Too often the debate around the referendum is portrayed as a personal battle between political giants in Edinburgh and London. This media narrative ignores the obvious fact – that it is the collective voice of the Scottish people that will determine our future, and not any political manoeuvrings from above. The debate will be won or lost in workplaces, in pubs, in schools and universities, and online.
This is why the first March & Rally was such a significant event. The people who came together in support of our simple demand are those who will return to their own communities, galvanised by the hope and optimism displayed at the event, and convince the rest of the country. A highly encouraging aspect of the campaign so far has been the emergence of genuinely grassroots groups, working outside traditional political structures, seeking to engage the disengaged and convince the sceptical. These groups – such as Women for Independence, Youth & Students for Independence, National Collective and the Radical Independence Conference – were all present in some form of the rally. But more impressive was the presence of the enthusiastic young Scots who I met, many attending a march for the first time. This is the beginning of a movement.
The event was not an unqualified success, and there is much to be learned for the next two annual events in the run-up to the referendum. The numbers game at this stage is an irrelevance, although it was obvious to anyone attending that the organisers’ estimate of 9,500 was much closer to the truth than the police estimate of 5,000. Next year, though, the numbers will matter. If the event is not significantly bigger then there will be questions to be asked about the momentum of the Yes campaign.
Generally, the standard of speakers was very good, but the choice of musical performers left much to be desired. The marchers showed the Yes campaign as an inclusive, progressive and diverse movement, and were then treated to what seemed a self-parody of classic rock tunes played on bagpipes. There is a place for patriotic song, and Dougie McLean’s Caledonia was a highlight, but with support for independence so high amongst creative Scots there’s no excuse for the artistic performances not to reflect the modern and youthful movement. It was unsurprising, then, that the audience were more engaged by the writer Alan Bissett and his poem ‘Vote Britain’ than by the bulk of musical performers.
In a country the size of Scotland, one voice, when articulate and persuasive, can be heard across the nation. The event was testament to one thing – the power of ordinary Scots to contribute to this debate. This was an event organised not by Yes Scotland or the SNP, but by ordinary people, and it brought together a cross-section of Scottish society united by our demand for independence. On the march we spoke with one voice saying ‘YES’, but it will be the thousands of conversations, the culmination of all of our little voices, that make that ‘YES’ a reality.
Photograph by Alex MacLeod.