In George Square

Peter Geoghegan

'I came down here to support Tommy,' the man said when I asked why he'd given over his Sunday to stand in the middle of George Square and listen to a stream of speeches, mainly about the perfidy of Albion. 'I think he's had a raw deal.' Tommy Sheridan was on stage in a Yes T-shirt. Between the bronchial sound system and us was a sea of Saltires and homemade signs. A trio of mocked-up heads with the faces of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Alistair Darling bobbed above the crowd, with a placard labelling them the '3 stooges' and 'traitors'.

The five-hour event on 12 October – which apparently featured more than thirty speakers, but I only stayed for half a dozen – was called 'Hope Over Fear', but there was little optimism on show. George Square looked the same as it had on the heady evenings before September's referendum – all yes banners and political chatter – but the mood was different: some grief, and lots of anger.

A woman hanging off the second rung of the Scott monument in the middle of the square bellowed at me: 'MI5 is in the audience!'. I put my notebook and pen away but she kept shouting: 'Traitor! Traitor!' until a well-built man in a kilt appeared behind me, roaring: 'Hope faith humanity!'

It has been a very long month since the independence referendum. Everything has changed, and nothing has. Tens of thousands have joined pro-independence parties. The SNP has more than tripled in size, to over 84,000 members. Alex Salmond has pledged to 'hold unionists feet to the fire' over the infamous 'vow' for more devolution. Next month the Radical Independence Campaign will hold a conference in the massive SECC auditorium. And yet already it feels as if the life is being sucked out of the grassroots movement. There is a lot of political energy, but nowhere for it to go. Devolution is a wonkish subject, and the Smith Commission will not quicken the pulses of the men waving Lion Rampant banners and calling for 'Freedom'. A referendum is off the table for the foreseeable future.

Among the speakers last Sunday was Naomi Wolf, who has been collecting tales of electoral irregularities. Wolf, to great applause, called for a judicial review of the referendum. The notion that the ballot was rigged has gained currency on the margins of the independence movement. One man told me about boxes filled with votes being taken over the border to England; another said they were maliciously miscounted. Wolf's theory, involving ID numbers on the back of ballots, has attracted legions of followers on line. (A group called Lawyers for Yes dismissed the various claims as 'an impressive collection of misunderstandings, conspiracy theories, and legal howlers'.)

A man wandered through the crowd with a placard that said: '45% My Arse'. Another told me that the vote had actually been 60:40 in favour of independence, urging me to 'look on Facebook' to discover the truth. A huge, broad-shouldered man with a tie dotted with Saltires and a Lion Rampant watch chain had travelled 170 miles from Inverness to remonstrate. 'There is no way Inverness voted no. Not possible.' He wanted the Scottish government to declare independence. He was not alone.

This is the problem facing Nicola Sturgeon, the new SNP leader and Scotland's first female first minister. The party is now the third largest in the UK, with legions of energetic new recruits. But many have only one thing on their mind: independence.

The modern SNP's story is one of co-opting broad coalitions in the service of 'the national movement'. Sturgeon, a careful, highly capable politician, has made clear that she will listen to the new members. She has announced a series of rallies across the country next month: 'I am looking forward to meeting as many of our new recruits as possible and sharing with them my vision for the future,' she said. The SNP, too, is wary of shedding support to the pro-independence margins. The flagship event will be held in the Hydro in Glasgow on Saturday 22 November, the same day and a couple of hundred yards from the Radical Independence conference.

Scottish politics could change radically under Sturgeon's tutelage. The SNP is widely predicted to win a third consecutive Holyrood election in 2016. Sturgeon, many expect, will move the party to the left and towards her Glasgow base. Last week, the party's finance secretary, John Swinney, announced a radical overhaul of property taxes to make the most well off pay more. The party has reiterated its support for the recognition of Palestine. Sturgeon recently wrote two essays: one for Left Foot Forward, the other for the Scottish Left Review.


  • 21 October 2014 at 11:41am
    Michael Richards says:
    It warms the heart reading reports like this, mainly as it proves that so many in the Yes camp still refuse to learn the lessons of their defeat and have no interest in reaching out to anybody who voted No. Long may they live in their delusional alternative universe, talking to themselves while the rest of Scotland gets on with things.

    • 22 October 2014 at 1:24am
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ Michael Richards
      Patronising the people who wanted independence will not make the issue go away. Did you just abandon your political views the last time your preferred party lost an election?

      Quite a lot of people voted No in the expectation of significant additional powers for the Scottish government, promised by all the unionist parties. Imagine their disappointment as it becomes obvious that they were the delusional ones and not the Yes side. Where do you think they are going to go when those promises disappear into the Westminster fug? They may not rush to embrace Tommy Sheridan, but I hardly think they're going to rally to the tattered New Labour standard, do you?

    • 24 October 2014 at 4:10am
      Hugh McLoughlin says: @ Amateur Emigrant
      Alex Salmond says he will “hold unionists’ feet to the fire” over what Peter Geoghegan describes as the “infamous vow” for more devolution and you mirror that by insisting that “(q)uite a lot of people voted NO in the expectation of significant additional powers for the Scottish government, promised by all the unionist parties.”

      We are to believe, because you can only console yourself by believing, that hundreds of thousands at the last moment deserted the YES camp because of the joint pledge issued by David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg on Tuesday, September 18, via the front page of the Daily Record, that they would ensure “faster, safer and better change” for Scotland if we would but vote NO.

      Lizzie Dearden, writing that day for The Independent, noted that “Alex Salmond was not the only person to point out the Government’s record on delivering on pledges.” I was and am another such person. I believe very little that politicians say in the normal course of events; and, I rely on absolutely nothing at all that they say under the particular pressures of a hazardous and arduous election time, which sort of time the referendum effectively was.

      So, no, I don’t buy it that “quite a lot of people” voted “NO” because of that late intervention. And certainly not enough to significantly alter the outcome. People just aren’t that daft — unless they are gullible enough to be taken in by Tommy Sheridan.

      PS: Am I alone in finding that in trying to type a comment I am presented with an incredibly small font? If it is just my computer, can anybody tell me what to do about it

    • 27 October 2014 at 5:04am
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ Hugh McLoughlin
      They may not have been swayed at the last minute but that doesn't mean that they don't expect something worthwhile to come of the 'vow', or that they wouldn't have voted for devo-max if it had been an option. The talk of further devolution surfaced long before the final weeks of the campaign - it was only the rapidly narrowing polls that provoked the three ramshackle devo proposals and the final wild promise from the three unionist parties. You may not think people are 'that daft' but the politicians clearly thought they were.

      So much for the hypothetical. The Yes camp doesn't need a largely unprovable thesis to console itself because the whole campaign provided evidence far more heartening for them. For the No side to be triumphant over a campaign that took a 70-30 poll lead and wore it down to a knife edge smacks of rather hysterical over compensation. The fallout from the referendum, especially for Labour, is an absolute joy for the SNP to behold.

      A majority voted against full independence this time, but as in other elections, which sort of time the referendum effectively was, people change their minds, especially if after the election their expectations are not met and promises are broken. The direction of travel during (and after) the referendum campaign has been hugely encouraging for the Scottish nationalists, and personally I see nothing which is going to halt or reverse that movement. In fact it seems more likely to accelerate.

      The unionists seem most desperate to assert some finality in the referendum result, demanding that the nationalists just give up and climb back into their box for the fabled 'generation'. But they might as well expect all the other political worms released by the referendum to crawl voluntarily back into the can too. They won't.

    • 27 October 2014 at 5:06pm
      Robin Kinross says: @ Hugh McLoughlin
      About the referendum – don't judge the case by its supporters. I wouldn't take Tommy Sheridan as a litmus test for people voting Yes – just as I wouldn't, either, take George Galloway as a test for those voting No. Though the No campaign did give Galloway some official position, on the panel for one of the TV debates (in the seat that had been designated for Scottish Labour: none of them, apparently, wanted to take part). Sheridan was pretty much cold-shouldered by the offical Yes campaign.

      About the size of the text that we type in the comments box. Yes it is smaller than is desirable.

      A quick fix is to "zoom in" on the image your browser displays. In Firefox and an Apple computer, hit the Apple and the + keys.

  • 22 October 2014 at 9:53am
    Michael Richards says:
    Nice to see SNP talking points being parroted. ‘Significant additional powers’ actually are on the way, although, of course, it’s SNP strategy to constantly say they’re not, so that when they are actually delivered, the SNP can still paint it all as not good enough and another Westminster betrayal. Hey ho, that’s politics. The fact that it’s also dishonest and misleading, well, that’s the SNP for you.

    The other ‘key message’ that people predominantly voted No because they were tricked by the promises of further devolved powers; well, that’s nonsense as well. A good percentage of the people who voted No had made that decision more than a year back. People might want to take a look at this work done by a Yes supporter on the majority of silent No voters (

    The SNP are in a strong position at the moment, but the more they tack to the left and vacate the centre ground, the more trouble they are going to be in. Labour is in a well-deserved mess up here and the Tories are non-existent, but things change. Maybe not in time for 2016, but the SNP won’t be able to continue pleasing the Left if they want to maintain power in the long-term.

    As for being patronising, well, having spent the past 2 years listening to Yes arguments in what felt like an agonisingly prolonged Tony Robbins seminar (‘Embrace the Change!’ ‘Hope not Fear!’ blah blah blah) you’ll forgive me for now feeling a wee bit smug that all the hoopla turned out to be exactly that.

    • 23 October 2014 at 2:28am
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ Michael Richards
      Smug - well, there you go, another reason why the union will lose the war. And your inability to arrive at a satisfactory understanding of 'significant'. That's not strategy, it's simple semantics. If you think any proposed powers that the unionists have laid on Smith's table are significant then you must be easily pleased.

      Despite whatever you think that tortuous blog post proves it certainly doesn't disprove that many No voters wanted much more power in Scottish hands. The evident support for devo-max before the referendum was announced was sufficient for Cameron to veto the option on the ballot, because it would have won hands down. But now you're telling me that they'll accept responsibility for a bit of income tax in return for a butchered block grant and just go quietly back in their box? You may feel smug, but it looks more like complacency from here.

    • 23 October 2014 at 9:52am
      Michael Richards says: @ Amateur Emigrant
      But the thing is - we won't lose the war, because we've already won it. You lost, and you guys will never get a better opportunity - not in our lifetimes, anyway.

      The thing is, as the oil continues to run out, even the most gullible will finally realise in the coming years that the economic case for independence doesn't stack up. You'll continue to be vocal, you'll continue to dominate social media in your giant echo chambers, you'll continue to convince yourself that victory is within your grasp, but you will never convince the majority of people living in Scotland (or Scots living outside of Scotland who will have the vote if there is ever another referendum) that independence is a viable option. That's not complacency - that's just facing the facts.
      It's just a shame that all that passion and energy won't be spent actually trying to improve things in Scotland in the here and now. But that would involve the hard graft of politics, rather than the comforting fantasy of Year Zero rebirths so beloved of many in the separatist movement.

    • 23 October 2014 at 7:51pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Michael Richards
      You seem like a nice guy.

    • 24 October 2014 at 12:51am
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ Michael Richards
      Delusional, but nice. Actually, I'm not so sure about the nice.

    • 27 October 2014 at 2:55pm
      Robin Kinross says: @ Michael Richards
      "as the oil continues to run out"
      and as it keeps on being discovered

      (But Scotland will do very well even without the oil. Having no oil doesn't seem to be a problem for Denmark.)

      A more crucial issue is the EU. There is likely to be a referendum on that in 2017, if not before, which will be a crunch moment for Scotland. The idea of "not another refeendum in 30 years" will be out of the window. Three years, more likely, and then Scotland will jump ship, to stay in the Union, the European one.

    • 27 October 2014 at 8:52pm
      Amateur Emigrant says: @ Robin Kinross
      Won't it be interesting to see which side the banks and big corporations will be on then? It's a funny old game, Saint.

    • 28 October 2014 at 12:54pm
      Robin Kinross says: @ Amateur Emigrant
      Ah! Greaves and St John – exemplifying the Union, when it still just about functioned.

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