Exactly five years ago today (18th September) I was absolutely buzzing with excitement and anticipation. It was the day many Scots had devoted their adult lives to achieving. It was Independence Day.
On 18th September 2014 a referendum was held in Scotland to determine whether the people wanted to break the chains of Westminster rule and build a new and better independent country or stay in the restrictive British Union relationship the rich and entitled land owners and Nobles secretly signed the country up to in 1707. Those feeble Nobles were bribed with English gold to give up something that did not belong to them – Scotland’s status as an independent nation.
The Acts of Union were agreed in secret in July 1706 and signed by the English Parliament later that year and by the Scottish Parliament in 1707. The self-appointed Nobles and Clergy, the elites of the day, agreed to prorogue the existing Scottish Parliament indefinitely, even though it had existed for several hundred years previous, since around 1235. By the two Acts, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland—which at the time were separate states with separate legislatures, but with the same monarch—were, in the words of the Treaty, “United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain.”
The Nobles had been subjected to a combination of bribes and bullying by the powerful English elites who sought to conquer Scotland once and for all without more bloodshed. Decades later our National Bard, Robert Burns, ruefully reflected on April 10, 1790:
“I have long said to myself, what are the advantages Scotland reaps from this so called Union that can counterbalance the annihilation of her independence and her very name?”
Five years ago the ordinary citizens of Scotland, not the unaccountable elites, had the power to determine the destiny of Scotland in their hands. Over the period that the voting booths were open Scotland was free to choose its own path. The lifting of heavy Claymores and battle axes was no longer required to secure freedom and national self-determination just the wielding of a small lead pencil.
The level of engagement was unprecedented. The turnout of 84.6% was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the United Kingdom since the introduction of universal suffrage. Just over 2 million voted NO to independence while 1.6 million voted YES. By 55% to 45% Scots declined to become an independent nation again. I didn’t see the defeat coming on that bright day five years ago. I had travelled all across Scotland during the preceding 12 months. I had addressed 121 public meetings mostly organised by the radical independence group that I co-founded with others, Hope Over Fear. We met in town halls, social clubs, pubs, schools and towards the end of the campaign in car parks and streets as overflow meetings became the norm.
On a memorable night in Motherwell I had to seek permission from a car owner to stand on the roof of his car as hundreds couldn’t access the hall as every seat and standing space was taken. In Dundee the overflow meeting was on the steps of the town hall. In Aberdeen the hotel meeting room was full so we had the second meeting in the street. In Glasgow we ambitiously booked the legendary Victorias Night Club for an eve of poll rally. We ended up occupying two floors of the venue and speaking to hundreds outside unable to gain access. Earlier in the day a meeting called on social media by the independence supporting actor Martin Compston led to several thousand filling George Square in the centre of Glasgow. Martin invited me to address the meeting and my vision of a new, fairer, nuclear weapon free Scotland went down a storm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC5mKyAVbkw.
The weekend before the referendum I was invited to cross swords with Andrew Neil in a special edition of the BBC’s Sunday Politics show broadcast from Edinburgh. I found him to be arrogant and dismissive of our chances of success and ability to govern ourselves. I was having none of it and gave back as good as I got. I called out the BBC for its woefully biased coverage of the referendum. It sought to defend the Union at every turn with distorted stories, unbalanced stories and downright lies. The clip from that show went viral and has now been viewed by over 200,000 people https://www.facebook.com/joe.glen.581/videos/10152399446322677/UzpfSTYzNjQxMTA5NDoxMDE1NzY4NTMxNTgyNjA5NQ/.
On the evening of the referendum I was invited to the Glasgow HQ of the BBC to appear on their results show to discuss the outcome of the vote. By the time I arrived several areas across Scotland had declared for NO and I knew we weren’t going to win. I was absolutely gutted. Gutted and sad. Gutted and angry. Gutted and surprised. My day in Glasgow campaigning had convinced me we had won. In actual fact I was right. In Glasgow we did win. In Dundee we won. In North Lanarkshire we won. In West Dumbartonshire we won. In the solid working class areas of Scotland the answer was YES to Scottish independence.
On the BBC show I didn’t yet have the details but I was sat alongside the oxymoron Labour Lord John Reid, former Defence Minister in the Blair Government, and other political worthies from the unionist crowd. The interviewer Glenn Campbell read out a Tweet from Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont before coming to me for a comment. The Tweet said something along the lines of “Great victory for Scottish Labour tonight”. I wanted to puke. Labour had sold their very soul and joined with the blue Tories of austerity and benefit cuts and the Yellow Tories of student fees and nuclear weapons to campaign together under the repugnant Better Together umbrella. They together hatched and released a vitriolic Project Fear campaign of lies, distortions and threats. The unionist media lapped it up and presented their prospectus obediently.
Struggling to refrain from grabbing Reid by the throat for his betrayals of working class communities I urged Johann and all her New Labour chums to look up the meaning of Pyrrhic victory. I briefly tried to explain it referred to victories which actually result in defeats. This expression alludes to King Pyrrhus of Epirus who was also a General and defeated the Romans at Asculum in B.C. 279, but lost his best officers and many of his troops. Pyrrhus then said:
“Another such victory and we are lost.”
I stated that night in the BBC studio that Labour in Scotland may have won the referendum vote but they will lose the battle for the hearts and minds of Scotland’s working class and young people who demand a better and brighter future than the one on offer within the British union. Within 9 months of that statement Labour in Scotland were reduced to an irrelevant rump when the SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituency seats. Labour, Tories and Liberals, the Bitter Together partners, returned only one seat each.
The Daily Record newspaper the next day, Friday September 19th 2014, ran with the headlines “IT’S NO – New Scotland .. new Britain”. Just like their pathetic coverage throughout the referendum campaign it was inaccurate, biased and distorted.
I remember arguing with a Daily Record sub-editor during the campaign as they endlessly promoted prominent Unionist stories and videos opposed to YES which they said ‘went viral’. On checking these videos I discovered hits of a few thousand at most. Hardly ‘going viral’!
A video of an independence speech I delivered in the St Brides Kirk in Dunfermline, where former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s dad presided as a Minister, really did go viral. Views topped over 150,000 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6GsEKrCvgw. I asked this sub-editor why the Daily Record is not covering that story? The reply was: “Because it doesn’t fit in with our editorial line”.
The Daily Record and all the other tabloids, broadsheets and broadcast media united as one to defend the Union and oppose independence. Their coverage throughout the referendum campaign was wholly biased and unbalanced. Unionist arguments were presented positively and prominently. Independence arguments were always accompanied with doubts, fear and ‘expert opinions’ taking contrary stances. The oil was running out. The banks would up sticks and leave. The economy would shrink. Pensions couldn’t be guaranteed. Instability would reign. We can’t use the pound sterling currency. Scotland would be forced to leave the European Union.
We were too small, too poor and too stupid to run our own affairs was the not so subtle narrative constantly promoted by the powerful media. The threat to pension’s lie and currency uncertainty were undoubtedly the most damaging scare stories.
The actual result of the referendum in 2014 didn’t spell the end of the independence campaign it actually underlined its inevitability. Sure the elderly were convinced in their droves by the unionist lies to vote NO from fear of their pensions being reduced or stolen but the two groups in society who overwhelmingly voted YES were the working class and youth. In every age category under 55 the majority of Scots voted YES. That is a reality which makes an independent Scotland an inevitable outcome if the question is asked again and the campaign for YES is filled with positivity, hope and vision.
The 55%/45% defeat for YES in 2014 was actually a massive victory for the upbeat and visionary independence campaign. In January 2013 support for independence according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey was only 23% https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jan/23/support-scottish-independence-slumps-lowest. By October 2013, less than a year before the referendum, support for independence was only 25% according to the supposedly reliable opinion polls https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/scottish-independence-support-at-25-per-cent-poll-1-3138404.
Yet despite the disgracefully biased media campaign of lies and distortions, led by the British Biased Corporation, support for independence rose from between 23-25% to an incredible 45%.
In every poll conducted during the last 5 years support for independence has not fallen below 45% while the most recent polls put YES on at least 50% or more. The most recent poll suggests a YES majority of 52% and clear support for IndyRef2 https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/snp/news/105741/majority-scots-now-favour-independence-shock-poll-reveals.
On Saturday the grassroots Hope Over Fear (HOF) campaign https://www.facebook.com/hopeoverfear2014?ref=tn_tnmn will host the annual rally held every year since October 2014. HOF gave a commitment within a month of the defeat in 2014 when it mobilised over 10,000 in Glasgow’s Freedom Square to put on record our commitment to continue the crusade for freedom https://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/13293801.hope-over-fear-rally-thousands-gather-in-george-square-today/.
In the years since 2014 the Unionist lies and scare stories have been exposed and the SNP has secured a democratic triple-locked mandate to call IndyRef2. We refuse to go back in our box no matter what the Unionist press, media and politicians say.
The theme of Saturday’s rally is ‘The Final Countdown – Use The Mandate’. Thousands will assemble to listen to passionate speeches, appreciate fantastic live music and utilise the free children’s entertainment. We will assemble in Freedom Square from 11.30am with determination and hope in our hearts inspired by the justice and correctness of our cause.
After Saturday we will then build towards the huge All Under One Banner (AUOB) march in Edinburgh on Saturday 5th October. Regardless of the Westminster shenanigans and Brexit chaos we will stand tall and stay focused on the prize of independence. I invite you all to join us in Glasgow on Saturday and Edinburgh on October 5th. Robert the Bruce can’t join us on Saturday but he does send his best wishes https://twitter.com/i/status/1173939842486558727.
Five years on from defeat we are preparing for victory. Scottish independence is not the end of the journey it is the start of the journey. The journey towards building a fairer, more equal and nuclear weapon free society were social scars like poverty, low pay, homelessness and racism are nasty memories instead of every day realities.
Scottish independence is not all about the past it is much more about the future. It is not about tradition it is about ambition. It is not about greed it is about fairness. It is not about control it is about freedom. It is not about hate in any guise it is about love and compassion. It is not about individuals or political parties it’s about a nation. Most of all Scottish independence is not about fear but hope.
Hope over fear is what drives us forward and makes us relentless in pursuit of our common goal. Don’t allow the powerful unionist forces to divide us, divert us or frighten us. Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and concentrate instead on what could go right. Join us in the broad and progressive YES movement and secure a future Scotland built on compassion, cooperation and fairness. Reject the greed, scapegoating of minorities and immigrants and grotesque inequality which underpins Westminster and the British Union.
We lost the battle 5 years ago but we are going to win the war to secure Scotland’s freedom and a much brighter future.
This article was written by our Political Adviser, Tommy Sheridan and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or policy of Solidarity as a whole