This weekend saw what many present believed to be one of the biggest turnouts for an Independence march since before the Covid pandemic. Speaker after speaker said they felt this was the movement coming back to life after the hiatus caused by the pandemic.
Aye Aberdeen had brought a coachful of people down to Edinburgh for the event, waving the standard of Aberdeen. Organiser Brian Allan explained his motivation for getting involved in the pro-Independence movement. He told me that he wanted independence so that Scotland could move faster on climate change than he felt Westminster ever could, so Scotland could show the way to the rest of the UK and the wider world. Allan’s view is that the various pro-independence groups have to work together to ensure independence happens.
Derek Durkin spoke on the podium for Trade Unionists for Independence. He helped form the group in 2013 after Alistair Darling responded to a question regarding who would fund the Better Together campaign. His answer at the time: that it would be the trade unions in the main.
Durkin and his co-founders “were determined that trade unions weren’t going to fund a campaign when we knew the majority of our members [in the Communications Workers Union (CWU)] supported independence. So we formed that group, and many other unions then came on board. But it became obvious to us that the bigger trade unions were not funding the campaign and took a neutral stance, which was our objective – we wanted them to take a neutral stance and allow debates to take place. Which most of the unions did.
“We had the RMT, which actually came out in favour of Independence, and the Prison Officers Association also came out in favour of Independence. But you also had, on the other side, the GMB who – without consulting any of their members – came out in support of Better Together.”
This stance came directly from the UK leadership of the union. This also happened with the CWU, which “took a decision at the executive meeting – in London – to support the Better Together campaign.”
Durkin believes “this support was not financial, because they were aware of members in Scotland who were Independence supporters.” As a result, the CWU support ended up restricted to a statement of support for Better Together.
Robin McAlpine, the founder of Common Weal, spoke on the podium. Afterwards, he told me, “The British State is facing a fundamental crisis, the most critical moment since the Suez Crisis of 1956, one it has been hiding from for a long time now. Britain has been getting by on the profits of financial speculation while allowing its productive economy to wither. And now markets know the game is up.
“Scotland is in a completely different position. We have exactly the kinds of investment opportunity that underpins market confidence in your economy. This is our moment to explain how independence is a solution to the problem of being stuck in a failing Britain. If we don’t grasp this opportunity, Hell mend us.”
Tommy Sheridan, Chair of Hope Over Fear talked to me of how the march felt like a “reawakening of the movement” after Covid, with 7,000 marchers claimed by the organisers. “Today, and the Yestival in Glasgow next Saturday, is a chance to say loud and clear we have the right to determine our futures. We have a date, so let’s stick by it. The Tories have no mandate.”
“Hope Over Fear”’s Yestival is now going ahead on Glasgow’s George Square on the new date of Saturday 8 October. It had been due to take place the day before the Queen’s funeral, but Glasgow City Council withdrew their permission to use George Square on the original date due to “police concerns over public order and staffing levels” caused by the funeral.
The music festival features several award-winning musicians, including Sandi Thom, and a variety of speakers, including Kenny MacAskill MP, former Scottish Government Justice Secretary. After the turnout in Edinburgh, Sheridan is hopeful that attendance will be high on 8 October.
Of the upcoming UK Supreme Court case, Sheridan said “The UK Supreme Court will decide in the UK Establishment’s interests. Scotland and its natural resources – people, oil, gas, food, wind, wave & tidal – are treated as a milch cow to the nth degree.”
Mary Mitchell had travelled down from Aberdeen to attend the event with her friend Carol Webb. Mitchell is an ex-pat American who recently gained indefinite leave to Remain. She had not taken part in the 2014 or 2016 referenda but is now eligible to vote and is in the process of learning about the relevant issues. Carol had been living in what she now feels was a “brainwashed Tory area of the Borders” and had been on the fence in 2014. She now is determined to become “more informed”, and clear away what she now feels are “the hype, the rubbish, the lies” that she was fed then.
There were other marches on at the same time. Power to the People held a rally in Dundee, demanding an end to the cost-of-living crisis. Enough is Enough held a rally in Glasgow, which filled Buchanan St with protesters, from one end to the other. Extinction Rebellion held a march in Edinburgh from Princes Street to the UK Government’s headquarters at Queen Elizabeth House, to protest rising energy costs and Liz Truss’s continued support of the fossil fuel industry.
In the wake of the protests in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police, the Iranian Scottish Association (ISA) held a “Freedom Rally for Iran”. This march was just one of many – marches like this were happening in 84 other cities around the world, in an international day of support.
Abbas Lessani, the Chairman of the ISA, organised Edinburgh’s march, which ended at the Holyrood Parliament. He explained to me that the march was a protest against the “brutal regime of a government” in Iran, and that the marchers were “asking for the British government to support the Iranian people, not the Iranian government, which has killed hundreds and imprisoned thousands.”
Lessani wanted the march, and the ISA, “to act as a voice for the voiceless.”
Kamyab Givaki, Vice-chair of the ISA asked “Why is there silence by Truss and Sturgeon?”
With so many well-attended marches happening simultaneously, it feels like Scotland as a whole is awakening from a political slumber. The week’s events at Westminster, Threadneedle St and in the markets have combined with the weekend’s rise in energy prices and the rest of the cost of living crisis to suddenly light rocket fuel under people.
The atmosphere at Holyrood was upbeat, optimistic – and determined. It does not feel like the political tranquillity of the Covid years will be returning any time soon.