THERE weren’t many people at the Hope Over Fear rally in Glasgow at the weekend – around 500 or so – but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the event as insignificant or irrelevant. Many of the rally’s messages – and how they were delivered – will be familiar to anyone who has followed the independence campaign. They also highlight what has become a big problem for the Yes movement and one that could damage its chances of ever succeeding: it is allowing itself to become a working-class movement dominated by middle-aged men.

The six (long) hours of Hope Over Fear made the point clearly, although you can see it too on social media, the comments section of newspapers, and parts of the SNP and the wider movement itself. From 11am until 5pm, one after another, a succession of middle-aged, white, angry, working-class men shouted into a microphone. There were a few women about the place, but they weren’t nearly as prominent or as loud as the men, especially the loudest man of all: the former leader of the Scottish Socialist Party and now campaigner for independence, Tommy Sheridan.

In person, Mr Sheridan can be charismatic – he does that old trick of paying complete attention to you, or appearing to – but on stage at an event like Hope Over Fear, he is a tedious anachronism. His job on the day was essentially to introduce the musical acts, but he did it by shouting about the issues he thought were important, mainly Braveheart, flags, and a second independence referendum.

On all three issues, he was passionate but incoherent. On the decision to show an edited version of Braveheart at the rally, Mr Sheridan said people in their ivory towers were wrong to mock the decision because the film, which stars Mel Gibson as William Wallace, revealed a part of history that had previously been hidden from Scots. But the story of Wallace is taught to every school pupil in the country and is one of the most familiar in Scottish history. So who has it been hidden from exactly?

His position on flags was just as muddled. The fact that the “butcher’s apron” – or “somebody else’s flag” as Mr Sheridan called it – was flying over the Glasgow council building that overlooks the square was an insult to the people at the rally and an act of disrespect by the council. The saltires at the rally on the other hand were “our flags” and nothing to be ashamed of. “We like to show that we are proud of our country,” he said. This is the kind of baffling inconsistency you get from many supporters of independence: other people’s flags are evil but their one is good, whereas most liberal people know that all national flags are deeply problematic.

Which brings us to the third issue that was pumping the red blood through Mr Sheridan’s veins: a second referendum on Scottish independence. People were desperate to be out of the “stinking, rotten union”, he said, which meant the First Minister should call another referendum as soon as possible. “We can go in March next year,” shouted Mr Sheridan. “Please Nicola, sound the bell. Fire the starting pistol. Please ignite the passion across Scotland by announcing loud and clear we’re going to use the mandate. March next year!”

I think many supporters of independence will see that for what it is – a practical and political fantasy – but I wonder how many of them will also acknowledge the damage that Mr Sheridan’s message could do to their cause. Mr Sheridan, and other angry, white, working-class men like him, may be able to shout the loudest in public squares, and on social media, and often within the SNP itself, but, in two distinct ways, their dominance represents a threat to the Yes movement.

The first threat is on the issue of class. Hope Over Fear may have been attended by only a few hundred people, but its speakers and their messages were reminiscent of the way much of the debate is now framed, and indeed the way many Yes voters see the campaign: as a working-class movement against what they see as the anti-working-class forces of Westminster.

However, this is no way to victory for Yes. The most successful British political movements of the last 40 years – Thatcherism and Blairism – succeeded because they moved beyond their traditional sources of support. Mrs Thatcher attracted more working-class votes with promises of prosperity and policies such as the right to buy council houses, while Mr Blair attracted more middle-class support by moving away from some of the more traditional socialist policies of Old Labour.

The point is that no political movement can win a general election, or a referendum, without this kind of broad support, and the Yes campaign is no exception. We know that, in the 2014 independence referendum, class was an issue: in some deprived parts of the country, support for independence was as high as 58 per cent, whereas in more affluent areas it was as low as 27 per cent, which means to succeed, the Yes movement will have to attract more support from the second group. To continue to talk – aggressively and loudly – only to the first group will get the Yes campaign nowhere.

The second threat posed by the dominance of angry middle-aged men like those on stage at Hope Over Fear is that the Yes campaign will fail to make progress with the other demographic it must win over: women. Had it just been men voting in 2014, Alex Salmond would have won hands-down, but among women it was very different: 57 per cent of them voted No. That has to change if the SNP is to win a second referendum.

The problem is that it is unlikely to change as long as the shouty men in evidence at Hope Over Fear remain at the forefront of the campaign, behaving like van drivers who’ve been cut up a junction. One of the speakers at the weekend said the key to success for Yes was to be more aggressive, to demand action rather than ask for it. But I think perhaps the key to success is precisely the opposite: a less aggressive campaign that’s broader, more liberal, and less male – less clenched fist, more open hand. I’ve no idea how you achieve such a result – how do you turn down the volume of an angry, nationalist man? – but until a way can be found, I suspect the Yes movement will remain pretty much stuck exactly where it is.