30,000 Scots Cannot Be Wrong

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 22 September 2013)
The March and Rally for Independence, 2013.

On 22 September 2013 I attended the March and Rally for Independence from the High Street to the top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh. The 2012 march and rally had been estimated by organisers to be 10,000 strong. Amazingly, the 2013 event was estimated at 30,000 – three times higher.

I can fully believe this. The organisers had said to organise on the High Street and I wondered what part of the High Street. I should not have worried. The protestors took up the whole of the High Street from Edinburgh’s Tron Kirk – and the lower part of the Lawnmarket as well, with a great many spilling out into Parliament Square around St Giles Kirk and the Mercat Cross. We could hardly move, penned into one of the oldest streets which made up the original city.

The march through the city, down North Bridge, along Waterloo Place and up to the summit of Calton Hill (328 feet above sea level) was great. There were a great many supporters on the pavements and in premises who could not join us physically but nonetheless were taking pics and showing their support.

There were a number of great speakers, a few of whom I consider personal heroes. These included independent MSP Margo Macdonald, former Labour and independent MSP Dennis Canavan, Yes Scotland Chief Executive Blair Jenkins, Founder of Labour for Independence Allan Grogan, SNP Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon (ahh, be still foolish heart), Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie, Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh from the Scottish Asian Women’s Association, Aamer Anwar – Human Rights Lawyer and Campaigner, and of course First Minister Alex Salmond MSP. There was also great comedy from comperes Elaine C Smith and Hardeep Singh Kohli, great music and a wonderful poem from Allan Bissett.

The point was continually made throughout the day that a Yes vote in 2014 is not a vote for the SNP nor their leader First Minister Alex Salmond MSP. Due to this, Elaine C Smith introduced the Chief Executive of Yes Scotland, Blair Jenkins, as “the boss”. And that is when it struck me, much as many of us respect Blair and Alex, neither of them are boss. The truth of the matter is that WE are the bosses – each and every one of us. WE, the people, are the ones who will be voting in the Independence referendum in 2014. It is WE who will decide Scotland’s future.

One of the speakers at the rally stated that the vote for independence will be the largest decision the people of Scotland will take in over 300 years. They are wrong in that estimation. The simple fact is that the Independence Referendum will be the largest decision the Scottish people have ever taken in history. In 1707 it was a mere 110 short-sighted, greedy and self seeking Scots lords and merchants who voted for the Treaty of Union which put us in this mess in this first place. True universal suffrage was not to come to the UK until as recently as 1918. This means that for 211 years after the Treaty of Union, the vast majority of the populace – on both sides of the border – had no vote and no say in government.

The Treaty of Union was meant in principle to be an equal partnership of two nations under one crown and parliament. Yet because of sheer weight of numbers, that partnership never has never been equal, and nor can it ever be. England has a population of approximately 50 million; ten times the 5 million population of Scotland. The vast majority of the English population live in London and the south east of England, and it is thus they whose votes decide which government is formed at Westminster. The result of this is that Scotland, not once, has ever got a Westminster government they asked for. The sheer weight of numbers of the English electorate means that Scots votes are meaningless at the Westminster level, and we are thus effectively disenfranchised. This of course results in Westminster legislature being implemented in Scotland was neither asked for, nor welcomed. In the 1980s it was the wholly unjust Community Charge (aka the Poll Tax), visited on Scotland a year before England (illegal under the terms of the Treaty of Union), today it is the insidious and notorious Single Occupancy Charge (aka the Bedroom Tax). Anyone who supports that state of affairs should think black burning shame of themselves and I frankly do not know how they can sleep at night.

It is precisely this state of affairs which has led to complacency among Scottish voters. And when they see that no matter how they vote, they get measures visited upon them they never voted for, who can really blame them for being complacent? In Scotland voting in a Westminster election is like banging your head on a brick wall. It is hardly surprising then if so many tend to look upon politicians of all colours as being all the same. Yet it is that selfsame complacency which remains one of the biggest obstacles we in the independence movement face.

And this is not at all helped by the pro-unionist media, who go out of their way to demonise Alex Salmond and the SNP, and then claim that a Yes vote in 2014 would be a vote for a Scottish SNP government under some sort of “President Alex”. The media know very well that Yes Scotland is a broad kirk, made up of people from many parties, and others – myself included – from none. Yet they continue to suggest and manipulate stories to make it appear that the Independence Referendum is a wholly SNP initiative, ran by a First Minister whom they portray as a power-crazed despot.

Although the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election, in which the SNP swept the board (in a voting system which was meant to make a majority government impossible), shows that things are changing, another aspect of this complacency are those uninformed voters who vote Labour because “Ma dad voted Labour, ma mum voted labour, ma grandad voted Labour, ma dug votes Labour, ma budgie votes Labour…” etc (not true anyway – maist budgies are Tories). These people vote Labour out of habit rather than out of informed decision, and as long as they tow the party line, then most are likely to vote No in 2014. Thankfully, however, even this appears to be changing. Allan Grogan, founder of Labour for Independence gave one of the finest and most impassioned speeches at the rally, and it pleases me that that particular movement is growing apace. Deputy Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, when not making false allegations against Labour for Independence, describes them as an irrelevance. Aye? So if they are so irrelevant, why make such a big deal about them? Why even mention them? The fact is that grass roots Scottish Labour members are taking their party back and that has the unionist, London-based party bosses running scared – and they know it.

Complacency apart the only other obstacle we face are those who are wary or unsure about independence. I do not even bother with the diehard unionists, who as far as I can see are just as short-sighted, greedy and self-seeking as the gentry who got us into this mess in the first place. Unlike some, I do not troll the pages of Better Together and other unionists. They are not only not worth debating, they are beyond contempt in my estimation. I am more willing to listen to the worries and concerns of those who are unsure, or have been tripped up by unionist lies and scaremongering, than I am to ever listen the fantastic and farcical rantings of a “cowart few” through their mouthpiece, the mainstream media.

And make no mistake, the media are openly biased against the independence camp and that too presents a formidable obstacle to getting our message across. 30,000 attended the rally and the BBC, among others, farcically reported that as a mere 8000. Anyone who imagines that you can fill up the summit of Calton Hill frankly needs their head examined. I used to steward anti-nuclear marches in the 1980s and I am quite happy with the organiser’s estimate of the rally at 30,000 as an accurate one. But then, I am an activist who was actually there at the time and not some drunken hack phoning in his copy from the pub. So it is that why the media may present an obstacle, just like complacency and unionist lies and scaremongering, it is by no means an unsurmountable one.

I have no doubt that there were many more who could not attend the rally but would happily have done so. On the bus going into the centre of Edinburgh for the rally, the driver said he wished he could be there with us as I got on and said “Alba gu bràth.” (Scotland forever) as I was getting off. Similarly, the great number of people photographing, watching and cheering the marchers on told it’s own story. If we only listen to people’s worries and concerns, cut through the lies with truth and honestly, allay fears with logic and reality, then we will have the people firmly on our side.

If there is one thing I take away from the 2013 March and Rally for Independence, it is that every one of the speakers was driven by two common factors – compassion and a belief in a better future. The same compassion and the same belief in a better future shared by myself and each and every one of the 30,000 people who attended. There were some people took their kids to the rally and as the crowd joined in singing “Is There for Honest Poverty”, holding back the tears, it was then it hit me – it is not me I am voting Yes for, not for party principles, not for a “Braveheart mentality” or a “Hoochter Teuchtar Bonnie Prince Shortbried Tin” romanticism – but for them; the children. Yes, independence is a massive step – and it is one we should take for Scotland’s children and their future.

A friend posted a pic on Facebook of First Minister Alex Salmond holding a baby; a bonny wee boy named Charlie. On 18 September 2014, that’s who I’ll be voting Yes for; not for Alex – but for Charlie, for his generation, and for all the generations which follow, that they may live in a better Scotland than we or our forebears ever have.

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