On Saturday I was asked to to speak to a group of Dundee United supporters who had formed a group called Arabs for Independence. They were to meet in the ’83 Club, named after the year we won our only league title. I didn’t refuse.
I’m not very good at these things. I’m not a member of any party and don’t really like the way political hacks feel the need to tear each other apart. However something different is happening in Scotland just now, and that essential difference made me feel very comfortable. Many years ago I spent a very interesting evening with the late Margo MacDonald and her husband Jim Sillars as we talked about creating a group called Artists For Independence. Always the prescient sage, I remembered his words as I sat in the ’83 club on Saturday to the gathered tangerine clad supporters. “Independence won’t happen because of a party,” said Jim “It must become a movement.” Looking round that room on Saturday, thinking about the people I’d spoken to over the previous few days, seeing the vast range of campaigners from every possible background, I realised that Jim had been right and that this what is happening now.
Let me tell you why. A movement needs to bring a wide range of people and expectations together. It also needs to fire up citizens who have no real interest in politics. Here are four people I’ve been speaking to recently who exemplify what I’m talking about:
Bruce McLaren is a former international lorry driver who organised that meeting on Saturday.
“Some years ago I left the SNP,” he told me, “and joined Labour for Independence. The SNP have gotten us to where we are – but when the referendum campaign became a certainty, it was time to think of the future and what kind of Scotland I want to see and be part of.”
What kind of Scotland is that? The day before I had lunch with my old friends John and Molly Harvey. Molly has spent her life and a good part of her retirement supporting people who live in poverty. Living in the Gorbals in the fifties and sixties she saw at close hand the hardships that many of her neighbours had to endure. She and her husband John, a Church of Scotland minister became politicised. They were natural supporters of Labour and thought that party would be the one to deliver the fairer society they sought. So why would Molly be voting Yes?
“A Yes vote,” says Molly, “would, I hope, enable us to have a chance to create a more just and fair society where all are treated with dignity and respect. Even if we get a Yes vote, it may be of course that we don’t take this chance, and just have more of the ‘same old.'”
You can hear Molly’s scepticism of the political process in that last sentence can’t you?
She’s campaigned against nuclear weapons since they were first delivered up the River Clyde all these years ago and has spent a few nights in the cells as witness to her commitment to peace. A Yes vote promises to get rid of these weapons. Retired now, she explained the importance of getting rid of Trident to her social-justice work.
“I worked in partnership with families living in poverty and social exclusion in Glasgow, and therefore would be failing these people, whom I feel privileged to call my friends, if I did not make a stand against this obscene expenditure.”
Marco Fugaccia is someone who has not yet started his working life. A second year law student at Edinburgh University who is affiliated to no political party, he is frustrated when he hears specious arguments against self governance.
“It angers me when people say that ‘we can’t do it’ or that anyone prepared to make this leap of faith is just a ‘dreamy nationalist’. It is my belief that a government’s only purpose is to serve its people. We should stop being so obsessed with our position on ‘the world stage’ and instead strive for a Government that is as close a reflection of its electorate as possible.”
Finally, and for me, the most interesting conversation: Madaleine Pritchard is a musician friend who, up to fairly recently, has a deep distrust for Alex Salmond and his view of nationalism. Why would she be voting Yes?
“As a self employed musician I have to think carefully about policies that will affect me directly such as free health care, diminishing tax on pensions and a healthy revenue to fund arts education within schools and communities. Funding with the arts sector has suffered badly over the last few years and Scotland now has an opportunity to regain control and support its agents. I believe independence can only add to our artistic potential.”
Sitting in the ’83 Club on Saturday I thought of these people, their disparate backgrounds and their unifying desire to let Scotland look after itself. They are just four of many (from outside the party system) who have been moved to support the Yes campaign. It’s still early days, but it’s definitely a movement.
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