In case you hadn’t heard, there’s an All Under One Banner (AUOB) march and rally in Edinburgh today. Having tested positive for Covid, I will not be able to attend. My feelings about that are somewhat mixed. Part of me wants to be there because I recognise the importance of making the independence movement visible. Ideally, so visible that not even Nicola sturgeon can ignore it. Another part of me is relieved that I won’t be attending. I don’t cope well with large gatherings and social occasions. My memory is failing quite badly. I don’t recognise faces or remember names and I find this embarrassing and stressful. My hearing is not great. I have difficulty hearing conversations against a lot of background noise. This too I find stressful. I react very badly to stress. Even what I once considered ‘normal’ stress tends make me quite ill.
This is not a whine or a plea for sympathy. It is merely a pragmatic recognition of my condition. Mostly, it can be put down to the ageing process. But I suspect that my aversion to crowds is to some extent a hangover from lockdown. Whatever! I think it is important to recognise one’s limitations. There are things that I simply can’t do any more. When that happens, the sensible thing is to stop doing those things and find other things that you can do.
Despite recognising those limitations, I had decided that I would attend the rally until Covid knocked that on the head. I would not have been able to do the full march on account of my dodgy knees. (Aye! That’s another of those limitations!) But I had been invited to speak at the rally. And that’s another reason I’m a bit relieved that I can’t go. Not that I have issues with public speaking. I have never had a problem speaking to an audience of whatever size. That’s because I am always prepared. I don’t get up to speak without being well-briefed. I only speak about things I have given some thought. That gives me the confidence I need. To anyone who does dread speaking to an audience I would say that preparation is the key.
I hesitate to add to what is turning out to be a catalogue of defects and deficiencies, but I have to say that one of the reasons I’m less enthusiastic about public speaking than once I was is that my voice is rather weak these days. I find I am unable to project as I used to and talking at length strains my voice in a way it never has. So there’s that! But there is another, and probably more interesting reason I’m kind of glad I won’t be making that speech today. I have nothing to say that people want to hear.
People attend these events looking to be enthused and gratified. They want reasons to clap and cheer. If you take to the platform for the purpose of giving the crowd what they want then you will be a hero. What they want is to be told that the cause they support is making good progress. They want to be told that the Union is on the verge of collapse. They want to be told that independence has never been closer. They don’t want to be made uncomfortable. They want to be made to feel good about themselves. They don’t want to hear the discomfiting truth. They want to be reassured that the political reality is what they wish it was.
I can’t give the crowd what they want. Rather, I could give them what they want. I can do rabble-rousing as well as the next person. But it wouldn’t be honest. And I am persuaded that honesty is important. I am not going to encourage complacency when that is arguably the greatest threat to Scotland’s cause. I’m not going to tell a crowd of independence activists that all is well when I know that it really isn’t. I am not willing to tell people that the cause of independence is on the verge of some ‘great leap forward’ when the reality is that we are as far from restoring Scotland’s independence as we were ten years ago. I am not about to try and convince people that we are on course for our goal when the truth is that we are stuck in the mire with no prospect of escape.
It is one thing to put the unwelcome facts of the matter in a blog article or a below-the-line comment in The National. It’s quite another to give bad news to a live crowd that is hungry for reassurance. Not that I’m too troubled about being unpopular. If I wanted popularity and big stats I’d be like Paul Kavanagh and pander to the deceived and deluded. If I wanted applause I’d find it readily enough by joining in the chorus of unalloyed praise for Nicola Sturgeon and her government. Sturgeon/SNP loyalists are easily pleased. Their applause is readily bought. All it’ll cost you is your integrity.
Or I could indulge the other tribe by making up stuff about how we don’t need the SNP and constantly regurgitating old news about the various failures and failings of the SNP over the last few years. The Alba Party supporters in that crowd are also easily pleased. If one is prepared to tell them only what they want to hear rather than point to the flaws in their proposals. They don’t want honesty. Tragically few of the people in the crowd at the #AUOBEdinburgh rally are prepared to listen to the truth.
Maybe they’re right. Perhaps this just isn’t the kind of occasion when it is appropriate to spell out hard truths about the status of our cause. It could be that only people who can pretend should be speaking from that platform. In which case, I have absolutely no business being there. Let them have their fun! Let them enjoy the moment! Reality has it’s teeth bared and will bite them on the arse soon enough.
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