An aftermath of scones. The butter pat monstered, jam jars emptied, coffees slurped and plates lightly speckled with crumbs and the odd stray sultana making a bid for freedom: two days before the referendum.
The conversation around the table takes an earnest turn, as Agnes dabs her mouth daintily and Mary executes the backsliding currant with extreme prejudice. They are, I'd guess, some kind of church party, a regular coffee morning, who have been demolishing scones together in these parts for more than a decade. Today, the conversation is all about the referendum, and like a great many of the older cohort of society, the tone is almost uniformly skeptical.
"Did you hear about that- about the social media?" (Quotation marks in the original.) "Oh aye," another blue riser adds, with the piteous attitude of the commiserating gossip, on hearing that Magrit from up the close has been struck down with alopecia. "Seems anybody who speaks up - anyone who is voting No - gets shouted down." "Oh aye," the chorus goes up. The grey heads nod as one. "It's a disgrace," one adds with feeling, taking a sour pull at a cold coffee.
None are, you might hazard, mustard keen pioneers in the digital revolution. I'm sure Agnes rustles up a cracking Victoria sponge, but I doubt she tweets her way vigorously through the Great British Bake Off (#GBBO), slating Paul Hollywood for being a pompous doughball who has confused the art of bashing up a decent enriched dough with brain surgery. But they all nod gravely, uniform if unempirical in their sense that the referendum is an altogether disagreeable process, producing monsters.
"Did you see them up there? Last weekend. They were all out, up there." "Oh, aye. I saw that, aye." A reference to the corner of Queen's Park in the Southside, which over the course of the weekend had sprouted a clutch of cheery and unself-conscious Yes-voters, with kids and dogs and flags and fiddles. The church circle didn't really approve. "What were they up to, anyway?"
"I just walked by," one adds, with glorious sangfroid. I'm sure she toddled past, unnoticed, with majestic disdain. From the firm set of her upper lip, and the fizz of pride with which she related her great cold march by, she clearly felt it was some kind of triumph for personal dignity over the mob. "They were in town and all. George Square," another chips in. More nods of quiet disapproval. Though none of the ladies quite said it, the unspoken phrase making a scene hovered about these overheard remarks.
As it happened, I'd spent about 20 civilised minutes the previous day talking to one of these church ladies, and clearly hadn't prospered. She was anxious about Romanians, liked Poles, but went in fear of the Tories and felt exhausted by the Labour Party. She gave us a fair crack of the whip, but I dare say she voted No along with her coffee circle.
More than ever, I'm confirmed in the thought that the referendum has revealed - in a generationally differentiated way - a Scottish discomfort with public political disagreement and a more overtly expressive and visible approach to the performance of politics. Some time ago, I questioned that familiar but "hackneyed account of Scotland sees us as a belligerent, in-your-face nation, at home in a habitat of conflict. A flyting tribe of impatient Groundskeeper Willies, bubbling over with antipathies, irreverent, thrawn and not feart to fall into controversy." The referendum result blows this fond thought to bits. There was something to the silent majority.
Older folk will have voted No for a number of reasons, but if my coffee morning was anything to go by, the aesthetics of politics, and generational differences, may have played a significant part in that. It is all a bit late now. But it is a little referendum crumb, a tiny window into the part of Scottish society who most decisively rejected the idea of self-government. While those in George Square felt galvanised, full of energy, comradely and celebratory - these ladies surveyed these uncharacteristically lively displays of politics -- and found it disturbing.
They didn't see the "carnival of democracy" warmer spirits have identified, but the unfamiliar, disagreeable outburst of symbols, activity, declarations, politics in the public realm. I'm sure they hadn't the nearest foggiest clue what was or was not happening online, and happens everywhere where folk with strong opinions have access to a keyboard and the internet - but they felt quietly besieged in Scotland by an alien and unwelcome approach to politics.
For them, Jim Murphy's egg was emblematic of a much deeper, more shapeless sense of unease about the whole process, the enthusiasm, the vitality. The bottom line: they didn't like it. Didn't like the occupation of public space. Didn't like the big, overwhelmingly ruly Yes assemblies. Didn't like the flags and the badges and the signs. Didn't like a politics that wasn't quiet, and orderly, and unenthused, and conducted discreetly only in the secure privacy of the voting booth.
They reminded me a bit of folk like Kenneth Roy, who in feebler moments seem to long for the 1950s and the happy days when the guid folk kept their heads down, and in quiet unison voted Labour for the Glasgow Corporation. Where you knew where you were, and the young folk had the decency to wear the plain flat browns and caps of their elders, and not cut up rough.
As a youngish man, still clinging to the edges of his youth, this strikes me as the gloomy, unambitious politics of nostalgia. I don't doubt it is sincere. It was certainly conclusive. The church party felt it keenly over the wreckages of their scones and voted according to their own lights. But it is the politics of managed decline, a politics of the kirk minister and the Sunday Post, a colourless politics of conformity, and apathy and deference, which relegates the political to the private sphere, fenced in from ordinary life, unsympathetic, unambitious -- and deeply, deeply uninspiring.