Depending on who you ask, between 20,000 & 200,000 marchers turned up for yesterday’s big Edinburgh party. If anti-independence advocates aren’t immediately going for the lowest estimate, they use the curious logic that “only” 3.7% of a nation’s entire population turning out for a march is somehow a mark against support for Scottish Independence.
So I thought I’d have a look at other famous marches from history. While Mr Golden might think they also show a lack of enthusiasm for their causes (not least because the majority of those marches were against his party), I’ll let readers make up their own minds.
Let’s look at the UK first.
Aldermaston March (CND) 18th April 1960
Estimate: 60,000 – 100,000
UK Population: 52,370,602
March as percentage of UK population: 0.1 – 0.2%
Stop the War (Stop the War Coalition) 18th November 2001
Estimate: 15,000 – 100,000
UK Population: 59,124,288
March as percentage of UK population: 0.025 – 0.17%
Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts (National Union of Students), 10th November 2010
Estimate: 30,000 – 52,000
UK Population: 63,459,808
March as percentage of UK population: 0.05 – 0.08%
March for a People’s Vote, 20th October 2018
UK Population: 67,141,684
March as percentage of UK population: 1.04%
Climate Protests (London) 20th September 2019
UK Population: 67,530,172
March as percentage of UK population: 0.15%
So even if we take each protest’s most generous estimates, yesterday’s march for Scottish Independence was bolstered by a greater percentage of the population than any UK-wide protest in the last century by a substantial margin – with the exception of the 2003 Stop the War London protest, and only if one considers that no less than 2 million people (or 22.5% of the entire city’s population) took part in it.
Ah, but that’s the UK: you aren’t comparing like for like, I hear someone say. Very well: what about marches, protests, or demonstrations in Scotland’s recent history?
The Radical War Strike, 3rd April 1820
Scottish Population: approx. 2,000,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 3%
Rent Strike, April-November 1915
Scottish Population: 4,771,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 0.42%
Glasgow Green March in support of the February Revolution, May Day 1917
Scottish Population: 4,810,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 1.87%
March for John MacLean, 1st May 1918
Scottish Population: 4,812,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 2.07%
Battle of George Square, 31st January 1919
Estimate: 35,000 – 90,000
Scottish Population: 4,820,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 0.73 – 1.87%
Poll Tax Protest (Glasgow), 1989
Scottish Population: 5,078,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 0.98%
Stop the War (Glasgow) (StWC) 15th February 2003
Estimate: 50,000 – 100,000
Scottish Population: 5,057,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 0.99 – 1.98%
Make Poverty History, 2nd July 2005
Estimate: 175,000 – 250,000
Scottish Population: 5,095,000
March as percentage of Scottish population: 3.43 – 4.9%
Even for a nation that has form on protests, even a 180,000-strong march would put it up there with Make Poverty History’s lowest estimate. All of a sudden, 3.7% of the population doesn’t seem quite such a small number, does it?
As a peace campaigner, there was something rather familiar about that number. I was sure I’d heard it, or a number close to it, somewhere before. Then I was reminded of Erica Chenoweth’s groundbreaking work:
In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.
In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.
Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.
In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.
There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way.
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
The Guinness Book of World Records considers the Stop the War protest in Rome on 15th February 2003 to be the largest anti-war rally in history, with an upper estimate of 3 million out of a nation of then 57 million turning up. 3 million Italian protestors made up 5.2%. In the largest protest in history. An estimated 100,000 (3.6% of India’s population) joined Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930. An estimated 3.3–4.6 million (1-1.4% of US population) joined the 2017 Women’s March. An estimated 338,000 – 2 million (4.6–27% – wow – of Hong Kong’s population) joined the Hong Kong protests this year.
“Aye, but put another way, most of Italy/India/America/Hong Kong didn’t.”
Sure, Maurice. Sure.