The March for Independence

The speculation about numbers for tomorrow’s march is quite amusing, because both sides seem to be refusing to give a number.

Jeff Duncan told the Evening News:

“This is the first of three marches. We’ll be holding another one on almost exactly the same day next year and we’re hoping to quadruple the numbers we get tomorrow. Then in September 2014 we’ll be holding what we expect to be the largest march.”

He added: “We know there are going to be thousands coming along based on the number of seats we have sold on the coaches, but there are also those organising their own transport. Plus we imagine plenty of people already living in Edinburgh will attend, so we can’t really put a definite number how many will actually be marching. Only Saturday will reveal that.”

This is the March for Scottish Independence. (Jokes about Frodo and Bilbo Baggins – tomorrow is Hobbit Day – regretfully omitted.)

This is the first march of its kind: there is really no clue how many people will think they should or feel they can. It takes a certain degree of enthusiasm, even for a cause you support, to go on a march: the usual rule-of-thumb reckoning is that for every one person who goes on the march, there’s probably 10 at home who support. This is why the two million people who marched against the Iraq war all across the UK (over a hundred thousand in Glasgow) were such a warning that Labour should have heeded in February 2003.

The organisers will have been asked by the police to give some idea of how many will show up, but they’re not obliged to disclose that estimate to anyone else. “Yes in 2014″ gets about 30%-40% in opinion polls, but no one knows how many that will represent in actual willing-to-show-up-on-Saturday-morning-and-march numbers (gay marriage gets about 65%, but rallies in support of marriage get about 200 people).

Partly it depends how beleaguered supporters of a cause feel – how important they feel it is to get out there and tell the world. In so many ways, the Yes Scotland campaign’s habit of talking only to itself is against them there: many Yes Scotland supporters don’t seem to talk much with anyone who doesn’t already agree with them, allowing themselves the impression of wide support, suggesting a march is unnecessary.

The National Collective of artists and creatives for Scottish independence has a

Guide to Marching – a simple selection of 12 basic suggestions that can help make our march a symbol of a modern, progressive and creative movement that wants to imagine a better nation.

Okay.

(There have been several Countryside Alliance marches in London, and as I confirmed, Iain McGill has no idea how many Scots showed up to any of them.)

Obviously, the Yes Scotland campaign hope that they will at least get enough people that the rally in Princes Street gardens at the end won’t look too silly in overhead visuals. Choosing the Meadows for a starting point also suggests a certain confidence in numbers (and funding – you don’t get to use the Meadows for free).

Two years ago I took part in the march against the cuts: between ten and twenty thousand people, also finishing with a rally at Princes Street Gardens. Police estimates notoriously are lower than the real number; organisers as notoriously tend to over-count.

Winding its way from Waverley Station, down the Mound and along Princes Street, the first marchers were cramming into the Princes Street Gardens open air theatre while the last had yet to set off.

That’s the visual that I think Yes Scotland are aiming for – numbers enough that the march will look big and colourful coming down the Mound, enough people that photographs taken on Princes Street will give the impression of a never-ending flood of people.

The biggest march of my recollection in Edinburgh is the march to Make Poverty History in 2005, when 225,000 people walked from the Meadows down to Princes Street and back up Lothian Road. That was huge – we literally filled the Meadows.

Equally obviously, the Better Together campaign must hope that the turnout will be hopelessly small – that there will be photographs that can show the crowd as tiny by comparison with – for example – the number of shoppers on a busy sunny Saturday in Princes Street.

In that I think Better Together are likely to be disappointed. BBC Weather promises sunshine on Saturday, and I think that ten to twenty thousand is a reasonable estimate. Given that the Gardens are a pleasant place to have a picnic lunch on a sunny day, they may get enough people staying for the rally to look respectable.

The distance is 1.2 miles/1.9 kilometers, according to WalkIt, or 2770 steps. At the usual slow marcher’s pace it will take about 45 minutes for an individual to walk from the Meadows to Princes Street Gardens. Sunshine is promised between 11 and 2pm, but it’s going to rain tonight and the Meadows will be a quagmire from all the rain earlier in the week.

Also, tomorrow is the Doors Open day for Edinburgh. Which would you rather – go on a march or see inside the old Anatomy Museum at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School in Teviot Place?

No, I’m not going to be there. I’m going to A Just Scotland tomorrow – because while undecided about whether I want independence, I certainly want a constitution. Do you?

The STUC rally on 30th November 2011
Between five and ten thousand people marched on the Day of Action for Pensions Justice, from Johnson Terrace to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 30th November last year: this is the rally from Arthur’s Seat.

Update: Rev Stuart Campbell writes at Wings Over Scotland:

We hope the turnout for the independence rally in Edinburgh tomorrow is good. We encourage you to go if you can – the weather’s going to be quite nice, and it’s always lovely to be in Edinburgh for any reason. But we’re not quite sure what the point of it is or what it hopes to achieve, because as far as we can see the most – indeed, just about the only – likely outcome of it is a big propaganda coup for the No campaign.
….
Clearly, if the attendance is REALLY low – with Celtic playing at home on an uncommonly full SPL Saturday of 3pm kickoffs – it’ll take nationalists until Christmas to live it down. More important than the comic opportunity it’ll give the “Better Together” crowd, though, it’ll also enable the pro-Union media to aggressively promote the public perception of independence as a tiny minority preoccupation. The almost total lack of coverage of the rally in the Scottish mainstream press – and indeed, even the blogosphere – to date has laid the groundwork for that assault well in advance.

Update, Monday 24th September

In the Sunday Herald: Pro-independence rally: meet the marchers

David Torrance in Think Scotland:

But the very fact that Salmond has to contrive rhetorical momentum for independence rather illustrates the fact that it does not, at the moment, already exist. It was also quite telling that the Edinburgh march was not initiated by either the SNP or YesScotland, but by Jeff Duncan of another outfit called Independence for Scotland. Naturally, when it grew legs both the SNP and YesScotland piggybacked, but it was nevertheless odd that without Mr Duncan there wouldn’t have been a demo at all.

So where does all this leave the referendum campaign? Pretty much where it’s been since the “yes” and “no” campaigns launched earlier this year, a bit of a political charade; on something as big as this no amount of campaigning – however slick – is realistically going to change many minds. The job of both campaigns is to consolidate and motivate their existing support.

Doing that and maintaining “momentum” for two-and-a-half years was always going to be tough, although the delayed timescale is entirely down to the First Minister. It was quite revealing that when Salmond asked at Saturday’s rally, “what do we want?” (crowd: “independence!”), he then failed to ask the usual follow up of “when do we want it?”, instead substituting, “how are we going to vote?”

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