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Key battleground: Aberdeen, centre of the great oil debate

MAYBE there is something in the Granite City that makes its people naturally undemonstrative, or it could be that in a place with such high levels of employment and well-paid jobs they are just too busy getting on and making a living.

But compared to other cities there appears much less sign that a momentous date with destiny is looming. Signs in people's windows signifying support for a Yes or No vote are surprisingly scarce, particularly in the more affluent areas where you might expect a sprinkling of Better Together sentiment.

There are, of course, exceptions that prove the rule, such as the house on the main drag through Rosemount with posters in the window, a Saltire flying and a huge, sculpted Yes sign out front.

But the leitmotif of this city isn't ostentatious demonstrations of political support; it's the teeming harbour, its continued expansion across the Dee into Torry seeming to make a mockery of the idea that all this activity will come grinding to a halt within a couple of generations, as claimed recently by Sir Ian Wood.

This is a politically mixed city and not easy to read in referendum terms. Labour still hold the two Westminster seats but in 2011 the SNP won all three Holyrood seats - indeed all 10 constituencies comprising the North East electoral region. The Tories and the LibDems have had past success in the city.

We meet Labour list MSP Lewis Macdonald out with a small team of canvassers chasing postal voters who had just received their papers and might be open to some 11th-hour persuasion.

He knocks on a door in Meadow Place, Tillydrone, in the north of the city and the omens don't look good as there is a small Yes sticker on the vestibule window.

Robert Allan, 48, an offshore worker home on leave is pulling on his overalls to work on constructing a huge timber outbuilding behind his house, another tangible example of the work ethic in this city. He pauses and listens to Macdonald's arguments politely enough, promising to give the matter further thought.

Once the MSP has moved on Mr Allan makes clear that his postal vote - he will be back offshore on September 18 - will be in favour of independence, but he understands why Aberdonians are not prone to being swept along by the tides of political sentiment.

"We see all the stuff about food banks and so on but we're immune to all that. We're living in our own little bubble," he says. "I'm fortunate. If I was asked to pay another penny on income tax for better hospitals and schools I'd be willing to do that."

As he poses for a photograph in front of the "sitooterie" he is building, Mr Allan is scathing of the view that the oil industry is about to be run down any time soon, and with three youngsters whose ages range from 23 to six years old he is very assured about the future. "I'm confident there are many, many years ahead for the oil industry, and after that decommissioning work will continue for decades," he says.

But he doesn't completely buy into the current Scottish Government's energy policy with its emphasis on renewables: "I'm a great believer in nuclear power as a clean source of energy. Not nuclear weapons, mind."

Round the corner in Meadow Lane, Macdonald has called in on a party colleague who needs no persuasion to vote No, which she will be doing in person on the 18th. Pat Hutchison, 66, works for the council at the Beach Ballroom and has been in the Labour Party for years.

"I just feel there are so many questions which they have failed to come up with an answer to, and if we vote Yes there's no going back. The whole idea is untried and untested, and I am worried for the future of my grandchildren," she says.

"There is just too much pie in the sky. The Scots have their own parliament and they should be happy with that."

And she has another reason for being determined to vote No. "I just can't stand that man," not even bringing herself to utter the First Minister's name.

The city boosts some impressive affluence statistics. Aberdeen City and the surrounding area's GDP is estimated at over £11.4 billion, 17% of the overall Scottish total.

It has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Scotland at 2.3%, significantly below the UK average. Two years ago it was the second highest UK city for employment rates at 77.9%.

Aberdeen is also one of the top cities for highest earnings growth in 2012, with the GVA per head of population £28,731, 38% above the Scottish average. Around one-third of Scotland's top 100 businesses are located in Aberdeen, with 20,000 people employed in the tourism industry.

As Europe's "energy capital" it is also home to more than 900 companies within the sector, sustaining up to 40,000 related jobs.

It all paints a picture of buoyancy and prosperity.

Callum McCaig is leader of the SNP group on Aberdeen City Council and a prominent Yes campaigner in the city.

He says the doorstep issues in the area were little different from elsewhere in the country, despite the obvious affluence.

He says: "It's about wanting the right people in the right place making the decisions.

"The presence of affluence alongside absolute poverty is a marker of Scotland but is more pronounced in Aberdeen.

"People ask how the oil capital of Europe must also sustain food banks."

He adds: "We speak to people working in the industry and at all levels and the variation in opinion isn't much different from the population at large. Like others they're concerned about their own personal circumstances.

"As for the reserves, They've been told the North Sea was running out 20 years before I was a boy. They take it with a pinch of salt.

"What we have here is a resilient energy city, with some of the brightest people on the planet serving the sector."

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