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For most people, I am sure that landing at Glasgow airport is no different to landing at any other airport. From the typically cramped, budget airline plane to the hi-vis clad airport staff, coming into Glasgow by air is really no different to London or Dublin. For me, however, there is something about arriving here that I have never experienced anywhere else. I haven’t lived in Scotland since I was three years old but every time I go back, I experience a strange yet welcome sense of reassurance. The kind of reassurance that one can only feel when returning to their home.

This time, though, a sense of foreboding lingers beneath this reassurance. The date is September 18th, 2014: the day on which the Scottish people vote to decide on whether or not the country should break off from the United Kingdom and go it alone. Although I do not get to vote, I am firm in my belief that Scotland should remain in the UK. I am fiercely proud of my roots and I believe that Scotland is an integral part of the economic and cultural powerhouse that is Great Britain, which in turn is a driving force behind the European Union. For me, the Leave vs Remain debate on which the Scottish Independence referendum is centred boils down to a simple matter of heart vs head and, as the plane grinds to a halt on the tarmac of Glasgow airport, I am confident that the head will prevail.

Living on the outskirts of London as I do, it is rare that my extended family and I are all in the same place at once. This is to be one of those occasions: September 18th, 2014 is also significant in a personal sense for me as it marks my grandmother’s 80th birthday. Walking into her bungalow, with its tiny, though immaculately kept, square of a front garden in the heart of Glasgow’s Southside helps to dispel the sense of uneasiness that plagued my journey north.

I squeeze onto the end of the crowded old sofa that has sat in the corner of the living room for as long as I can remember, and take time to catch up on news and gossip with my grandmother and various other female relatives. Pictures of us all cover the walls and it is clear from the smile embossed on Grandma’s face that she is over the moon to have us all there in the flesh, even at the expense of a few shoe-shaped marks on the otherwise spotless beige carpet.

Having finally managed to convince the occupants of the living room that I will not be getting married or having children any time soon, I head through to the kitchen, at the back of the house, where the males of the family are gathered, bottles of lager in hand. As a mixed bag of Celtic and Rangers supporters, the usual banter flies back and forth. From as far back as I can remember, there has always been an unwritten rule between us that this banter stays good-natured and never becomes malicious in any way, and I had never known this rule to be broken. Until today.

“Typical Hun. I can already tell that you voted No this morning. Union Jack on your bedroom wall but no clue when it comes to the real politics,” snarls my Celtic supporting-cousin, Liam, to Robbie, another cousin of ours who happens to follow Rangers.

The kitchen falls silent as Robbie’s face turns almost puce in colour.

“That’s rich coming you ya’ fuckin’ prick,” he retorts. “Try watching the news. Every expert on there is saying that our economy isn’t strong enough for us to go independent. It’s Fenians like you stirring the shit that has caused all this!”

“Bollocks,” butts in Liam’s dad, Kenny. “Our economy’s perfectly good. As long as we can stay in the E.U. then we’ll be just fine, and we won’t have the fuckin’ English dictating how we spend oor’ own money!”

Now, I’ve never been the argumentative type but, having lived in England since I was three years old, this last comment irritates me more than slightly.

“Now that’s not fair…-“ I begin, but am immediately cut off by Kenny.

“Oh what a fucking surprise that you support Remain! You Londoners love nothing better than having us idiot Scots under Westminster control eh!?”

“Don’t you talk to him like that Kenny,” warns another of my uncles, George, who has always viewed me as his favourite.

At this, Kenny slowly gets up from his seat at the kitchen table.

“He’s a big boy, I’ll talk to him how I want. That OK with you, George?” he growls.

George puts his bottle of beer down and takes a step towards him. As they begin to square up, I try to step between them in order to break things up before they get out of hand. It is to no avail as Kenny reaches around me to push George in the chest. Then, all hell breaks loose.

When my aunts and grandmother rush in to see what all the fuss is about, they are greeted with a melee that is more suited to a rugby pitch than a pensioner’s kitchen. Broken glass and overturned chairs litter the floor while a group of grown men wrestle and shout. Punches are thrown, though thankfully none seem to connect with their targets. The insults and accusations that are being hurled however, really are hitting home.

It takes a few moments but the women manage to restore order. Kenny storms out of the house, though George stays put, his face red both from exertion and from the sense of embarrassment that is fast replacing his anger. I hang around for a few minutes, not saying much, but after a short while, I decide to slip out of the front door. Kenny’s comments have stung me, for sure, but, more than anything, I am shocked at the eruption, the cracks that have suddenly appeared right across the foundations of my family. I decide to find a pub and have a pint while I cool off. I walk by a few bars with ‘Yes!’ banners and Saltire flags draped across their exteriors, as well as one that is adorned with Union Jacks and even a giant picture of the Queen, before finally coming across one that seems to be politically neutral. As I take a seat with my drink, I notice a dartboard in the corner and decide to take a few shots. In my imagination, the target is actually David Cameron: his punishment for calling the referendum, for taking such a huge risk merely in order to gain some political capital for himself, and also for running such a negative and uninspiring Remain campaign that I believe has driven many who would otherwise be naturally inclined to vote Remain into the arms of the Yes campaign.

September 19th, 2014. The vote is in: Remain have won. Just. Scotland shall remain a part of the United Kingdom. I had previously thought that I would feel a sense of elation should this be the result but, now that it has happened, I don’t. I just feel relieved. Now, with any luck, things can go back to how they were. England and Scotland can move on; Kenny and George can make up. All will be well again.

I decide spontaneously to take my grandmother out for a late lunch. Throughout the whole debate, she has kept her views on the referendum to herself, and it is refreshing to be able to chat with her as if nothing has happened. After a few drinks (lager for me; sweet sherry for her), I am feeling a bit more upbeat and, after taking Grandma home in a taxi, I decide to head into Glasgow city centre to check out the celebrations that are due to take place in and around George Square and Buchanan Street.

I arrange to meet Robbie in a pub called The Piper on the corner of George Square at 5.30pm. The place is already packed by the time I arrive and there is a real buzz about it. This is more like it, I think to myself as I head for the bar.

It is nearing 8pm when we leave the pub and enter George Square itself. I would have liked to have left a bit earlier but Robbie and his friends had seemed content in the pub. The alcohol has taken its merry toll on me and I am keen to celebrate. There is already a large crowd gathered, a sea of red white and blue; men, women and children. Rule Britannia is being sung passionately. Not the most forward-thinking of songs, perhaps, but one that is both acceptable and understandable, in my view, on such an occasion and so I join in as we force our way through the throngs of people.

As we get closer to the centre of the square, however, I realise that all is not as it seems. The party atmosphere has been replaced by something more aggressive, more sinister. I notice that I am surrounded almost completely by grown men now: there are no women and children to be seen. The red, white and blue is still present but Red Hand of Ulster flags are also prominent. Rule Britannia has been replaced by No Surrender, which leaves me feeling dispirited, and this is exacerbated when I see that Robbie is joining in with the singing.

As I see the police line, intent on separating Remain-ers and a crowd of Yes Supporters that has also gathered in the square, my thoughts turn towards getting out of there. This is no celebration. This is a show of strength and aggression. At the front of the crowd on this side of the police line are groups of men, no, yobs, who are hurling seemingly anything they can get their hands on at the Yes supporters. I can hear as many Northern Irish accents as I can Scottish now, which is fitting as the scene is beginning to resemble a 12th July parade in Belfast. It is clear to me now that the dark side of British nationalism and unionism is rearing its ugly head here in George Square. Loyalists from Northern Ireland linking up with their Scottish counterparts. They will say that they are simply defending their culture. I, like many others who have seen it up-close, beg to differ on this point.

I turn and force my way back through the crowd. Waves of young men surge the other way, bottles of lager and Buckfast tonic wine in hand. Alcoholic beverages that handily double up as weapons and missiles.

Wanting no part in the aggravation that is unfolding before me, I head along St. Vincent’s Place in the direction of Buchanan Street where I find, to my dismay, that the scenes are not dissimilar to those that I had just witnessed on George Square. A feeling of deep-seated shame washes over me as I walk past a group of teens kicking and punching a man draped in a Saltire flag. Disgust mixes with shame as I am sprayed with the spittle of an elderly woman brandishing a Union Jack embossed with the crest of Rangers Football Club, shouting about Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. Most of her words are inaudible but the malice in them is clear. Groups of men ranging from their teens to their sixties roam up and down the famous shopping street, commonly known as Glasgow’s style mile. Songs associated with Rangers FC and also with Glasgow’s infamous Billy Boys, a sectarian gang notorious for attacking innocent Roman Catholics throughout the twentieth-century, can be heard. There are also groups of Yes supporters present. They are largely identifiable by the Saltire flags that they carry, though it has to be said that there are one or two Irish tricolours on show as well.

Finally, I arrive back at my hotel. I just about manage to change and brush my teeth before climbing into bed. I am asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Sitting in the departure lounge of Glasgow Airport the following morning, I find that I am, for the first time in my life, more than happy to leave the city and get back to London.

The airport does a terrific job of selling the city, and the rest of Scotland for that matter. Images of awe-inspiring scenery from across the country cover the walls. Shortbread and tartan products fill the shelves of the shops. These are just a few examples of the many good things to come out of Scotland. On this trip, however, I have witnessed some of the downsides thanks to a referendum and surrounding discussion that has been shrouded in negativity from the outset. I have seen up-close how the debate on independence has caused division not only between wider communities but also between individual families and friends. The age-old problem of sectarianism has re-emerged, though it had never really gone away. There has been little in the way of healthy political debate as the discussion has been dominated by uncertainty and scare tactics regarding the potential consequences of independence. The whole thing has left me feeling exhausted and I would be happy if I never had to hear the issue mentioned again. However, the reality is that, far from settling it, the referendum has only intensified the debate around Scottish Independence. Remain may have won this battle but the war is far from over.

Brett Rowden