10,000 11,000 5,000 7,000§ thousands of others last Saturday, I marched for independence. Originally I’d intended to follow my usual Saturday routine of rest, rest, tea, and rest, but the warm nagging of some close friends and the generosity of giving me a lift there saw me trundle down to the Meadows in Edinburgh and end up through some bizarre circumstance walking holding a banner for an organisation of which it would be true to say am the definition of a ‘paper member’. But truth be told, there where any number of banners representing a wad of people and organisations being held aloft on Saturday afternoon, followed by a speakers list at the rally of concept album proportions.
Just a trawl through my ever-failing memory banks brings to mind the Radical Independence Conference, Scottish Independence Convention, Labour for Independence and Women For Independence, as well as the obvious SNP, Green, SSP and individual non-aligned attendees like Ruth Wishart and Cameron McNeish. And the noticeable applause for speakers like Margo MacDonald when they touched on their antipathy towards the EU demonstrated the different strands of thought on Scotland’s place in the world post-independence.
Such a spread of individuals and opinions reflect the historic development of the National Movement, going right back to the formation of the National Party of Scotland – a fusion of romantic cultural ideals and hard-headed economic determinism. The modern-day SNP has reflected the mostly-dominant Social Democratic strand, and has come to dominate the movement by dint of its electoral success. But the pro-independence wing has always been a wider tent than the canvass offered by the SNP – the difference is that now that diversity is almost front and centre of the ‘Yes’ camp.
The problem the anti-independence camp now face is the monotony of their image. Those of us campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote can genuinely point to the spectrum of opinion Saturday’s march represented and argue that it’ll those among it who can effectively address the issues of an Independent Scotland that will lead the nation into the future – not necessarily the groupings and structures we have now. Whatever else transpires in those days, it will undoubtedly represent real change in our political system, delivered by those campaigning for real change in our constitutional system.
The contrast with Better Together is striking. Other than a few, so far limited in profile and publicity, groups such as One Dynamic Nation, and some reactionary types and rock-dwellers on Facebook, the biggest ‘external’ Unionist organisations to have spoken out seriously on the independence debate have been CBI Scotland (membership: 90) and the Orange Order. I’m no pollster, but the latter two don’t strike me as presenting a particularly inspiring vision of a new Scotland.
A main frame of attack for the Union-minded souls has been the personality of Alex Salmond. All those farcical digs at “President Salmond” and the like don’t all come out of the mouths and ideas of numpties. They’re carefully calculated to move the debate away from ideals and vision, and onto the well-trodden ground of party politics and individual character. If you don’t like the First Minister, goes the mantra, don’t give him what he wants; vote against independence.
But the range of talent and outlook loosely affiliating to the campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote – which is not the same thing as affiliating to the ‘Yes’ campaign – give those campaigners the riposte to such juvenile but perceptibly effective attacks. Whisper it, but not everyone in attendance on Saturday are Alex Salmond fans. And simultaneously allows the contrast to be drawn with the ‘No’ camp, caricatured as another mainly grey and patrician arm of the Establishment: defeated politicians, big business, laughable bowler-hats and all.
It gives us the tactical potential to argue the case for independence releasing the spectrum of opinion from a strait-jacket of sterility, forced on us by an economically ultra right-wing cabal in SW1A, and into the sort of tough, reasoned debates we need in this country as soon as possible. It allows us independinistas to point to the colour and vigour of those alongside us, from right to left, federalist to sovereigntist, established to outsider, and ask people the question: Do you really want more generations of the same, of the grey, of the bland – or do you want to take a path that at least attempts to solve the intractable problems of our nation?
It means saying that we can’t, shouldn’t, and won’t agree on everything, and that that’s been the mantra from those leading the ‘No’ side for decades – that we must agree the market is king, we must agree on the need for WMDs on the Clyde, and we must agree that rule from a Westminster in the full grip of the spivs, crooks and criminals in the City of London is a good thing. By saying we want a demonstrably different road, we strengthen the argument for independence we take to the doorsteps.
§ For what it’s worth, myself and companions on the day reckon around 8 – 9,000 looked and sounded about right, but frankly it’s turned into a willy waving competition so why bother drilling right down.
Apologies for the awful pun headline, by the way.