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Braw lads and soor plooms: on the mairch in Galashiels

Aboot the first thing that happens whan we get tae the mairch is that we get pit in chairge. Weel, kind o. Yin o the organisers comes joggin taewarts us across the gress, asks if we’ll be stewards. Me, ah cry aff; ah’m here tae write aboot the mairch, no tae rin it, and ah’m gey shuir ah’ll no hae onything positive tae say bi the fínish. Ah’v no been sleepin weel this past wee while, ye ken; ma mind’s a guddle, and ah’m no in the best o fettles. Ah’v a richt wee hit-piece brewin aboot this rally, and ah’m no wantin that messed aroond wi. But ma pal Duncan, he’s no sae sleekit. He’s got the hi-vis vest on afore we’v even fínisht crossin the playgrund. He’s girnin aboot it, like, but he’s daein it. Pouer tae the people and that, eh. There’s a bairn in a Scotland tap hingin tapsalteerie fae a swing owerby, heid skiffin the concrete. Ah’m gled aw ower again that ah’m no a steward. If thon laddie cracks his heid open, ah’ll no be responsible for onything ’cept writin aboot whase faut it wis.

A Hawick body like masel should aye feel a bittie oot o place in Galashiels, the functionally identical Borders toun hauf-an-oor up the road whaur the day’s AUOB mairch is takkin place. But naething maks ye feel mair like a local tae somewhaur than loads o fowk waunderin aboot leukin glaikit. Even in Scott Pairk, whaur the mairch is due tae set aff fae, the paiths that wind up and doun aroond the trees are threidit wi the lost and the forfaren, sad saltires droopin fae disjaskit shouders. Naebody kens whaur they’r gaun. Ilka fork in ilka gate taks hauf its traivellers wan wey and the ither hauf the ither, each set shoutin at the t’ither as they gang, shuir they’r the wans that are richt. As cartoony depictions o the polítical moment gae, it’s a weak B/solid C, but as a stairt tae a rally that’s meant tae bring us aw thegither, it’s no exactly auspicious.

Illustration o Scots flag

All Under One Banner, but! Whit could possibly gang wrang? Weel. The offícial rhetoric aroond the AUOB mairches aft tends taewarts the ostentatiously mental, an unco mixter-maxter o bluidless, robo-revolutionary sloganeerin kirnt in wi the Mad As Hell bit fae Network. Likesay; the first thing ye set een on whan ye get tae the rally is a muckle buird thirlt tae the dowp end o an auld white van, a lang proto-Marxist treatise aboot Scottish subservience tae Westmínster windin up its lenth like the openin crawl in a Star Wars film. Ye cannae imagine onybody actually readin it, niver mind somebody sittin doun and scrievin it—it’s like Abed fae Community ettlin tae recap Braveheart uisin fridge magnet poyetry. The hale thing is juist a wan-hit doolander tae the pairt o yer harns that hates awbody and awthing, and is aye on the leuk-oot for sellable raisons.

It disnae tak an awfie lot tae pit me aff a thing, wance ah’v makkit up ma mind tae dae it, and there’s a subcultur aroond Scottish independence which is as aff-pittin as ony Reddit threid. Nou, fowk hiv haed it oot wi Alyn Smith aboot SNP zoomers and online abuse and aw o that, but the real problem wi cybernats on Twitter is shuirly juist this; that they’r borin as aw get-oot. Whan we girn aboot the state o online discoorse nouadays, we’r no really decryin the pile-ons and the misinformation and the kiddy-on ootrage that are the kenmerks o modren politics. Nah, whit we’r daein is, we’r murnin the humour and creativity o 2014, the richt-here-in-the-auld-barn ethos that, mair than onything oor politícians and oor economists telt us back then, makkit us think onything wis possible. It wis a real-life takower o pouer bi Ra Peepul. For wance in oor collective lifetimes, politics wisnae whit wis happenin in a back-room or on a private gowf coorse. It wis happenin here, nou, on the streets whaur we líved. If Jim Murphy wantit fowk tae listen tae him, he couldnae juist gan on Scotland Today—he needit tae get himsel doun tae Kirkcaudy high street wi an egg-crate and a megaphone, juist like ony ither chiel that’s full o the Bible and the Bad Fire. For a pickle o months in 2014, we bided in a Janus-couponed democracy that wis aw at wance leukin forrit and leukin back, a kind o retro-futuristic Utopia, hauf Athenian Assembly, hauf Federation oot o Star Trek. And the best o it aw wis—naebody, but naebody could ignore us.

It disnae tak an awfie lot tae pit me aff a thing, and there’s a subcultur aroond Scottish independence which is as aff-pittin as ony Reddit threid

Fast forrit tae the present day, and if ye’r bidin in the United Kingdom* in 2019 and ye dinnae feel ignored, ye’r no peyin eneuch attention. Whitiver ye votit for, or votit agin; whitiver ye’r sayin on Twitter, and whitiver ye’r sayin it aboot; nane o it maiters even wan wee bit, because we votit tae gie that aw up, and nou it’s gane for guid. The nixt time ye see yer MSP willnae be staundin ootside Morrisons, it’ll be on yer television, talkin tae Brian Taylor. The nixt time yer MP repones tae yer emails, it’ll no be nixt week or the week efter thon, it’ll be the day afore the election, coontin on yer support. And if ye dinnae like it, weel, awa and tell yer Ombudsman, cause they’v got ye on mute an-aw.

In the daeless millin aboot that leads aff the rally in Galashiels, on a owergrowen pairk nixt tae a grim auld scuil, ah hear somebody sayin that they’v no been on a protest mairch like this in twinty-odd year; which seems gey unco, syne it’s no clear at aw whit we’r supposed tae be protestin. Is it Westmínster? The UK? The Tories? Oor ratifíed democratic decision tae gie up on oor democracy? Or is it—and man, man, as we set aff dounhill, the noise wad deifen ye!—is whit we’r demonstratin agin the simple fact that naebody is listenin tae us?

The first thing we pass on oor wey oot the pairk is a hame for auld fowk. The windaes are full o wee wemen wavin, wavin. Awbody waves back. A curtain near the front door keeps swishin angrily shut, ower and ower again; the body daein it maun hae been at it for a guid fifteen, twinty mínits. Puir sowel, ah think, afore steelin masel. The sicht o a wheen o auld fowk clappin on the front steps is the last emotional moment ah’ll allou masel, ah decide. It’s full-on Hard-Hertit Hannah mode fae here on in. Nae nae kiddin.

Cause ah unnerstaund and empathise wi fowk wha dinnae like thir mairches. Masel, ah cam here the day expectin tae turn ma neb up at the hale jingoistic jingbang—the flag-wavin, the bike-revvin, the Proclaimers playlist on endless loop. But as ah daunder in a sea o flags roond the nairae channels o Gala’s toun centre, past the cinema whaur Godzilla is strampin his wey throu dountoun Tokyo, ah cannae help but wunner if antipathy tae thir weird, dwaumie, howplessly impractical, nice fowk is anely possible gin ye’v forgot whit it’s like tae be ignored.

We’r murnin the humour and creativity o 2014, the richt-here-in-the-auld-barn ethos that makkit us think onything wis possible

Tae be ignored is the warst thing ye can dae tae a body. It’s that ill-set a straik that naebody can halely bring theirsels tae juist blank the twinty-odd Unionists coonter-protestin at the roondaboot. Fact, there’s an antrin feelin in the air, as the twa groups growe close tae each ither, o excitement. It’s whit awbody’s been waitin for, this; tae deny thir fowk, yer ither sels, the regaird even o yer gaze wad be cruel. Een daidle. Stares taigle. Thir fowk hae turnt oot tae see us, same as onybody else. They’r acknowledgin us. No awbody daes.

Some o us hae newspaper columns, and some o us hae blogs. Some o us are hosts on telly programmes, and some o us are the guests. Some o us can tweet Nicola Sturgeon, and expect tae get a repone; some o us can juist gie her a ring, or drap her a text. But maist o us are backgrund airtists o wan kind or anither, spectators o the uggsome sport oor politics is makkin o oor lifes. And whan fowk get tae feelin as if naething they dae maks ony odds tae onything, things are apt tae get gey plowterie gey fast.

An illustration o a wuman frae the back, her wavy hair flowin doun her shouders. She's happit in a Scots flag, the Saltire.

But no here in Galashiels. No the day. A bit mair scepticism is whit we’r needin in the warld; but at the same time, we’v got tae tak things as we finnd them, whan we finnd them. People, tae. There’s plenty o polítical pairties, plenty o muivements couldnae get twa memmers in wan room wi’oot a windae gettin panned and the polis gettin phoned. We despair, quite richtly, o the ongauns on Twitter, the haivers and slavers that gets passed aroond there in the vain name-takkin o independence. We dinnae ken whaur tae stairt whan it comes tae strechtenin oorsels oot online. But here on an actual street, five thoosand actual fowk pass fae wan end o a toun tae anither and lea’ naething ahint them but a drappit badge and a straggler or twa. Lost, ay, but ettlin tae finnd theirsels yet.

We maun aye keep finndin higher staundarts tae haud oorsels tae. It’s whit we owe tae each ither. It’s whit we owe tae oorsels. But whan five thoosand fowk get thegither in a wee toun up the back o beyond, five thoosand fowk wi hee-haw in common ’cept that they’r no redd tae lie doun deid in the street juist yet; whan five thoosand fowk wha cannae possibly mak ony difference keep strivin at that difference onygates; whan five thoosand fowk set aff back up the same brae they juist cam doun, and are fit tae gaun up and doun a hunner times mair afore onything iver chynges; dinnae let’s staund aboot askin whit they got duin. The journey o a thoosand mile… Weel, thon’s a bonnie notion. But the anely roads wirth follaein are the yins that niver end.

*Ah really want tae scrieve Unitit Kinrick here, ah really dae, the same wey ah want tae gang tae wark duin oot as Superman. But the warld is no juist ma Imaginarium, ah dout, and ither fowk need tae be able tae bide here an-aw.

Illustrations: Adobe Firefly. Social media photae: Danny Bonnar.