the gloves were off on the campaign trail. My next picture was taken in Dundee. I had been in the City covering a Better Together rally in the Marryat Hall where a Labour Party member was ejected for launching a verbal attack on the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown shouting out rubbish and “you’re an absolute disgrace” as he started to address the audience.
Following the heated exchange in the hall I decided it would be worth my while waiting around for Jim Murphy. He was due to be in Dundee as part of his 100 towns in 100 days tour. As he started his soap box speech, rival ‘yes’ and ‘no’ supporters began to argue with each other and Mr Murphy was faced with a barrage of abuse including shouts of you’re a “red Tory” and a “traitor”. Earlier in the day he had faced similar scenes in Montrose and the following day he was hit by an egg in Kirkcaldy. The campaign trail had turned nasty.
Following this I turned my attention to covering the First Minister who I hadn’t photographed much on the trail as the SNP appeared to be keeping his movements quiet possibly for security reasons. I finally tracked him down when he was visiting a well known baker in Kilmarnock, with more photographers there than cup cakes! Mr Salmond seemed slightly uneasy at the requests to put the cakes in front of his eyes but eventually he was persuaded to give into a stereotypical election picture.
As the campaign gained momentum, more and more polls were published. Finally a YouGov poll put the YES at 51% and NO at 49% the first time they had been in the lead. With this happening I decided to head to the border where I heard some campaigners were going to be having a tea party to celebrate.
This shift in momentum had raised the prospect that a split might actually be possible. What had appeared to be unthinkable to many just a few weeks earlier had suddenly got everyone sitting up and taking notice, including Westminster.
The leaders of the three main UK parties, travelled north to make a plea with the people of Scotland to vote no.
I covered Labour leader Ed Miliband as he arrived on a red battle bus for a rally where he made an impassioned speech to a rally, in an attempt to stem the surge of ‘yes’ support from thousands of traditional working class Labour voters. He was impressive.
With the campaign entering its final stage thousands of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ supporters were hitting the streets across the country in an attempt to sway people’s decision before the 18th of September.
Fifteen thousand Orange Order members and bandsmen joined a pro union parade in Edinburgh to show their concern to the imminent threat that was facing the union that they so proudly committed to.
The following day thousand of ‘yes’ campaigners had marched from George Square to the BBC Scotland headquarters to protest against the corporation’s perceived bias in the independence referendum issue.
With the vote growing ever closer, hundreds of banners for both sides were starting to pop up in fields, hanging from bridges and appearing in windows. My favorite was the one I shot on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I had to wait for at least 40 minutes for someone to come to the window, eventually they did and I even got a wave.
For me, whichever way the people may have voted, one thing was for sure. Scotland had achieved something amazing. It had managed to get the vast majority of the nation engaged in politics, from sixteen year olds voting for the first time, to the 4.3 million that registered to vote, democracy must surely be the real winner.