The march and rally for independence in early September was a remarkable occasion, not least for its feelgood factor. Normally, marches are held because folk are angry about something and want to demonstrate the depth and extent of their anger and their opposition. The anti-cuts marches to be held simultaneously in England, Wales and Scotland, organised by respective TUCs, are a case in point. Sadly, I won’t be on that one as it clashes with the SNP’s annual conference.
But the indie march was different. The overwhelming sentiments were positivity, optimism and a readying for the campaign ahead. What did it achieve and embody? I’ve struggled with this, so bear with me. One of the main plots in Tolkien’s Two Towers concerns the fate of Rohan. When the decision is taken to retreat to Helm’s Deep and prepare for battle, the call is made for help. But King Theoden does not know who will come: Gandalf sets out to find allies, Aragorn is feared dead, the Elves have turned their back on the world of men and Pippin and Merry are believed still to be in the clutches of Saraman’s henchmen. Allies seem few and far between and Theoden faces the prospect of defending his kingdom and people practically alone. But on the eve of battle, they come. Allies answer the call and come to show solidarity, to join forces and defeat the common enemy.
Jeff Duncan must have felt somewhat the same. He came up with the idea for a march and rally, pulled together a small and willing band to help organise it, and put out the call. Despite the fact that buses were being booked all over the country, he still did not know how many would come. Yet, come they did. From every part of Scotland, from every independence-supporting party, from families and communities with few party ties. They came together in solidarity, in support of a common cause, which for some, had been long buried.
I met people at that rally whom I hadn’t seen for years. Yes, the familiar faces were all there but so were the ones who opted out years ago, for very good reasons – to raise families, forge careers and just get on with life. To me, it was their presence which was the most significant and the most heartening.
Jeff Duncan has a masterful plan for his series of marches and rallies. This first one was a call to the faithful, to those who already believe and intend to vote yes, to come together, to draw strength from doing so and prepare for the campaign ahead. His aim is that the one in 2013 will be double the size as the ranks of yes voters grow and the one in 2014? Well, the intention is to show a nation on the march to self-determination.
And already, before the ink is even dry on yesterday’s historic agreement, people are on the move. Those who might have preferred to vote for more powers – the nearly there constitutional option – are shifting towards a yes for full independence. A group of prominent business people who had previously supported devo-plus or dev-max threw their votes in with the yes camp on Sunday. The nascent group, Labour for Independence, is preparing to hold its first annual gathering: yesterday, I heard of two local Labour and trade union activists who have already indicated they want to work for a yes vote. Both names surprised me. On Sunday, I spoke to two others whose views I had never known but who could loosely be defined as devolutionists who are now inclined towards full independence. Women for Independence launched its online survey as part of its listening exercise the same day, and even allowing for yes women and men in disguise, for the survey to generate 250 responses in little over 24 hours is pretty remarkable. And even Alex Massie, doughty defender of the Union, posited in a blogpost that he might be persuaded to vote yes if independence could promise better for Scotland’s children. His piece on how education under devolution has failed to close the inequality gap is well worth a read.
What it shows is that – despite all my gnashing and wailing about the people’s choice being removed from the debate – that a single question, yes or no, is focusing minds and creating a clear choice. And it also suggests that the Unionists have got it all wrong. Admittedly, there are two long years of claim and counter-claim to go: we might all decide at the end of it to opt out, if the debate does not provide the substance we seek. But it does seem that given the choice of no change or more change than might feel comfortable, people who want some change are sticking or twisting. Some are waiting to be persuaded – there are high hopes being placed on the prospectus promised in the Scottish Government’s white paper which I fear might be misplaced – while others are already taking or considering a leap of faith.
I have no doubt that independence will win the day when we come to vote in 2014. Yes Scotland will spend the next two years offering hope, positivity and optimism, when all around our public services are being scythed by austerity cuts, our economy is stalling and unemployment among key voter groups – women, young people and over 50s – will have become endemic. What exactly is the Better Together camp going to be able to claim is better about staying together?
Clearly, they take succour from recent polls, but the TNS-BMRB one this month bemused me. Lallands Peat Worrier has conducted his usual laser-like analysis of the findings, including a peek behind the headline finding that support for independence has fallen to 28%. This decline is not substantiated by the age-related findings, which show in every single age group but the 18 – 24s, fewer people intending to vote no and more people intending to vote yes. And in that younger age group, while the level of no voters stays the same, there has been a big leap in potential yes voters from the don’t knows. Clearly, there are still significantly more no voters than yes ones, but in most age groups, a combined yes-don’t know camp outweighs the no voters alone. This poll shows a shift since it was last conducted in July; it is not yet a significant shift, but it does signal that a move is on. At this stage, two years out, the yes camp can be quietly satisfied that the direction of travel in most age groups is towards them.
Next month, Yes Scotland local campaigns will start springing up. The call has gone out, inviting people to get involved in their community. The Yes Ambassadors who have organised these inaugural campaign meetings do not know who will come. There are some they expect to turn up, but I am certain there will also be more than a few unknowns and even, some surprises.
It’s started: we are a nation on the move. Already the constitutional plates are shifting in favour of a yes vote and the campaign will only continue to grow in breadth and strength over the next year. The 2013 independence march and rally will indeed show by just how much, though we might have to wait until 2014 for the Ents to join us.