I will not be on the AUOB march in Glasgow tomorrow. Mainly because I’m at an awkward age. Young enough to think I should be able to do stuff, but old enough to have the kind of physical impairments that prohibit me from doing the stuff I want to do. This isn’t a plea for sympathy. There’s folk a damn sight more deserving of it than me. But my knees and hips are painful enough to make walking difficult. But not bad enough (yet!) to justify joining the wheelie brigade at the head of the march. At the very least, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the event.
To those now protesting that it’s not meant to be fun I say, of course it is! That is one of the reasons for marching. And one of the reasons they are so well attended. Yes Marches are social events at least as much as they are political demonstrations. A Yes march is, as the indomitable Sandra White once said, like a big family gathering – but without the barely contained tensions that erupt into open hostility as the day wears on. (Or is that just my family?) We meet old friends and make new ones. We network. We talk. We listen. We learn. All of which would make the marching worthwhile even if there were no political purpose.
But there is, of course. We march to be seen. Yes marches have played a very significant part in normalising independence. They have helped to make the constitutional issue part of the daily discourse, not only of pro-independence activists, but of the wider public. It is difficult to think of independence as a ‘fringe’ issue when your town is visited by 200,000 people decked out in their Yes finery. It is hard to avoid the conversation turning to the constitutional issue when the cafe or pub is packed with people proudly declaring their dedication to a noble cause.
That is another reason we march. Because we are proud. Proud of the Yes movement and what it has achieved. Proud that Scotland’s civic nationalism has become an exemplar for the world, although the example may not be followed often enough. We are proud that the Yes movement has consistently and assiduously pursued our goal entirely by peaceful, lawful and even joyful means.
We are proud, too, of the cause we espouse. The cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. It is a worthy cause. It is a just cause. It is an aspirational cause. It is a cause in the mould of history’s great campaigns for social justice and progress. We march, not only in support of independence, but in defence of democracy. Because, make no mistake, the democracy we know in Scotland today is under imminent threat. We march in the hope of preserving that democracy for future generations. We march in the hope of protecting Scotland’s distinctive political culture. Most of all, we march in defence of our right to develop a distinctive political culture absent the millstone of the Union.
We march to assert and defend the right of self-determination that is the absolute and inalienable right of Scotland’s people. We march to demand an end to the British political elite’s efforts to deny us the right to determine the constitutional status of our nation and choose the form of government which best suits our needs, priorities and aspirations.
We march to assert the sovereignty of the Scottish people. We march to bring an end to the archaic, anti-democratic and grotesquely asymmetric Union which denies us the full and proper exercise of our sovereignty. We march to break free of a political union which relegates Scotland, the nation, to the status of a region of ‘Greater England’, always subordinate and subject to the imposition of governments without any democratic legitimacy and policies that are anathema to most of Scotland’s people.
We march, therefore, not only with hope, pride and determination in our hearts, but with a measure of anger at the way Scotland is treated by the British political elite. Anger at our elected representatives being treated as unwelcome intruders in what is nominally the parliament of the whole UK but which is effectively the parliament of England-as-Britain. A parliament that has no democratic legitimacy in Scotland but which is held by the Union to have sovereignty over the sovereign people of Scotland.
Anger, also, at the disrespect shown to our own parliament – the Scottish Parliament – by the UK Government and the British political parties.. The only parliament which has democratic legitimacy in Scotland. A parliament which the people of Scotland elect but which is regarded by the British state as inferior to Westminster and which is required by the Union to act accordingly.
There is anger. But ours is not the anger which smashes windows, overturns cars and rips up cobblestones to hurl at the police. This is not rage. It is anger which burns cold. It is anger which is controlled and directed. It is anger which maintains a connection to the intellect. It is justified anger. It is righteous anger.
There is now an element of fear in our hearts as we march. Not fear of anything, but fear for many things. Fear for our democratic institutions. Fear for our essential public services. Fear for future generations. Fear for our identity as a nation. Anyone who is not at least a little afraid for these things and more clearly doesn’t understand the predicament in which Scotland has been placed. A parlous predicament which stems entirely from the Union which binds us to England-as-Britain.
There is no shame in this kind of fear. It betokens, not a lack of courage, but a sufficiency of awareness and concern. Just as the anger we feel does not cripple the intellect, so the fear we feel does not paralyse us. We are not slaves to this anger, Rather, anger and fear are harnessed to our hopes and aspirations, powering our determination.
Despite my mobility issues, I was swithering a little about heading to Glasgow tomorrow. But, since I can’t march, or even stand comfortably for any length of time, and there’s no rally, it seems a somewhat pointless effort. I have used the plural pronoun throughout this piece because I will be with those marchers in spirit. A phrase which has grown tired with overuse, but which is nonetheless sincere.
I urge all who care about Scotland, and are physically (and financially) able, to make the effort tomorrow. Swell the numbers. Marching matters. For all the reasons I have given and probably many more, marching matters.
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