It has been a vigorous, if somewhat tense, last few days on the stall. My legs are aching from too many hours standing behind the Yes Marchmont table…don’t get me wrong, I’m not professing to be one of those Great Persuaders, I’m merely secondary occasional small-scale (if frequently long haul conversations) stuff, and I view my primary contribution as one of making stupid jokes to keep everyone’s spirits up.
And actually, that has not been terribly difficult, as confidence has continued to build since last weekend. Although there was a (not altogether unexpected) swathe of polls (after The Big One in the Sunday Times that showed Yes ahead) showing ‘no, you are losing…even if just by a little bit!!’, the sense that we are continuing to gain ground has only increased. That has been good, as I had a slight concern that premature optimism from one poll might lead to some complacency. Margaret introduced me to the Wings Over Scotland legend that is Major Bloodnok (surprised to see how young and good looking he was – but then I guess a Terry Thomas avatar lowers expectations), and the quantity of people mobbing the stall for copies of the (equally legendary) Wee Blue Book so that they could run away and convince their friends, has been inspiring. I am so proud to have been a (small) part of that project, and to see the way that EVERYONE knows about it, with nothing but word-of-mouth promoting it, is absolutely stunning.
But we had the occasional cloud, as there was the Orange Order march for No on Saturday. Yes Scotland (rightly) advised us to stay away from the city centre and avoid contact with the march, so that there were no incidents that could be spun to fit the preordained BBC narrative. This is why Edinburgh didn’t have examples of the ‘feelgood festival feeling’ shown by videos on FaceBook from Glasgow and Perth that same day, and I did feel slightly robbed of that, as a result. Anyway, this meant that we decided to set up our stall at Cameron Toll for the 11am-2pm duration of the Orange march, which was starting on our patch (The Meadows).
The stall had a good turnout – but Cameron Toll is a modern shopping mall, with most people arriving by car, so we fairly quickly were getting restless, and began to discuss the possibility of where we could move to. At the same time, there was some confusion – Wings had posted a link to the online version of Magnus Gardham’s column, and it appeared that this creator of venomous anti-Yes diatribes had suddenly come out for Yes with a staggeringly eloquent piece. I checked the hard copy version in Cameron Toll’s mall, and realized that, beyond the headline, there was no resemblance. An hour later, the Herald were admitting they had mistakenly put a piece by Alan Magee (Creation Records founder) under Magnus’ name. The structure of the universe was restored.
By 1pm we had made our decision – we were going back to retake The Meadows.
As we packed up, a most bizarre sight drove by the Toll – a huge biker chapter bearing ‘Masonic Sons of Scotland’ banners…and with so many of their mighty hogs covered in ‘Yes’ stickers. Grins, horns and friendly waves – even – from some of the gang as they went past…presumably they were on the Orange march, but maybe they didn’t get the memo about it being a ‘No’ event?
A couple of cars dropped us at the top of Middle Meadow Walk, and – with more than a little apprehension – we went down the slope towards our regular patch. There had been a rise in ‘combative confrontations’ recently, with a graffiti/swastika attack on the Yes Newington shop, so we had some reason to be cautious…but when we got there, the main thing to greet us was the sea of plastic bottle garbage stretching across the grass, glinting in the sun. I was slightly taken aback – not only by the striking scenes of litter desolation across The Meadows, but also the dozen or so portaloos being loaded on to t a truck for disposal, when that site was supposedly only their rallying point for half an hour before the march started. Whenever I have attended a march starting there, that has never been an issue – but, as one of the council workers said to me later, a lot of them had come from England and Northern Ireland, and had been drinking heavily on the coaches.
Frances had the idea. As soon as she saw the rubbish, she suggested that some of us should go and help the two council workers there who were starting to clear up. Her idea was that we could then use that as a photo opportunity for social media. Personally, I really liked the metaphor about cleaning up the garbage of the Union, and went across to confirm with council workers that it was Ok to help and that we wouldn’t be treading on anyone’s toes. Surprised, they happily accepted our help (as they had to be finished by 5), warning us that they didn’t have gloves or litter pickers. Not a problem, I said. I went back and recruited James from the stall, as he had the smartphone necessary to deliver images to Twitter, and we got to work. Thirty to forty five minutes later, as other council workers arrived to aid their colleagues, we were done – the council workers were pleased as they had been out early that day (someone had been painting ‘Yes’ as a welcome for the marchers on some of the buildings there). 24 hours later, we had had over 500 retweets and 170 favourites (he said, typing it as though he knew what it meant…). Apparently (as a non-Tweeter) that is ‘good’. It was only later that I realised the power of appropriating someone else’s publicity stunt for one’s own ends…
We went on to have a good afternoon and evening on the stall, finishing around 7pm, as has become standard. The longer hours are really starting to go for my legs, thighs protesting whenever I stop and try to sit down, but we are getting an early evening footfall that we have not engaged with before. There were stragglers drifting around with Union flags or Rangers jerseys about their person, but noone tried to hassle us (as a group, we don’t exactly look like much of a physical challenge!). After we had closed up, a retreat to the Argyll Bar provided an opportunity (for me, at any rate) to collapse with a Williams Brothers Seven Giraffes, and kick back with Jamie (National Collective) and Ronan – a member of the group who had funded over a thousand of the Wee Blue Books himself.
We might have experienced a false dawn that day with Magnus Gardham seeming to have had the most Damascine of conversions by publishing the most damning indictment of the week’s Westminster trips in The Herald, and coming out for Yes. But even putting that editorial hiccup to one side, it had been good. In the morning, I had been concerned about getting across the heart of Edinburgh to Cameron Toll, before the Orange Order march bisected my city and cut me off from the stall. On the way, I saw SO many ‘Yes’ stalls out across the streets, with only one cluster of ‘No’ nearby, and a handful of ten people with vote No placards strewn across the Royal Mile (where else?) in an attempted blockade.
In contrast, a young woman with a life-limiting illness called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency climbed the face of Edinburgh Castle with oxygen strapped to her back and tubes up her nose, to place a giant ‘Yes’ sign there in protest at Gordon Brown’s lies about transplants (the only cure for A1AD is a double lung transplant). It was a stunningly heroic action, and she apparently spoke at the BBC Pacific Quay protest. That kind of courage is humbling.
You can feel it in the air. We are rising. Will it be enough? Will Scottish Labour’s famous sleight of hand with postal votes (already one bag of them seems to have gone missing in Dunbartonshire) instead carry the day? Who knows? But we might just make it.
“The Yes campaign isn’t about politicians, it’s a grassroots movement of ordinary people like you and I, it’s about change, it’s about taking ownership of our future and our children’s future in Scotland and it’s about overwhelming exhilarating hope.” (Michelle McManus)