Saturday was a very late start for me – the product of an inconveniently late Friday night until 4am, when I knew that I had (for one last time) to be at the Marchmont stall for 11 the following morning. Instead, I woke at half eleven, groaned, rolled out of bed, and was at the bus stop just after midday – but some bizarre bus delays (I choose to blame the Edinburgh trams…for no good reason) meant that all trace of the stall was gone by the time I reached the Meadows just before 1pm. It was disappointing to miss it (even before I heard about the quantity of cakes that had been on offer) as it was an opportunity for a last ‘thank you’ party for those who had helped at the Marchmont Stall over the year (and sometimes longer), with the table covered this time not with leaflets, badges and stickers, but instead with membership registration forms for the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the SNP.
This idea, to offer people the membership forms if they wanted to sustain their political engagement, had been conceived on Tuesday night at the mobbed meeting in the Argyll Bar cellar – and of course that was long before the true scale of the post-result membership expansion had become clear: all the Yes political parties had doubled in size. But we all know about gym memberships – you pay your membership fee and sign up, then feel morally vindicated that ‘you could’ participate if you got the time, but will probably not do so for several years. As much as many of these people had been non-party Yes activists like myself, is there not a danger that these new recruits are just padding?
Well, later in the afternoon on Saturday I went to the Newington Yes Shop, for (another) ‘thank you’ party. A variety of Yes activists (over 40 at any one time) crowding into the tiny shop for a last gathering. (Fortunately I arrived a little less late for that event – sandwiches, if not cakes, were consumed aplenty.) It was anything but a wake. There I talked with Sally and Alison of the Greens/English Scots for Yes, and asked how things had been going: they had had their regular Green Party meeting on the Thursday night, where they normally had about 35 people turning up. Instead, they had had to move to a larger venue…and even then there was not enough room for the more than 400 people that had come along. So these new party members (as someone said ‘it is unlikely that they believe in ‘No’ if they just joined the Greens) seem to have got past the first ‘gym membership’ stage: they have actually gone along and tried out the weights.
But the SNP’s gain in membership since the announcement of the result has, of course, eclipsed everything. On the day of the Referendum, they had 25,000 members – which meant that at that point they already had more members than all the Scottish political party memberships combined. But SINCE the result was announced, an additional 40,000+ members have pushed them over 69,000, making them larger than the whole UK-wide LibDem party membership – so the SNP is now the third largest UK political party.
There is a sense of agitation since the 19th September, a rising power, looking for a new direction and outlet – but will it find one in time, before it starts to dissipate? In addition to the two events on Saturday that I had known about, there had apparently been a further one, spontaneously organised through Twitter (damn it, I’m probably going to have to get on that last social media horse after all…): between 1 and 3pm a party of a couple of thousand had taken place outside Holyrood. As has become standard, a wag observed ‘The BBC – of course – were not in attendance.’ And part of that disillusionment is manifesting in the surge to consolidate the pro-Indy social media (including the wonderful Dateline Scotland – see them on YouTube) as permanent fixtures, with crowd-funding activities that no doubt bring a warm glow to the heart of Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell. asa variation on Jello Biafra, Don’t Bemoan the Media – OWN the Media.
The media are an important component in providing an environment within which the Yes attitude and philosophy can thrive – the only newspaper to come out for Yes, the Sunday Herald, has just this weekend reported that their sales are up 111% on last year, in sharp contrast to all other newsprint. (The historian Tom Nairn once said “Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.” – so it is perhaps unsurprising that this publication was one of only three – with the Scotsman and the Financial Times – that actually came out in open support of a No vote..and it is somewhat bitterly appropriate that this week it is celebrating a century in print.) So alternative media outlets are required to help sustain and grow that community – it would be hard to maintain a Yes perspective against the grinding day-to-day onslaught of BBC Scotland’s Winston Smith-type output. But within these media, there has to be a direction – short-term realisable objectives. Clearly, the Daily Record’s front page ‘Vow’ of the three Westminster leaders for ‘more powers’ for Scotland two days before the Referendum, fell apart within 24 hours of the result being declared, and there needs to be a regular holding to account for each date that fails on Gordon Brown’s ‘exciting timetable’. Also, there is a gearing up towards the Westminster general election…but that is almost 9 months away, and that is a long time to sustain people’s energy or anger at betrayal.
And there does seem to be some anger and disappointment – most particularly from No voters. There has been a surprising number of encounters with what are being referred to as ‘hangover Nos’ – they vote No then the next day they feel sick and realise with the victory that it was not the result that they wanted and that they have done the wrong thing (sometimes even before ‘The Vow’ started to come apart at the seams). Frustrating though that may be for those of us who wanted a Yes and therefore voted Yes (as opposed to No – there is a clue in there), we have to build something that includes them for the future. Going down the Referendum line, we need almost another 5% in order to win – and beginning with hangover Nos and incorporating them is a good place to start.
Back to Sally at the Newington Yes Shop: she is fingering her ‘45’ badge, saying she is not so comfortable with it – she had originally been very glad to have that badge of identity as being part of the 45%, but now feels that it was like a stage in grieving, and now it is time to move on. For one thing, she felt that the ‘45’ identity alienates those who did not vote Yes but want to be part of the future of the group that did. We agreed ‘45+’ might be much better (if less catchy and punchy), and maybe that was the way to go. It is a fair point – the branding of the post-Referendum Yes identity has to be done carefully, and as inclusively as possible. As I wrote before on an earlier post, some of the No voters (many of whom were taken in by the Daily Record) just don’t know they are Yes voters yet – and a taste of that post-1979 disillusionment will do them a world of good.
Towards the end of the party at the Newington Yes Shop, I was stunned to see a familiar figure on the far side of the room: my old friend (former Scottish History Professor at the University of Edinburgh) Owen Dudley Edwards. Back when I was president at the students’ union in Edinburgh, Owen and I had gone on anti poll tax demonstrations, where he had shared some of his personal stories about Gore Vidal and many others (see also my earlier Jim Sillars post for his perspective on possible routes to independence). To my great and pleasant surprise, he had apparently been regularly staffing the Newington Yes Shop, just as I had regularly been staffing the Marchmont stall (albeit in my case for only the last couple of months, during my 50 Days).
Suddenly, it all fell into place – Irene on the Marchmont stall had turned up one day wearing a ‘Scottish Academics for Yes’ design t-shirt, which I was very keen to acquire a copy of. The next day she came back from the Newington Shop bearing one for me, and said she had asked an academic there if it was Ok for her to wear such a t-shirt, as she was not an academic herself. The academic in question had replied that of course it was OK: just because one wore a Black Sabbath t-shirt, did not mean you were a member of the band. Suddenly, the wit of that academic’s response – even though we had not spoken for some twenty years – was recognisable as pure, unadulterated Owen.
I asked him about attacks on the Newington Yes Shop, and he told me of the ‘Nazi’ graffiti that had been sprayed upon it from its opening day. As we talked, and the wine flowed, there had been some intermittent flute music, prior to an acapella rendition of Hamish Henderson’s 1960 Writers Against Apartheid protest song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ (which seems to be emerging as the post-Referendum Yes anthem, after its international tour de force by the South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony a couple of months ago). After a lull, the music started up again with a piper, and Owen made to leave, but grabbed my forearm as I was turning away and pulled me close so that I could hear his words over the bagpipes: “I’m SO glad you’re involved in this.”
I was touched, and genuinely felt the same to hear that he had been involved so deeply in the campaign – but instead of reciprocating, I said only one thing as a farewell.
“Owen, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”