Flags and tartan as Scottish independence leader votes
Flag-waving schoolchildren and tartan caps greeted Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond on Thursday as he voted in the remote farming village he calls home -- where the man who could be the father of independence is just "a nice bloke".
A few kilometres inland from the fishing ports on Scotland's northeast coast, Strichen's main street, with its quaint stone houses, is surrounded by rolling Aberdeenshire farmland, with sheep and cattle grazing in misty fields.
"We know Alex very well. He's a nice bloke, we've spoken to him a number of times. We don't see him here so often now because he's a busy bloke," Hendry Whittaker, a 73-year-old sporting a tartan cap, told AFP.
"I think after all, Scotland should be free," said the retired truck driver, a member of Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP) for 40 years.
"It's up to the next generation to enjoy the freedom, because Scotland's the nicest part of the world you'd ever be in.
"I've always said for years and years, the English cannot manage without us. We can manage without them."
His wife Rita said they used to meet Salmond buying butteries, a savoury kind of bread roll which originated in Aberdeen.
"Years ago when he used to come home, we used to meet him in the bakers because he was going out for his butteries! And sausage rolls," she said.
- 'Let's do it now' -
SNP leader Salmond, who lives in Strichen with his wife Moira, has been a force on the local political scene since the late 1980s, and he greeted familiar faces and chatted to constituents as he made his way to vote.
Wearing a tartan tie with a "Yes" badge pinned to his lapel, Salmond was all smiles as he arrived at Ritchie Hall to cast the ballot he has spent a political lifetime campaigning for.
He was flanked by two first-time female local voters.
Lea Pirie, 28, is pregnant, while 17-year-old Natasha McDonald faced another moment of destiny later in the day: her driving test.
Salmond put his arms around them as he posed for photographs.
"We're now in the hands of the Scottish people and there's no safer place to be," Salmond told AFP after voting.
"I think the message is for Scotland: let's do it now.
"It's an extraordinary moment. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"We've got the chance to build a more prosperous economy but also a fairer society. That's a wonderful, positive vision and that's why Scotland's grasped that opportunity with both hands.
"We can take our own future into our own hands."
Salmond then met children from the neighbouring school, who lined up at the fence and waved Scottish flags, greeting him like a visiting celebrity.
- Salmond 'wrong' but 'too good' -
On entering the hall, Strichen voters saw a giant A1-size ballot paper, bearing the all-important question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
There were also posters for a sheep race night and the annual flower show.
In ones and twos, voters made their way in to have their say on Scotland's future, walking past the rosette-wearing campaigners standing near the "Yes" camp's "battle caravan" outside.
One local voter in a fleece top and tie, who did not want to give his name, pointed at the caravan and said "I'm not voting for that" -- but even he conceded admiration for Salmond.
"I think the (anti-independence) Better Together campaign have been poor. They were right but they put their case across poorly. Salmond put his case across well, but he's wrong and he's told us a heap of lies -- and he's going to get away with it.
"He's the best at putting his case across. It's unbelievable that they have not managed to lay anything on him. He's too good a politician.
"I've ignored the local stuff and listened to the news but I had my mind made up a long time ago."
Other voters had different pressing concerns, like one woman who rushed in and soon rushed back out.
"I've left my dog on her own and she's not been out for a pee yet," she said.
© 2014 AFP