Dumfries: What was that all about?

dumfries_english_scots_yesOthers (here and here, for example) have dealt more than adequately with the whingers and naysayers in the Yes movement who have been echoing Unionist negativity about the latest in a series of marches organised by All Under One Banner (AUOB). I have little to add. But I would like to give a personal perspective, if I may.

I attend these marches because I think it is important, not just to campaign for something, but to be seen to campaign for it. Like justice, democracy has to be visible. It has to be perceived to be working. Marches, rallies and demonstrations are as much a part of engaged, participative democracy as being a member of a political party. They are as much a sign of a healthy democracy as high voter turnout. They are an affirmation of people power.

And that, it seems, is what troubles those who denigrate events such the AUOB march and rally in Dumfries. Whether the criticism comes from within the Yes movement or from British Nationalists, the common denominator seems to be an aversion to overt expressions of popular political sentiment.

Whenever possible, I like to travel to these events a day early and stay overnight afterwards. (That’s what your donations are spent on.) In part, this is because I really don’t like being under any kind of pressure. I’m rather obsessive about punctuality and can be unduly stressed by deadlines and appointments. I much prefer to avoid such stress – not least for health-related reasons that I won’t go into.

Quite apart from this, I use these trips as an opportunity to meet with and talk to people all over Scotland. And not only Yes activists. Typically, I’ll visit a few pubs and I’ll chat with locals about this and that. The fact that I always wear a Yes badge means that the conversation invariably turns to the constitutional issue.

One of the positive by-products of the Yes campaign is that talking about politics in the pub is now regarded as perfectly normal in Scotland. It is only rarely that someone shies away from discussing independence. And those that do invariably turn out to be hard-line Unionists. Most people are happy to give their opinion and ask questions and generally take an interest.

This too is a sign of a healthy political culture.

Over many months of undertaking these excursions, one of the things that I have found most noticeable of late is that almost nobody outright rejects the idea of independence. As recently as a few months ago, in any group of half a dozen people sitting in a pub chatting about independence at least one would be quite vocally, if not vehemently, opposed. Now, it is extremely uncommon to find such an attitude. Even among those who are not Yes yet, there is an acceptance that independence is an option. They are prepared to talk about it. They are prepared to listen.

I would contend that the normalising effect of the Yes movement’s high public visibility has played a large part in this attitudinal shift. There are other factors, of course. But, unless your mind is barricaded by bigotry, it is difficult to dismiss the independence cause when tens of thousands of people just like you are taking it seriously enough to march through the streets of Glasgow and Dumfries and elsewhere.

It all comes down to a matter of trust. Everything that I have found while participating in these marches and engaging with others in their vicinity confirms my absolute confidence in the people of Scotland. I am supremely content that the people should be politically active. I am totally content that the people should be  the ultimate political authority. The people are sovereign. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not so those who criticise and condemn massive public displays of popular political engagement. Their discomfort seems to be occasioned by a distinct lack of trust in the people. The whingers and naysayers are elitists. On the Yes side we have those whose support for independence is conditional on political power being reserved to their particular clique. On the British Nationalist side we have those whose opposition to independence is motivated by a desire to keep political power in the hands of a British political elite.

Whatever else the AUOB marches may be about, they certainly represent an explicit rejection of this elitism. I’ll keep going to these events as often as I can and for as long as it’s necessary. Because that’s where the people are.

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YES! Open to all!

180505_marchI’ll be heading for Dumfries tomorrow (Friday 1 June) to take part in the All Under One Banner march on Saturday 2 June. I want to be there in plenty of time to fully enjoy what I know will be a wonderful atmosphere. But the main reason for travelling on Friday and staying overnight is that , for health reasons, I don’t like being under any kind of pressure. I want to join the march at the start fresh after a good night’s sleep and be at the end in plenty time for my speaking slot at 14:55. And I’ll be staying over on Saturday night as well so I can do a bit of socialising after the event.

This is an important event. (The march, I mean. Not my wee speech.) The Yes movement needs to show that it is strong, not just in Glasgow and Edinburgh and across the central belt, but the length and breadth of Scotland. It is up to us, as individuals, to make the effort to be there. There will be some who genuinely cannot attend. That simply puts more of an onus on those who might, if they just roused themselves a bit.

The Dumfries march is also important because it takes the Yes movement right into the heart of Tory territory – where Unionism holds sway, but where Mundell’s brand of rampant ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is ripe for attack. An odious ideology which should be abhorrent to ‘old-time’ Tory voters who still cling to a Scottish Conservative tradition of standing up for Scotland’s identity and values.

The Union is a comfort zone for most small ‘c’ conservatives. But it’s not as comfortable as it once was. Many are already questioning whether the Union that has emerged since 2014 is the Union that they signed up to. Many are beginning to wonder if ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism is compatible with either their Unionism or their conservatism/Conservatism.

The Yes campaign must exploit these doubts. We must miss no opportunity to aggravate discomfort with the Union and increase unease about where this new breed of ultra-Unionism threatens to take Scotland. We must tell the true story of what the Union now means for Scotland and what it will mean if the British Nationalist project isn’t stopped. We must shatter comfortable illusions and undermine complacent attitudes.

But we also must make it clear that these traditional Tories and small ‘c’ conservatives have an alternative. It is pointless trying to deter people from a harmful course of action without offering them somewhere else to go. They need to know, not only that independence will be better for Scotland, but that it will be better for them. They need to know that there is a place for them in the Scotland that the Yes movement aspires to. They need to realise that nobody is trying to take anything from them.

They need to be made aware that, while we reject the Union, the Yes movement reaches out to them. They are as much part of Scotland’s enriching diversity as anyone else. It is their Scotland as much as it is ours. They must want to rescue their Scotland from the onslaught of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism every bit as much as we do – even if for different reasons.

Let’s go to Dumfries with our minds, hearts and arms open. Let’s make it clear that, while you may not march with us, you are welcome to join us on the journey to a better, fairer, more prosperous Scotland.

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