A couple of amazing things happened last Saturday.
It was a grand day for me, and I hope 15,000 other Scots, as we collectively engaged in the biggest political discussion we’ve seen in these islands for quite some time. We were spread across Glasgow, with the SNP Tour in the Hydro, and the Radical Independence Conference at the Clyde Auditorium. To think that the SNP, a party which has been institutionally marginalised by the establishment since its inception, has managed to sell out a major venue to the tune of twelve thousand – that’s a hundred and twenty hundreds* – in 2014 is remarkable. Similarly, to think that RIC, an organisation which only started in 2012, could blossom from the 900 of the original conference to three thousand – thirty hundreds – even as the most popular party in Scotland had a massive congregation quite literally next door, is an amazing achievement.
After the SNP tour, I met up with some of the regulars at Wings Over Scotland. I’d missed out earlier in the year – I was in America – but even though the 2014 referendum is past, I saw no reason not to. I’m glad I did.
For a person who doesn’t “do” gatherings, I sure attended a lot of gatherings over the past year, didn’t I? Comic-cons, Howard Days, branch meetings, rallies, marches, all sorts, this year alone. This particular tour was very important for me, because while I’d been a voting-life-long SNP supporter, I’ve taken the leap into active party membership. This was also especially important for my mother: she’s been an SNP member and supporter since she could vote. She’s stuck with the party through thick and thin, despite the natural peer pressure that occurs when practically your entire town is an old Labour stronghold. She, more than many in Inverclyde, needed – and deserved – to be there.
And to think, we almost didn’t make it! We were late for the train we wanted, we had to grab lunch and eat it on the go, and by the time we walked through the throngs outside the Hydro it was already 1:45. We dutifully brought along our tickets and our SNP member cards, but were told that since the problems associated with processing tens of thousands of new members, only the tickets were needed. Already, it didn’t seem like a stiff party conference – it was a relaxed, laid back gathering. The security may not have smiled, but they weren’t tense or oppressive, standing at ease. Since they seemed relaxed, I relaxed, and every single person there was cheerful and happy, as if they were at Disneyworld for the first time.
I couldn’t believe the number of young people present – and by young, I mean younger than me (age 30 1/2). Hip, vibrant, eager looking people, from all walks of life.Alongside the young were older men and women, and you couldn’t even tell which was a lifelong SNP member, and which was a new recruit to their first ever political movement. I even saw more than a few babies along, and they were content all through the day. Those babies were great.
After getting our bearings, we flowed into the arena. We went up to the gods, figuring (correctly) that the lower levels were full. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to see when I reached the balcony. 12,000 is a lot of people! A sea of saltires, yellow foam pointy fingers and flags, but it was anything but uniform. I saw all sorts of people: men and women in suits and formal dress; couples with Anime hair and tattoos; women in extravagant makeup and stylish clothes, and others with wild hair festooned in badges; Muslim women with stylish hijabs and long-bearded men in kufis (so much for that “narrow nationalism”); all the way to the Braveheart contingent clad in kilts and plaids.
This, I thought – this was Scotland.
The event itself was great fun. I wasn’t specifically there for the music, but I enjoyed it, especially the unexpected excellence of Stanley Odd. I can generally take or leave hip-hop music, but politically motivated rap as exemplified by Public Enemy and N.W.A. is extremely interesting to me. I often wondered if there was a market for politically-minded thrash metal in Scotland, along the lines of Testament or early Megadeth: if any time was right for that, it’s surely now. I’d love a concept album about the socialist movement of Scotland a la Sabaton’s Carolus Rex or Grave Digger’s Tunes of War. How ’bout it, Alestorm? Holocaust? The Almighty? Iron Claw? Nazareth?
Part of me was disappointed that nobody made special mention of RIC during the proceedings – but then, perhaps it’s better that way. RIC is rebellious, subversive, aiming at shaking up the system. Having the endorsement of the majority party of Scotland doesn’t really do much for their street cred, does it? Let alone inviting the “SNP front” accusations from other parties which we’ve already seen during the referendum campaign. Better that SNP and RIC retain their individuality, as long as they work together when it’s important.
The speakers, of course, were great. Nicola was outstanding, the toughest & least compromising I’ve seen from her. Stewart in particular was excellent given he was sandwiched between the former and current First Ministers: he was every inch the statesman himself. I voted for Angela Constance for Depute, but the great thing was that I honestly didn’t mind whoever won, they were all great candidates. It’s a bit like your favourite Cornetto Trilogy film: all three are great, but you have a favourite, right? It’s fantastic Keith and Angela are in the cabinet, anyway.
Speaking of Alex Salmond, when he came on stage, the entire auditorium rose in a standing ovation. A baby a few rows in front of us jumped up and down, squealing wildly; a wee girl started crying when she saw his reaction to the extended applause; a few cries of “we love you!” and “thank you!” barely heard above the din. Would that we had more politicians deserving of such a reception. Mr Salmond made mention of the old story of Sparta being the only Greek city without walls, for the people would serve as its defence: it was great fun imagining the 1.6 million Yes voters lining the coastline, clad only in kilts and woad!
Afterwards, my mother and I got tea, then we headed for the Yesbar. We were greeted outside by the incomparable Paula Rose, and may I just say that no matter how prepared you may think you are upon meeting her, let me assure you that there is no adequate preparation in the case of Paula Rose? I was then introduced to Oneironaut, Ronnie Anderson, Brian Doonthetoon, and Bugger (the Panda).** We nipped into the bar, where we met Alex Clark, and even found some of the Yes Inverclyde contingent up on the second floor! After a bit, we made our way to the Counting House, with Crazycat tagging alongside. I had an excellent, heartfelt talk with Ronnie on the way.
Upon entry we were greeted by waving hands and cheers: I recognized Morag from her TV appearance, and I then met Betty Boop, TJenny, Jim T, Cactus, Dixie, and Alistair Grapevine. Later on Kininvie came along, as well as Proud Cybernat and his wife Mrs Proud Cybernat. For the next few hours, we all talked about – what else? – politics, the SNP Tour, RIC, and so forth. It’s amazing how different talking politics is in person compared to the internet. I even got a wee “Wings Over Glasgow” badge with my handle on it. This sense of community and mutual passion about a subject is something I thought was very rare, but I find it more and more often. A true change has come over the Scotland I grew up in: it’s no longer the relentlessly dreich, stark, cynical landscape of the 1990s and 2000s, but one coloured by hope and opportunity.
My mother and I left early, mostly because we feared missing the last train: we only just caught it, right enough. I’m very glad I met up with the Wings crowd, and I doubt it’ll be a one-time occasion. Next one’s in Edinburgh: hopefully I’ll see you there!
*I don’t know why, but I find Alex Salmond’s clarification when it comes to billions as “thousand millions” really appealing. It prevents confusion, where it might be the “million millions” definition, and it also helps define just what a big number it is.
**I might’ve mixed up when I met various Wings individuals, as well as mixed up names, please don’t take offence as I am absolutely atrocious with names at the best of times.