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Archive for September, 2012

So yesterday we marched and we rallied. We took to the streets of Edinburgh in celebration. A celebration of a campaign, a celebration of an opportunity to make our country all that it can be.

Despite a long interest in politics this was my first march and rally and what an experience it was. Although I wanted to attend I didn’t know for certain that I would head down until that morning. As is often the case life can get in the way. Sometimes we cannot always be where we would like and I know of many a keen supporter of Independence who was unable to make it for one reason or another.

I am so glad I made that effort though to turn up and march with my fellow Scots for a cause we all believe in. Listening to the speeches at the rally the diversity of opinions and ideas across the support was clear. SNP members, Green Party members, members of the Scottish Socialists, Solidarity and even Labour party members, members of all parties and of none united in a common cause, a common belief that decisions about a nation are best when they are made by those who care about that nation most, those who live there.

And yet, for all my effort, minimal though it was to get in the car and drive down from Perth there were others whose effort was significantly greater. Marching behind the Venetian nationalists I was struck by the international reach of this campaign. You could not fail to be impressed by the organisation, the chanting and the colours of this group who had come so far just to march with us in our own cause. The international reach extended further with a sizeable group over from Flanders and flags also in evidence from Ireland, from the Basque Country, and, of course from Catalonia where they so recently held a massive march for Independence, over 1.5 million strong.

By comparison this gathering in Edinburgh was much smaller. Official estimates from Lothian & Borders Police put the figure at 5000. Now I am not an expert in judging the size of a crowd but I would be lying if I didn’t say it seemed much larger than that to me, perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 strong all in. Naturally those who support the no campaign are keen to talk the numbers down and over the course of the day an initial figure of “less than 7000” had suddenly been downgraded to “a couple of thousand” by one keen critic.

I am sure the debate will rage on for those interested in such things. This was just the kick off for the campaign, a chance to come out in celebration and solidarity. With the First Minister announcing that 100,000 people have signed up to the Independence Declaration to date it is clear that the reach of this campaign extends far beyond those of us in Princes Street Gardens and, rather surprisingly there were still significant numbers at the rally signing the Declaration who had not yet done so. There were people there who have long championed the cause of Independence and there were those who are recent converts, people who, a year ago would not have been supporters.

Congratulations must go of course to Jeff Duncan and his small team of committed volunteers who organised this event themselves. It is worthwhile noting that this was not an event put together by Yes Scotland and it wasn’t an event devised by the SNP. It came about because a group of Independence supporters decided that it would be a good thing to do. There are plans for another two marches and rallies, one next year and one in 2014. One thing I can say for sure is that I will be at both of them.

Margo MacDonald made the excellent point in her speech that if each supporter of Independence convinces just one more person to vote yes then we would secure a comfortable majority. The same can be said for the march and rally. If everyone who was there comes back next year and brings just one friend then the next rally will be twice the size. If this campaign is to be won then it needs to extend beyond the reach of the political parties. Victory will be down to every supporter of Independence and the part we play in securing that victory. So go out and tell your friends. The vote on Independence is coming. Tell them that you support it, tell them why you support it and, in a year’s time bring them along and we can once again meet and celebrate together.

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“I want to do so much more than lobby an unresponsive UK Government for a sane economic policy. I want to be in a Government with the power to make for ourselves the decisions we need to take to get our economy growing… I have believed for all of my adult life that Scotland should be an independent nation. For me it has never really been about flags or status symbols. It’s all about how we make this country of ours the best that it possibly can be. It is based on the fundamental belief that if we want a strong economy we must have access to all of Scotland’s resources, not just to that portion of Scotland’s resources that the UK Government chooses to give us. It is based on the inescapable reality that if we want to tackle, once and for all, the scandal of child poverty then we must be able to make our own decisions on tax and benefits and… we must be able to prioritise spending on the early years of our children’s lives over spending on weapons of mass destruction. And it’s based on the irrefutable logic that if it is right, and it is right, for this Parliament to take decisions on Health, Education, on Justice then how can it be anything other than right for this Parliament also to take decisions on the Economy, on Welfare and Defence?”

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Deputy First Minister (Government strategy and the constitution) and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. Scottish Parliament, 5th September 2012

Fine words from the Deputy First Minister just a fortnight ago, and words that mark a shift in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future. Since then we have seen a quickening of the pace of the discussions between the two Governments and there is the expectation of an agreement being reached soon. Once agreement on the process issues can be reached then the proper debate can begin, a debate on what Independence would mean for every one of Scotland’s citizens.

Independence is not an idea that lives in a vacuum. If the case for Independence is to be won then the argument needs to be more than just constitutional. For the people of Scotland to vote for Independence then the case needs to be clearly made that Scotland, and its people, would be better off outside the Union than in it. Last night on the most recent of Professor Curtice’s many appearances on both Newsnight Scotland and Scotland Tonight he summed it up on economic grounds. If Yes Scotland and the SNP win the argument on the economics then Independence will be won. If they don’t then it will be lost. Now to an extent I agree with him but I don’t think it is simple enough to be boiled down to a purely economic argument. There are many other issues, political and social, that will play on people’s minds when they cast their vote – questions about the sort of compassionate society Scotland could become; questions about the foreign policy and external outlook an Independent Scotland is likely to have; questions about our place in the World.

Make no mistake, the Scottish Government are well aware of this and it was to this debate that the Deputy First Minister was referring in her speech. The latest British Social Attitudes survey has just been released and when asked 72% of respondents said that they wanted more powers for the Scottish Parliament with 43% saying they wanted all decisions to be made by the Scottish Parliament. This last figure may seem a surprise when you compare it to the figure of 32% who provided a positive answer when asked if Scotland should become Independent. In reality though it frames the debate ahead. When asked about any number of issues, from currently devolved matters like the NHS, education or housing or currently reserved matters like pensions and benefits the overwhelming response is that people want these matters decided here in Scotland. There remains, however, some trepidation about the perceived finality of “Independence”, an uncertainty about what would lie ahead, an uncertainty which those in the “Better Together” campaign will attempt to exploit. In reality though Independence is exactly what those 43% of respondents are looking for, whether they realise it yet or not.

If the Scottish people are presented with a positive and clear vision of what Independence means and the difference that it could make to all our lives then I have no doubt that a yes vote will be forthcoming. It is rare for me to quote Tommy Sheridan but he was right in his excellent speech at Glasgow University Union this Saturday past when he said we should:

“…stand up and be counted and not listen to those who would have you feart to be a country, feart to be independent, feart to take decisions that affect our everyday lives ourselves.”

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