There’s an old saying about my birth month: March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb. It refers to how the weather in early March tends towards the savage and cold, while the end of the month is warm and clement.
The same could be said of the 30th of July’s March for Independence, in many ways.
So. Me & my mammy went up to Glasgow. We met up with some more of the Indyclyders on the bus to the Botanic Gardens, and indeed dozens of other folk bedecked in saltires and pro-indy paraphernalia. Everyone was excited and optimistic, despite the weather threatening showers. If anything that probably made us more determined. So, we walked to the Gardens. We were in good company.
We started the march. As you can see, there was a fair number of us: we were somewhere about the middle of the great parade. While we had forgotten to bring our flags, there was a gentleman there handing some saltires out: we naturally took some to wave aloft.
In the days leading up to the march, I found a number of folk online who were somewhat critical of all the flag-waving parades. Some thought it was “triumphalist” or “aggressive” or “arrogant,” presenting the idea that having these marches gives the impression we thought we had already won. Others are more activity-oriented, lamenting the number of people who could have been out canvassing or leafleting. And some – usually folk who don’t consider themselves “nationalists,” which is of course their prerogative – think it will turn off soft No voters, intimidating them, citing the likes of Orange Walks as comparison.
As you’ve probably already guessed by now, I’m all for marches, and think they’re an entirely legitimate – indeed, in many ways the entirely legitimate – form of civic expression. From the Chartists to the Suffragettes, the Hunger March to the Jarrow Crusade, Kent State to Washington, the anti-Iraq War protests to the Arab Spring, thousands of people mobilising to say something has been one of the great tools of grassroots democracy. There’s a reason it’s usually the rich and powerful who are first to demean and dismiss such protests as silly at best, and dangerous at worst.
Consider: if marches didn’t help the cause of independence – indeed, if they were actually counter-productive – then why such a dearth of coverage from the media? Why did the City Chambers Camera malfunction yet again for the near entire duration of the gathering? Why are British Nationalist commentators, activists and advocates so desperate to downplay the attendance? Could it not be for the same reason that similar mass movements – the rallies in support of a political leader the establishment doesn’t endorse, the protests against privatisation & poverty & wars, the gatherings in support of refugees or the European Union – are comprehensively ignored?
Marches are vital to the visibility of a cause. They are an immediate demonstration that an idea has support, and crucially, brings people together in a joyful and enthusiastic atmosphere. It cannot be underestimated how powerful such a thing is: I can’t count the number of people who came into Yes Inverclyde after such an event, especially Yes in the Park. Sometimes, people cannot help but be attracted to congregations of smiling, happy people, united in common purpose.
Flag-Waving has a purpose, too. When the Union Flag is everywhere in Scotland – military tattoos, parades, remembrances, holidays, events, sports, games – then it’s all the more important to balance it out, especially considering our public broadcaster is based outside of our nation. Whatever the saltire meant over the centuries, now, it is a symbol of the Scottish peoples’ self-determination, regardless of creed or birthplace. I’ve long maintained that nationalism is inherently neutral as an ideology, far from a “virus”: it depends on what the nationalism is for that determines whether it is a worthy cause.
Marches won’t be for everyone; flag-waving will leave some cold. Such is the diversity of the political realm, where plenty of independence supporters refuse to even call themselves nationalists, which is entirely their prerogative. Yet it has been my experience that for every person turned off by marching & flag-waving, there’s at least another who won’t. Why? Because they are inspired by our belief.
I remember during the indyref a certain undercurrent from some commentators accusing Yes Scotland, and the independence movement itself, with being too genteel, too blasé, too soulless, with too much focus on the boring details of finances and economics. Such undercurrents certainly don’t reflect the accusations from other quarters of “blood & soil nationalism” fuelling the drive for independence, but they were there.
We passed dozens of folk taking photographs and videos; on the streets, from shop fronts, even their flat windows. Drivers trumpeted their car horns, waving and smiling as they passed. Latecomers joined the parade, swelling our numbers. Film & TV crews – even some from British media(!) – recorded the procession.
It didn’t take long for the weather to turn, and there was a fair 10 or 20 minutes of absolute soaking – but we kept on, some of us using our flags as makeshift umbrellas to keep the droplets from pattering our heads.
It’s about this point that we realise just how many people we were marching with. I looked down the hill to see thousands of people up ahead. Then, when we got to the bottom of the hill, we looked back…
My photos may not be quite as iconic as the others, but if nothing else, they were my photos: a moment caught in time when me, my mammy, our fellow Indyclyders, and literally thousands upon thousands of independence supporters took to the streets to announce that we were still here.
As we approached Freedom Square, the clouds broke. The sun shone down on us. All the rain and the wet seemed an eternity away as the solar beams dried us up. Our initial anxieties – would there only be a few of us, would there be trouble, would the weather scatter us – were lifted on wings of confidence. Our march really did start like a lion, and end like a lamb.
Another Inverclyder met us in Freedom Square: Cllr. Math Campbell-Sturgess, one of the founders of English Scots for Yes. As luck would have it, I had noticed that the English Flag was passing by just as we met up: I tried my best to get a shot of the flag with the English Scots. You can see it if you squint. But, again, better pictures by other people were to come:
I noticed that the flag-bearer, a Mr Christopher Neill of Dundee, announced on Twitter his plans to bear the Cross of St. George on this particular rally. I’ve worked alongside Math and the rest of the English Scots almost since I started getting involved in independence campaigning, so I thought seeing an English flag among all those saltires would be most welcome – and, indeed, essential. Think of what that flag meant historically in Scotland, imbedded in the Scottish peoples’ psyche: the flag of invaders, raiders, would-be conquerors. To have a flag with such heavy cultural resonance borne alongside the saltire – not crudely superimposed as in the Union flag, but accompanying its fellow nation as a true equal – was as potent a statement to make as I could think of.
And, as ever, the Wings Over Scotland gang was present. I haven’t talked much about an abridged version of one of my posts being published on Wings, mostly because I don’t really know what to say. But, as I’ve said before, I credit Wings as being one of the inspirations for this blog, and I maintain is instrumental in the campaign for Scottish Independence. The Wee Blue & Black Books alone are enough. The Reverend, and the many other authors and contributors, made Wings Over Scotland essential reading, and having my work published is immensely validating. I’m forever appreciative.
The best part of these events is meeting up with those like-minded souls. I won’t mention the Wings regulars I met again for fear of excluding anyone I forgot, suffice to say it was once again a distinguished pleasure to talk again. However, it was not just pleasure: conversation frequently turned to strategy for future campaigning, and we’ve been talking about what’s next.
For now, I’m going to mention one in particular: the National Yes Registry. I attended a presentation in Dunoon last month, where the basics of the project were presented:
Now, several changes have been made in the year since this video was published online, in particular the parts about forming policy (which have been dropped), but the central idea of the video – a facilitatory network of intercommunication between independence supporting campaigns across the country – remains. I’ve met one of the minds behind the registry, and can happily say I have no reservations about the project. With the closing of Yes Scotland in the aftermath of the referendum, we need to have something to keep us all working together: something that offers all the freedom of the internet, with the focus and structure to make it easier for all these groups.
The march of independence goes on…