Nationalist March and Messages Fail to Attract MainstreamTweet
The 'March and Rally for Scottish Independence' demonstrates the message is still confined within a strange fringe fusion of international socialism and romantic nationalism, says Alistair McConnachie. Posted 23 September 2012.
I live in Glasgow and so I had to get the train over on the morning of Saturday 22 September 2012, to check out the Edinburgh Natfest - 'The March and Rally for Scottish Independence'.
As a journalist, you should be looking for signs as soon as you leave the house. Usually, when there's a game at Murrayfield, the queue for the Edinburgh train stretches out the station and into the car park. Would it be the same today?
If there were queues at Queen Street, then the Nats were going to have a good day.
So, it was with some trepidation that I rounded the corner into the station to find a concourse which was...basically dead. That was the first sign that something wasn't quite right for them.
On the train, and again, no obvious signs of anyone going to the March. No flags, no animated conversations, no nothing - except one person with a giant bar of Cadbury's in a Union Jack box. A good omen!
At Waverley, again, nothing. Not a single lost Nat with a flag.
The March had assembled in the Meadows for 11am and was to set off at 12noon to go along George IV Bridge Road, down to the bottom of the Mound and turn into Princes Street Gardens to end at the open-air Ross Theatre. So I took up a place, above the Mound, outside the Church of Scotland, where I could get some pics of the March coming round the corner (above) and snaking down the hill.
From my vantage point, I could see that some chaps had tied a giant Union Jack to the railings down on Prince Street Gardens, which overlooked directly the Ross Theatre. There seemed to be around 3 of them standing about. What is going to happen when the marchers start congregating, I wondered!
Anyway, by 12.15, the marchers entered the Mound led by a Pipe Band and walked down (below).At the bottom of the Mound, they had to immediately turn left down the steps into the Gardens (they weren't allowed along Princes Street). Therefore, there was a bit of a bottleneck as the marchers had to filter in, meaning that the procession got quite slow and congested at the gates.
Who was marching? Judging by the banners, SNP mainly, with a heavy presence from the left-wing - Scottish Socialist Party, and Solidarity. Solidarity had an interesting chant. "In-de-pen-dence for the masses, not just for the mid-dle classes". They seemed to like shouting it, which is not surprising because it scans perfectly.
There were also CND groups, Legalise Cannabis Campaign, John Connelly Society, Venetians for Independence (ie people from Venice - for some reason - who had at least 50 people there - above) and a Flanders Independence group who had at least 100 there and who had a prominent presence because of their flag, which was a black Lion Rampant on a yellow background (below). There was also a small group of Basque Separatists, who have an interesting Union Jack-style flag. It was not clear why these groups are choosing to poke their oar into something which they clearly don't understand. The Green Party seemed to be notable by its absence. At least, I didn't see any banners.
After about half an hour, after most of the March had passed and most of the people had filed into the Gardens, I heard a cheer and looked over to see what looked like the police removing the Union Jack flags.
I followed the end of the March down and arrived around 1pm, just in time for the beginning of proceedings. Everyone was packed into the Ross Theatre area (below), with a few people standing around outside it.
Pat Kane, the compere, told everyone that next year they will be putting on trains and that everyone has to bring along another 4 new people (yeah, good luck with that!).
Alex Salmond was introduced and said something about this March lighting up Scotland in the way that "the meteor lit up Scotland last night." He forgot that meteors tend to burn out, then crash. The rest of his speech was just boosting the SNP.
Margo Macdonald gave a couthy speech where she spoke about the wrongness of soldiers being sent off to "illegal wars" without the proper equipment, and that the best argument from the unionists seemed to be that the Scottish people wouldn't get their benefits paid properly.
It is certainly not the best unionist argument, but it is a valid one!
The format for the day seemed to be a couple of speakers, followed by a band for a couple of tunes. Pat Kane came back on stage and announced, "As Emma Goldman said, 'If I can't dance to it, I don't want to be part of your revolution'." He then introduced a young rock band, who promptly made a bit of a (undanceable) racket for several minutes.
Dennis Canavan, the chairman of the Yes Scotland campaign, stated he was not a nationalist, but an internationalist. Indeed, this divide appeared to define the two tendencies being projected at the event.
That is to say, there was a heavy "internationalist", and "socialist" tone being projected from the stage - especially from the speakers. There was also a more "nationalist", "Scottish", and yes "Braveheart" tone being projected - largely through the music.
He said that "Independence means a better future for Scotland because it will allow the people of Scotland to shape that future", as if one necessarily follows the other!
He stated a point - which is heard again and again - that "the Scottish Parliament responds to the values, needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland" in a way which Westminster does not and cannot. Really? Where is the evidence for that?
He also raised the 3 issues which were heard repeatedly throughout the day - and which we must presume the Nats consider their most powerful points: An independent Scotland means no nuclear weapons, no illegal wars, and an end to bankers ruining our economy.
We could, he said, retain friendship as "an equal with England". However, the idea that a country of 5m can be "equal" with a country of 50m is, of course, nonsense on stilts, which I have dealt with here. Scotland will always be a middleweight while England will always be a heavyweight.
Allan Grogan, who founded the new "Labour for Independence" group spoke about how this was a "fight for the true principles of the Scottish Labour Party", which were about, as far as I could tell, "helping hard-working individuals to feed their families." He didn't say much else worth writing down.
Then it was time for a woman called Annette Chapman to warble for a few minutes.
Then a really enthusiastic ranter, called Sean Clerkin, spoke about "injustice" generally and austerity measures in particular. He won the prize for the loudest, most angriest, person of the day. He represented "Citizens United Against Public Service Cuts" - which as far as I could tell was probably just himself. Quite how an independent Scotland would improve matters in this regard, was far from clear.
Dougie McLean then sang Caledonia - he wanted the audience to join in, but few bothered.
Aamer "Angry" Anwar, lawyer, spoke about how he used to be a Unionist but no longer believes in it. This was a relief to me because if Anwar supports the Union, then we'd all have to seriously reconsider our point of view! His support for a separate Scotland, though, seemed to boil down to "anything would be better than the decades of austerity we have been told to expect."
He brought up the "bankers' bail out" travesty, which many speakers did, and got a cheer. It is a strong point, but it is not a strong point in favour of breaking up the Union, as I say below.
He ended - true to his form - by calling for "a spirit of defiance and resistance" to, eh, well, I guess, whatever he objects to - which is not a very pleasant spirit really; at least not one to live by.
By this time, the crowd was beginning to thin (below).
Colin Fox, the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party was up next. He said "the big question" facing the Scottish people was, "Will we be better off?" And the answer was clear, "Yes, we will be better off!"
This is because, if all the money stays in Scotland and does not go down south, then "it stands to reason that we will be better off!" That was, "the clear message that we give you today!"
Well, I'm convinced!
He did make a good point though, although not for his own cause: He pointed out, rightly, that London stands at the "global financial epicentre". His solution was to remove Scotland from any association.
What he doesn't grasp, along with the others who take this line, is that this global financial epicentre would continue to exist, but they would be removing Scotland's ability to have any control over it.
Therefore, if you want to change it, then you need to have influence over it. Granted, the coalition government's approach to the bankers has been very weak, but a separate Scotland's ability to influence the global financial system for the better would be utterly impossible. If we want to change the global system we are better placed if we have power over its financial epicentre. That means being part of the UK.
Patrick Harvie and his "transformational vision" were up next. His idea, heard among a lot of the "radical left" (as they love to style themselves) is that "we need the powers of independence" to (take your pick) defend the welfare system, get rid of nukes, have more renewable energy, do good things and be nicer than the English. Actually he didn't say that last one, but it is implied in everything these guys say, especially when they start up on the "values" of the Scottish people, as if these are somehow different than those of the English!
One thing he emphasised and appears to genuinely believe, is that the great majority of the undecided in Scotland will only be won over to the cause of separation between now and 2014, if they can be "convinced by a transformational vision" of what Scotland can be in the future - which as far as I can tell is Patrick's vision of what Scotland can be in the future.
This is complete pants, of course, but let him think that if he wants!
After all, if winning votes were as easy as simply convincing enough people about your wonderful "transformational vision" then why is Patrick one of only two Green Party MSPs, and hanging on by the skin of his teeth to his seat in Glasgow? Why aren't Patrick and his "radical left" mates running the country already? Anyway, leave him to his grand delusions.(A Vision of Transformers>
It was now coming up to 3pm and the crowd was shedding bodies by the minute.
Journalist Ruth Wishart spoke - rehashing her article from The Scotsman that day, which can be summed up as: The UK government is immoral including nukes, wars, bankers' bail out - but an independent Scotland will be, oh, so much better.
She also said that independence would "solve the West Lothian Question" because Scottish MPs would no longer be in the "unjust" position of voting on English matters in Westminster. Well, of course it would solve it! We wouldn't have any MPs in Westminster in the first place!
Pat Kane took the stage to announce that "they're calling it 10,000 here today." Eh no, Pat, you can't physically get 10,000 into this public space if you tried, unless everyone stood on each others' shoulders.
However, the Police said 5,000, which seemed much more accurate - or 4,999 if you don't include me.
There then followed a musical interlude by Ted Christopher singing something about...Bannockburn, which he assured us had some kind of higher internationalist meaning.
John Duffy from something called, perhaps, "Trade Unionists for the SNP" took the stage. I don't know exactly what he was from, because Pat Kane got his introduction wrong and named him as a Trade Unionist from another group.
Anyway, his opening gambit was to launch into a tirade complaining about the low standard of...public sector pensions. Way to go John! Start with your least convincing point, and keep digging!
Some people wonder what "nations" are all about. John had it all figured out: "I believe a nation can be defined as to how it raises its money, and spends that money", he announced solemnly.
Nothing there about how it makes it, just how it taxes it and what it spends it on - ideally, public sector pensions, I'm presuming.
However, ultimately, even if you choose to agree with him, all these social welfare visions can be accommodated and provided to a far greater extent, within the UK. There is no need to have an independent Scotland to ensure them - if that is all you care about. Indeed, a separate Scotland, heavily dependent upon the public sector for employment, would certainly struggle to provide similar welfare provision.
Angela Crawley, from Young Scots for Independence, told us why it was a good thing for Scotland to be independent. The usual reasons.
Some band with strange electronic sounds then made a noise for a few minutes.
A Flemish speaker (didn't get his name) whose group wants independence for Flanders then took the stage. He seemed to be skeptical of the EU. There is no comparison, though, between Belgium and the UK, so what that lot was doing here is anyone's guess.
All the time, people are leaving.
An excited young woman, called Suki Sangha from "Radical Independence Conference" then took the stage telling us "I'm not a nationalist, I'm a Trade Unionist" - although she didn't look old enough even to have had a job yet.
She assured us knowingly that "Working class Trade Unionists will vote for independence but only if independence delivers a right to a decent and dignified life from the cradle to the grave."
Crikey! That's a very big "if", so I doubt that many will make the leap.
In her speech, she basically managed to throw everything into the independence Goody Bag, including she said, a better deal for the Palestinians. (I may have got that wrong, but Scotland was definitely involved, somehow.)
Derek Durkin of Trade Unionists for Scottish Independence wanted "an independent Scotland that will pursue global safety rather than global warming." He didn't say anything else noteworthy.
There then followed a bagpipe/guitar band - didn't catch the name.
Alan Bissett, a "Scottish novelist", stood up and delivered a horrible poem he wrote, and about which he seems to be awfully pleased with himself - but which is nevertheless a good summary of a certain Nat's twisted mentality.
Stuart McDonald of a "LGBT" (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) group spoke about his sexuality vis a vis an independent Scotland.
Then Pat Kane introduced the next pipe-rock style band by asking, "Does anyone want to see any more men in kilts?" - which prompted a Saltire-waving person near me to shout, "As long as they're not fxxxxxg gay!"
Toni Giugliano, a youngish Italian-descended Scot, represented "New Scots for Independence". I couldn't really understand what was particularly "new" about this chap since I got the impression his grandparents had come over during the war, or maybe it was his parents he was talking about. Either way, it seemed a bit of a stretch putting him up as if he was some kind of recent immigrant.
By this time, well over three quarters of the crowd had disappeared.
Isobel Lindsay of CND talked briefly about getting rid of Trident.
Then the highlight of the day, for me, were a couple of singers with guitars - didn't get their name - wearing kilts singing a genuinely catchy little ditty about the Stone of Destiny, "How can you wipe away the tears, of 700 stolen years."
Let Scotland's people rise again
And peace and freedom we will bring
When we sit once again, on the Stone of Destiny.
Really, the event was a strange mix of "utopian international socialism" where Scotland is seen as a place which can be co-opted for some kind of left-wing fringe "transformational" experiment, and a "Bonnie Scotland/Braveheart patriotism" of Saltires, kilts, pipes, and history.
The tone of the speeches was very much the former, rather than the latter.
A speaker (didn't catch his name) from "the Venetian delegation" - part of Italy which includes the famous sinking city - took the stage. He spoke about self determination being "the right of all people", and so on. He clearly did not understand the relationship which Scotland has with the rest of the United Kingdom. Why were they here? Maybe they just used the opportunity for a holiday in Scotland. It was announced from the stage that there were 50 of them.
By this time there was barely 10% of the original crowd remaining.
Broadcaster Cameron McNeish gave an impassioned speech about how he loved Scotland. He asked what we would lose and stated we'd lose Trident, Westminster millionaires, a generation of neo-liberal policies "but best of all we'd lose the Tories. Hallelujah!" Wow, what a democrat!
Another "Young Scots for Independence" person spoke. Ross someone or other. He wanted votes for 16 year olds because it was "their right!" Basically that was his argument.
Last up was Duncan Fenton of the Society of William Wallace, dressed in kilt regalia. By this time virtually everyone had left. "Today a foreign government controls how we act, but can't control how we think." He seemed touchingly earnest about whatever it was that was annoying him, but it was a pity for the Nats that he had arrived on a Time Machine.
When the last group banged the event to a rather tuneless finish at 4.35 (above), it was only a tiny hard core, the Venetians, the Flemish, and me, left standing. Even the Basque Separatists had packed up.
The separatists want another March in September 2013 and another in 2014. It is clear that 5,000 people, 24 months out from the final event, is not a large enough number to suggest a real emotional undercurrent of separatism in Scotland.
I took the above picture from the pavement on Princes Street. A couple passed behind me. "What's happening down there?" one asked the other. "I think it's a CND rally", he replied.
In the Gardens, the dogs were barking, but back up on Princes Street...the caravan was moving on...very much as usual.
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