I want to get close. I want to see what it’s like to be in the heart of it all, so that’s what I do. I push in from the side, past the drummers, and the pipers, and the guy flogging flags for eight quid each, and the men in ponchos who’ve come all the way from Aberdeen, and the students chanting “Tories, Tories, Tories, Out, Out, Out”, and I find a spot by the gate to Kelvingrove Park where they’re selling burgers and saltires. I’m ready for my first independence march. Here we go.

My first impression is that it’s a bit more subdued than I expected. Maybe it’s the rain. I ask some of the marchers whether the weather made any of them think about staying at home. No way, they say, a drop in numbers in Glasgow would be interpreted by the media as a drop in support for independence, so they were coming, rain or no rain. In the end, the numbers on the day do end up being down on the predictions, but it hardly matters. The ones that didn’t come still want independence; they just don’t want to get wet.

READ MORE: In pictures: Thousands attend Scottish Independence march in Glasgow 

HeraldScotland: AUOB march for independence, Glasgow . Marchers at Charing Cross... Photograph by Colin Mearns.11th January 2020..AUOB march for independence, Glasgow . Marchers at Charing Cross... Photograph by Colin Mearns.11th January 2020..

But we really need to get going now and there’s a woman patrolling the edge of the march who’s trying to get the party started. “Come on everyone! Let’s hear you!” she yells. “Let Glasgow know we want independence!” A cheer goes up but then it dribbles away. All we can hear, apart from the music, is a helicopter above us. A man next to me draws my attention to it. “Look at that,” he says, pointing up. “That’ll be them counting us. They’ll say there were only 200 of us here.” This is a theme of the day: that the media won’t tell the world what’s really happening. One angry woman says the C in BBC doesn’t stand for corporation but another C-word entirely.

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Sadly, it’s not the only time the language in the crowd becomes non-child-friendly, even though there are children around. As we turn into Woodlands Road, we get a good view of the canopy of flags ahead of us and one woman gets excited at the sight of it. “I f***ing love Scotland!” she screams and I can guess how she’s feeling. What’s good about this event is the marchers are surrounded by people who agree with them, but what’s bad about this event is the marchers are surrounded by people who agree with them. They build a false consensus and assume most people in Scotland think like them. A second referendum will happen this year, they say. But no, it won’t.

I’m starting to notice other things about the crowd as well as we get closer to the centre of town, and the first is the age range. There are lots of young people (teens and 20s) and there are lots of old people too – mostly in their 60s and 70s and mostly men – but not so many people in the middle. And if I had to take a guess at the range in social class, I’d say the same – there are fewer middle-class people here than you’d expect if this was really a cross-section of Scottish society.

Is this a problem? Not when you consider that the nationalists who march are only one part of the group of Scots who vote Yes, but the independence movement needs to attract the middle of Scotland if it is to make progress: the middle-classes; the middle-aged who worry about their financial futures; and the middle-ground who might consider voting SNP but might also have voted Labour or Tory. The problem is that the message didn’t seem to have got through to the marchers on Saturday.


Take some of the chanting. “Tories, Tories, Tories, Out, Out, Out.” Or “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Deid, Deid, Deid.” Or some of the placards and leaflets. “Boris Johnson – keep your fascist paws off Holyrood”. “Defy Tory Rule”. “Sack the Tories”. It made you think: is this a pro-independence march or an anti-Tory march? What about voters in the centre or on the centre-right who might one day consider voting Yes? Indeed, they will have to vote Yes if Yes is ever to win. Is a march through Glasgow that feels like a march of the Left likely to attract those voters, or put them off?

READ MORE: Boris Johnson will be forced to cave in to public pressure on indyref2, insists Ian Blackford

Which takes us to Argyle Street and the most unpleasant and disturbing part of the march, for me anyway. Cordoned off to one side are around 50 or so counter-demonstrators flying Union flags. One of them has a loudhailer and is telling us they represent the majority, but it’s the tension between the two groups that upsets me. A woman to my left starts screaming “Scotland!” over and over again in my ear and all I can see are flags. Their flags. And their flags. That side. And the other side. It’s a grimly unsubtle display and for the first time today, I wish I wasn’t here.


Which brings me back to the people who turned up on Saturday. Everyone I spoke to had been to at least one of the marches before – one chap had been to every one of them. Another of the marchers said that if 80,000 people could turn out on a wet day in January, nationalism “had this in the bag”. But if most of the people who turn up have attended before, the marches are essentially the same 80,000 people doing the same thing repeatedly. It is stasis rather than progress.


READ MORE: Around 80,000 join Glasgow march for Scottish Independence 

But you’ll be pleased to know: I don’t get the last word on this. We’re nearing the end of the march and we’re down by Jamaica Street and the Clyde. In front of me is a guy with a giant saltire and suddenly the wind carries the big, wet, freezing flag into my face. It wraps itself around my head and for a few seconds I flap around like a cat in a bag trying to get it off me. What is this? A metaphor? Revenge for all those columns I’ve written questioning independence and nationalism? I can see the funny side. The saltire clings to me. I don’t love the flag but the flag loves me.