The organisers called it a march for democracy but it was more a walk, not a leisurely stroll by any means, more a determined hike through the centre of Glasgow, past its great ornate buildings of empire loyalty, the not so great visionless conurbations of modern glass and concrete built when the city fathers wanted the place to be ‘the Chicago of the North’, no doubt as a one up on Edinburgh’s well earned ‘Athens of the North’.
We moved up Sauchiehall Street, our heads bowed in respect for the charred shell of the desecrated Mackintosh School of Art, its board of governors claiming a big boy did it and ran away; along streets lined by red sandstone tenements where windae hingers waved us on, under bridges of well wishers, and around neglected derelict patched and parched ground, the obligatory buddleia bushes softening the urban deprivation.
The walk starting in high spirits from the leafy surroundings of Kelvingrove Museum and ending in a miasma of greetings at Glasgow Green. The count was over 100,000.
People gawped and smiled and took countless photographs from cafe, eatery and pub doorway, astonished at the never-ending river of hopefuls. Some showed visible emotion at the sight of so many unenslaved by the British state.
Everywhere was common purpose and egality. Academic walked with tradesman, shop assistant with company boss, pensioner with grandchild, aristocratic deerhound with labradoodle. It didn’t matter who we were or that we might meet again in another time and place and not recognise each other. Today we recognised and acknowledged we live a half-democracy under England’s nefarious rule. We know it is time to assuage the vexation of the ghosts of those protestors in 1707 who wailed at the sale of their country to another and had no say in the decision.
As one tweet reminded, there was a day England’s power over Scotland would have rounded up the leaders of the insurgency, held show trials, hung a few as example, and sent the rest to Australia or Tasmania for twenty years, leaving behind desperate, distraught wives and children to survive as best they could.
England’s power differs from yesteryear only in its forms of punishment on dissenters. It employs a disgrace of amoral Scots installed in its parliament to warn the rest of us we are as nothing. And Scotland pays them to do it. We are a nation of masochists.
The rogues and charlatans and carpetbaggers will fight reinstatement of full civil and constitutional rights until their dying breath. This can’t come soon enough, as far as I am concerned, but is certain to end not with a gasp and a belated revelation they wasted their lives, but with a red velvet cloak laced with ermine laid over their rotten carcass to hide their skeletal frame and compensate for a life’s career devoted to betrayal.
On the journey I talked to as many people as I could walking beside me, sharing banter, boosting camaraderie with merriment, a jokey observation or a pithy remark. Couples held hands, pipers piped, elderly shouted allegiance to an ideal. A chatter of women breathed meaning into their elevated hen’s party. Faces were gently kissed and caressed by Scotland’s flag carried before them. Infants in prams and push chairs looked up at the Saltire blue sky and wondered what the entire racket was about. I looked at their small inquisitive faces and wondered what image would live in their memory of the day and what would be theirs tomorrow.
Police officers in twos, thumbs hooked in the armpit of their high-rez jackets, standing at road junctions holding back fustrated drivers, smiled too knowing the protest was sure to be a doddle of a day. What were they thinking behind their smiles? “Go on yersel, boys. I’m with you every step of the way”?
Even the animals joined the procession in twos: two sheepdogs, two West Highland terriers, two staffies, two greyhounds, some wearing ‘Yes’ jackets, patient pet dreaming of fields and fresher scents better spent than skiffing pad on hard tarmac.
Political protest shaped by marches is a common leveller.
In my case I did my bit for Scotland’s future suffering pain from a self-inflicted spine injury, an old wound gained from pushing a fully laden barrow of rubble up a steep plank to dump into a waste skip. If only it had been a load of Scotland’s Tory party and Labour cadres. I did it in the service of recreating a piece of Scotland’s history, New Lanark. By the halfway stage of people power a companion offered a paracetamol and some water and I gulped both down with gratitude.
The journey, as they say, is more interesting and invigorating than the destination, and so it proved on this great occasion for me. On arrival at Glasgow Green, the whip and flutter of flags spread out to visit an enclave of stalls selling cheap reminders of the day’s triumph, T-shirts, badges, books of poetry, handmade jewellry and trinkets. A temporary stage under a vast awning held musicians and speakers, but my small band of two Scots and a Welshman arrived too late to hear the best give their tuppence worth. In any event, we were thoroughly pooped and hirpled our way to the nearest pub, The Braemar Bar, a triangular shaped drinking trough on the corner of a nearby crumbling tenement.
Were it not for the imposing ‘Bikers for Yes’, mounted on their sculpted steel steeds, clad in leathers, rubber and studs, roaring out on Harley and Triumph and Indian to Valhalla, as handsome a group as one would want to meet stepping out of a Viking ship onto the sands of Port Seton, the end of the day would have been an anti-climax.
Seeking liberty involves a constant tension. On the Green I met an esteemed journalist whom I like for the precision of his prose and obdurate diplomacy. He told me that a single comment I had made on the Internet sounded bitter, and it was best I let grievance lie. I had to remind him, ever so gently, that I don’t do ‘bitter’; I do angry, angry at injustice. I retain the right to challenge our elected purveyors of platitudes whenever I see fit. You cannot be free and disciplined.
As a close, valued friend said recently, ‘You’re a very happy person’. Happy does not mean oblivious of the obvious. We elect a political party to do all they can to achieve the manifesto upon which we rest our trust, in this historic case, the re-instatement of Scotland’s liberty. Every remark they make publically tells me, if no other, they grow complacent and over-cautious, unimaginative, untutored in political guile, reluctant to cause offence. ‘Home Rule’ is their destination, DevoMax with a posh title, compromise that avoids confrontation. Scotland’s masters are chuckling into champagne glasses.
With the exception of two Scottish members of England’s parliament among the throng, I did not see a single elected leader lead the walk. As we entered Nelson Mandela Square I imagined Mandela asking to know who was leading the protest, the noble individuals empowered and expected to show example and sacrifice without thought for their name or person. Are they imprisoned? Of an identifiable national hero there was none.
I was humbled by the masses who had joined the march. They refuse to live on political slop. They would rather be a bruiser than a loser. I went home, the ‘literary gent’ as one described me, to drink a malt, plant a tree, inspired to write poetic prose.
It was a long walk, but not as long as 300 years. For some on that march it will be the last of earth, but they are not composed to go just yet. They demand that their government serve them with every ounce of its political being. Nothing less will do.