Crowd Power



A Podemos rally in Madrid’s main square last year

The march for independence

An alleged supporter of independence argued marches bear no reward, protesting crowds do no good. (So much for SNP supporters being snivelling sycophants.) He cited BBC protestors as a waste of time. His argument was perverse and historically ignorant.

Marches express an ideal.

A march turns dissent into resistance

Marches are the difference between being a keyboard warrior and an activist.

To know the power of congregations of like-minded protestors you need only think of the Romanian crowd outside President’s Ceausescu’s palace that turned volatile. They had good reason. Their anger began a revolution. They realised Ceausescu and his wife intended to maintain a brutal, corrupt, dictatorial hold over the lives. They toppled the regime in a week that some thought invincible.

Are marches counter-productive? 

Marches are an indispensible civil liberty. Ask Podemos in Spain. Ask any number of mass movements for democracy. Marches are the energetic outcome of a restlessness to be heard. They confront the power of the state.

The British establishment knows the worth of crowds and marches only they call them patriotic parades: organise an anniversary parade or a solemn commemoration, get the faithful lined up to waft Union Jacks, and hey presto, blind patriotism is restored.

Supporters of restoring Scotland self-governance and self-esteem know crowd power has a health benefit – it demonstrates strength of support, political cohesion, and resolve of purpose. Why else would the police and mainstream media persist in downgrade numbers attending as a way of undermining that unity?


A British march and rally, only it’s called a ‘patriotic parade’

Are marches counter-productive? 

Marches are an indispensible civil liberty. Ask Podemos in Spain. Ask any number of mass movements for democracy. Marches are the energetic outcome of a restlessness to be heard. They confront the power of the state.

The British establishment knows the worth of crowds and marches only they call them patriotic parades: organise an anniversary parade or a solemn commemoration, get the faithful lined up to waft Union Jacks, and hey presto, blind patriotism is restored.

Supporters of restoring Scotland self-governance and self-esteem know crowd power has a health benefit – it demonstrates strength of support, political cohesion, and resolve of purpose. Why else would the police and mainstream media persist in downgrade numbers attending as a way of undermining that unity?

Martin Luther King swore by the power of marches

Marches have spectacular historical precedence: Martin Luther King discovered their potency early in his campaign for equal rights; Gandhi’s Salt March some historians believe was a watershed in India’s move to independence; The Long March (October 1934 – October 1935)  of Mao Tse Tung was a march of a different sort, a military retreat undertaken by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China, the forerunner of the People’s Liberation Army, to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) army. It altered the destiny of China.

In my youth I lost count of the marches against the monstrous, unlawful war on Vietnam. More recently there are the marches to Rosyth and the Trident submarine docks, marches against student fees in England, and marches against dumping the European Union.

From dissent to resistance

For the participants, joining a march to BBC Scotland’s headquarters and gathering outside in a demonstration symbolizes the transition “from dissent to resistance.”

I will return to this slogan and its meaning, but I want to make clear at the outset that I feel marches exhibit to the general public, and to press and media alike, the mood of us all, including those unable to join in a march.

On internet and in newspaper we can be ignored, our anger muted. Those demonstrating outside the BBC cannot be interpreted any other way than a protest at BBC inadequacies as they relate to Scotland’s political and cultural aspirations.

There is an irresistible dynamic to physical protest. We may begin by tweeting on-line opinion, and then writing posts in political sites, before moving on to writing articles, (such as this one) or giving speeches about the iniquities of  Scotland’s democratic lopsided political life. To do that, in many ways, is to create an atmosphere of concern and outrage. A courageous few will turn to direct action, such as sit ins, or hanging a banner on the façade of an institution we have learned to despise.

I have no problem with cheerful suggestions that Westminster should be kicked into the stone age,  but I do have issues with the calm disquisitions of faux political think tanks on just how much constitutional change is needed to neutralise Scottish resistance, that is, what form of federalism will be acceptable to a majority of ‘British’ minded Scots enough to keep Scotland servile. Marches are an antidote to those conspiracies.

Faced with a shill or other Brit nationalist on Twitter, any argument about physical protest is bound to be converted into hostility. It’s a  given. Expect to be insulted and ridiculed.

The false accusation

Let’s put the false argument about violent protest in Scottish affairs to rest. There has been none. Violence has always been perpetrated by the British state on Scottish dissent. They don’t use that tactic these days for they have subtler ways of dealing with dissonance. The Scottish psyche knows intuitively violence doesn’t work. The argument that resistance to the steady infringements of Westminster rule remain strictly nonviolent seems to me overwhelming. As a tactic, violence is absurd.

Jail bait

Marches ending in rallies and speeches are fine, but those who marched into Glasgow’s George Square swinging Union Jacks and clenches fists into the faces of dismayed and disappointed independence supporters are jail bait.

In any event, no one can compete with the Government in violence, and the resort to violence, which will surely fail, will simply frighten and alienate some who can be reached. The sight of Orange Order and BNP hoodlums beating up independence supporters in Glasgow stains British patriotism indefinitely.

This is the accusation stuck on marches which are generally well organised and policed. Marches and rallies tend not to alter character and become riots, not, that is, unless they are in London, where protestors are kettled and constrained causing frustration, where the mayor purchases water cannon to cool righteous anger.

Violence only encourages the ideologists and organisers of forceful repression. Sinn Fein and Irish republicans discovered that deficit when its campaigns of assassinations and bombings only brought similar repression down on the heads of Irish innocents from the British government and its covert operations.

Scotland and political repression

Reasonable minded independence supporters shy away from using the word ‘repression‘, yet empirical experience of living and working in Scotland leaves me in no doubt political advances are constructively restrained by English political interests.

Budgets are cut to undermine spending on welfare systems, regiments moved to England, cooperation with Europe removed overnight, grants for renewable energy withdrawn, Trident left on Scottish territory in defiance of political will, and so on, and so forth.

What is Scotland’s whole independence argument but a wish for greater civil rights enshrined in our own constitution, activating self-rule so we may make our own choices?

How do we attain civil rights? We march. We congregate. We agitate. We cry freedom.

Civil rights apply to Scotland too

Whatever else it may have accomplished, the civil rights movement has made an inestimable contribution to societies across the world transforming the lives and characters of those who took part in it. It does no less in Scotland.

A programme of principled, nonviolent resistance can do the same for Scotland’s goals, in the particular circumstances that we face today. Civil disobedience is a bulwark of a democratic state.

Marches against unfair laws, criminal banks, thieving corporations, corrupt politicians, or blatant BBC propaganda, are a legitimate and powerful method of confronting the enemies of liberty. Dissent and resistance are not alternatives; one reinforces the other.

Resistance is persuasion

Considered as a political tactic, confrontation requires careful thought. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the uses of non-violent protest. But I have no doubt we need to step up opposition to Westminster rule. Marches need a focus more than a generic ideal.

Much depends on how events unfold in the coming months over a second independence referendum arising from the negative effects Scotland will suffer by England pulling us out of European cooperation. The bad taste that has left in the mouth of internationalists will last a long time.


The march to restore Scotland’s civil rights and constitution, Glasgow, Saturday, 30 July

Only mindless violence alienates

Let no one argue resistance is “counter-productive”, to quote my keyboard warrior.

Sometimes disruptive acts succeed when we least think it likely. And with the BBC that is what happened. One cannot say with certainty how much is due to public protest, and how much is because of Holyrood representation, but the BBC took note of the anger.

Answering its Tory critics the BBC recognises a “lack of decentralised decision making” and national budgets for programming has hobbled Scottish culture. Measures to increase the production of Scottish specific content include “appointing a new drama commission editor for each nation”, (who realised no such person existed for a separate nation of five million souls?) “a comedy commissioner based in Glasgow, new partnerships with the creative sector in Scotland, and upgrading online services”.

Whether or not all that ever passes is not the issue, or indeed whether it would be acceptable given the current lamentable situation where BBC returns so little of the money it gets from Scotland to Scotland, and is unenthusiastic about promoting nationhood.

The issue is, those protest marches do have a positive effect. Granted, it takes time. Authority cannot be seen caving in to protest immediately. Marches that culminated in assembly outside BBC headquarters week after week, growing in number each time, alerted the general public to BBC bias, to the swelling anger among licence paying viewers of being cheated. They move the BBC to respond.

Crowd power can have the same effect as fish in the sea that congregate in vast shoals to create a powerful, monumental image to a predator, or a flock of birds that mob and harry a buzzard out to steal their young. Unity and direct action get results.

Marches for independence are no less potent. They show consensus.

Marches warn authority not to deter democracy.

Quad erat demonstrandum.

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21 Responses to Crowd Power

  1. alharron says:

    I was going to do a post on marches myself, but you’ve covered every point I wanted to make.

    I don’t know whether this is just reluctance, or a whispering campaign deliberately attempting to sabotage the movement, but I’m all for marches.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Only common sense, Alharron, marches are a powerful weapon in the hands of civil rights activists. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to talk to people at meetings, or at hub stalls, in their living rooms, or on the internet.
    And like you, I think there’s a subversive campaign to quell enthusiasm for direct action. It just appeared out of nowhere; suddenly supposed SNP supporters think we should stick to putting leaflets in letterboxes. Did it emanate from Bella Caledonia?
    Anyhow, please go ahead with your discussion of marches. I’d be happy to read it.

  3. Scoticus says:

    Yeah, Scotland is oppressed. You could make the argument we are actually more oppressed than any other people because it is all psychological.

    So while we get baubles designed to distract us like “free” elections, education, freedom of movement etc etc it is all really a ploy to keep us mentally in shackles and stop you getting commissioned by the BBC.

    It’s an outrage.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    Do I detect an element of sarcasm in your comments?

    You switched ‘repressed’ to oppressed, a neat trick. I get the feeling from the tone of your toss-it-and-see remarks that you feel oppressed.

    Incidentally, freedom of movement was summarily and severely removed recently, or did you miss that little skirmish while enjoying a vacation in Europe? Our education system has been under attack for years by unionist politicians, our welfare system controlled by London, and our separate law system usurped by the English supreme court.

    Marches have damn all to do with me being commissioned for anything – so I presume that little dig can be categorised as a personal insult.

    PS: Contributors who hide their real e-mail address get their arses kicked off the site. Please be advised.

  5. Sorry I’m not there today. Couldn’t get the mutt looked after today: she’s getting a bit old for these big days out and she was away at Berwick all day Thursday!
    Hope all goes well, I’ll be there in spirit!

  6. smiling vulture says:

    First ever march I was at was anti-war Iraq, Glasgow. I believed Blair had to change security arrangements, fly out by helicopter because of size of crowd.

    Saw YouGov poll post Brexit, not much change independence. I feel more depressed than 2014.

    Work commitments – can’t make it march today Good luck all.

  7. Dr Jim says:

    Big march, you’re rabble rousers, Small march, you’re apathetic,
    Better to be damned for rabble rousing about something worthwhile than not caring. Either way, this is Scotland, you will be damned, so why not rejoice while you do it

  8. Ghillie says:

    ‘The British Establishment know the worth of crowds and marches’…
    So much so that they turned off the cameras or the link to the views of George Square today.
    That wee bit gathering must have REALLY bothered them = )

  9. Grouse Beater says:

    They seem to have a problem with that Live Stream link – soon as it registers a Saltire it switches itself off.

  10. Ghillie says:

    I was actually living in America, New York, as a child when the programme we were watching, I recall it was The Wild Wild West, was interupted to announce the assassination of Martin Luther King. The impact was astounding.

    Thank you for including the Freedom marches of the Black Americans in your article.

    I remember back then, folk in America either decrying the marches as dangerous, uncalled for, downright unAmerican, or realising it was the stirings of something huge that was long overdue and absolutely had to happen.

    We can now, not even begin to imagine what this world would like today if those marches had never happened.

    Our marches for Scottish Independence are every bit as potent.

    Thank you for your aricles Grouse Beater.

    You and others like Tarinaich and Wee Ginger Dug have a wonderful way with words. Folk really want to read what you have to say, because it resonates.

    You will all go down in history as voices of our future Scotland = )

  11. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you for all the kind things that you have had to say. Warm regards. 🙂

  12. Good stuff GB, nicely anticipating some of the patronising pish we’ve heard today.
    I’ve long advocated the civil rights angle as a powerful tool for the indyref movement and hope to see it wisely used in the not-too-distant future.

  13. Grouse Beater says:

    Thanks, Ian. Getting good responses – over 2,000 hits so far. Pass the essay on.

    Couldn’t get to the march, was opening a Festival exhibition , but something told me it had missed a punch. I got into some friendly banter with Wee Ginger Dug’s pet human, Paul Kavanagh, because my intuition sensed something was amiss. An hour ago I read the microphone and loudspeaker were crap!!!

    (One microphone at a major rally?)

    That’s akin to a novel with the last page missing, or a movie with no ending.

    And we knew Glasgow’s corrupt and craven Labour would switch off the camera feed so the public saw only a handful of people in the square.

    Question:- who was responsible for organising the end product?

    All marches need to end with some sort of nonviolent confrontation. You are there to put your case to somebody or a group in authority.

    The press will assemble ready to disseminate it if pre-warned some photo opportunity is imminent. Yes, it has to be organised very carefully, but if the march has not got an institution to face, a figure of authority, or some other authority symbol, it must invite a world class respected speaker to address the final assembly.

    The uncertain, the genuinely curious, those keen to learn, and possible No’s who might be swayed to Yes, understand the concept of independence restored without another march. It’s the individual civil rights we have to highlight that are missing from our tactics, and we have to confront those who keep a tight grip of them. Marches can do that extremely well, if well organised.

    Therefore, new marches need fresh objectives that people can understand without explanation, and moreover, identify with them too.

    A march is for civil rights, not only group morale.

  14. WGD was barely audible at the Wings stall, and it wasn’t a lot better even thirty feet from where he was speaking. In truth, Paul would’ve been better off with a megaphone.
    A lot complained that there was specific end-point. No ‘finale’.
    That said, genuinely grass-roots movements should reserve the right not to be predictably ‘professional’. Slickness of production and continuity did not, in the eyes of many, restore Tommy Sheridan’s credibility via the Hope Over Fear events.
    By living we learn an’ aw that, as Patrick Geddes was fond of quoting.

  15. Grouse Beater says:

    Sheridan’s problems aside, a march needs a central focus, otherwise it dissipates all that energy.

  16. I’m not disagreeing with you GB.
    Perhaps the pay-off, in this case, was the BBC once again being forced to reveal its hand. As frequently discussed yesterday, in the Square and in the CH afterwards, the PQ demos were effective because they were on the Beeb’s doorstep and had to be acknowledged.
    Methinks it won’t be long till we’re having another ‘day out’ on t’other side of the Clyde.

  17. Pingback: The March of Lions & Lambs | A Wilderness of Peace

  18. Grouse Beater says:

    A good read, Alharron. Many thanks.
    The march had scared a good few who like a nation quiet and complacent. It is confirmation the ambition is gathering adherents, not losing them..

  19. Hi SV –
    Aye, the ‘Armadillo’ gathering with the ‘two-minute rumpus’ was, and probably remains, the biggest single gathering of Scots. Ever. And that’s despite there being thousands of Scots on the march in London on the same day.

    Footage of the event is remarkably hard to find, despite there being constant helicopter presence from start to finish.

    I was told, a good few years ago, by someone well placed to know, that Strathclyde Police, on the Friday evening, had an off-the-record ‘quiet word’ with the Labour Party high heid yins, and told them in no uncertain terms that Blair’s presence in the city was liable to lead to serious unrest. They knew how big the march was going to be, despite the farcical ‘crowd estimate’ they announced on the day (and which Tommy Sheridan made such capital of in what was probably one his best speeches: ‘Strathclyde Police canny count!’)

    As a result of that ‘quiet word’, Blair was told to deliver his speech early and remove himself from Glasgow asap. He duly did, and had left the city before the march set off from Glasgow Green.

  20. Grouse Beater says:

    Blair has the look of a haunted man these days. And nice to hear the Scottish police acting like a sheriff in a western. “Leave yer guns at the jail, boys, an’ collect ’em when you leave town. Have a good time in Happyville.”

    (New essays published at midnight)

  21. alharron says:

    Thanks: I, of course, agree. Why else the desperation that the EU referendum hadn’t changed things despite *hundreds* of anecdotes from former No voters now determined Yes voters? Damage control.

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