Okay, we’ve got a LOT of housekeeping-type stuff to get on with, so the next couple of days might be a wee bit quiet. We’ll need to be dealing with the ridiculous goings-on at the Labour conference this weekend at some point, but for now let’s just round up the last few issues regarding Saturday’s awesome independence march and rally and get it all out of the way.
1. Firstly, we need to say a big, big thanks to the organisers of the event. For all the issues that people including ourselves have raised (and are about to), this was still a heck of a thing to put together with no visible support from Yes Scotland or any other major players in the Yes camp – it seems to us that the official campaign needs to bite the bullet and throw its name and weight behind next year’s event.
By and large, though, it went off impressively smoothly, and anything we say below is meant in the way of constructive suggestion rather than complaint.
2. For the record, our estimate of the attendance, based on actually being there and on studying photos afterwards, is around 15,000. There were clearly people who marched but didn’t go up Calton Hill, and it seems impossible to us to place the crowd actually on the Hill at anything below 12,000.
Compare this shot of last year’s event:
…with this one from Saturday:
Now, the Ross Bandstand stage is pretty much the same size as the one used on Calton Hill, so you can tell how much higher up the 2013 pic is taken from. We put the 2012 figures at 6000-7000, and it seems beyond any sensible dispute, given the distance, that there are at least twice as many people in the second image if you bring all the groups together.
We saw almost no police on the day. A few lined the route and there were basically none on the Hill itself. There was a Hibs game a few hundred yards down the road that afternoon. It’s plain that the police “estimate” of 8300 reflects the low number of officers they’d committed to the rally – correctly anticipating no trouble – rather than any count of actual marchers.
3. As we’ve said previously, while it’s an iconic venue in its own right, in our view Calton Hill is a bad place to hold an event like this. We personally and directly know people who were put off attending because of the hill climb, despite the assistance available (nobody wants to be a burden) and despite the fact that if you go up the road rather than the steps, it’s actually a very gentle walk.
There are problems with other venues too – the Meadows, while offering high capacity and better logistics, are a bit far out, especially if you want to have a high-profile presence in the heart of the Princes St/High St area at some point.
But Calton Hill is fragmented, awkward and uncomfortable for spectators, and a terrible hostage to weather. We got lucky on Saturday. On a windy, rainy Scottish autumn day, the whole thing would have been a washout in a way that isn’t true of less exposed locations. We hope somewhere else will be found for next year.
(Easier said than done, sure. But one thought – does it HAVE to be outdoors?)
4. The procession was oddly quiet. The pipe band at the front seemed to go quiet very quickly, and much of the march was conducted in eerie silence. Next year let’s get a few drummers spread along the line at least.
5. The number of toilets available was ridiculous, especially for a family event that was going to have lots of women, older folk and kids. The Glastonbury festival has approximately one toilet for every 25 attendees. The rally – while only half a day long rather than three days – had one for every 3,000.
The queues were insane by quite early on, and there’s simply no conceivable justification for such farcially inadequate provision when the likely attendance was obviously going to be in the thousands. Men and even some women were reduced to going in the bushes, despite not much cover being on offer.
It’s a fair hike from the Hill to anywhere else with facilities, and you just can’t ask people to hold it in for four hours.
6. Similarly inexcusable is the “map” for the assembly on the High Street being kept a secret. We had to chase around to get hold of a copy at 8pm on the evening before, whereupon we found that the place we planned to have our group meet had been roped off for VIPs. We were an officially-registered participating group, and it’s idiotic that we had no idea until hours before the start.
(We also didn’t have the slightest notion that it was possible to have a stall at the event until the day before. The website was a mess, and didn’t offer anyone trying to publicise the event even the most basic of tools, like site banners – we had to make our own. There appeared to be no advertising of any sort in Edinburgh, and while leaflets cost money, that’s what fundraising sites are for. There were also no leaflets people could print out for themselves.)
7. While we’re talking about Wings, we also need to do some stuff a bit better next time. It’ll probably be a good idea, and less chaotic, to meet somewhere further away from the official assembly point and less busy, then have our own wee mini-march to get to it. I managed to meet 300 or so readers anyway, but we ended up scattered all over the place.
And next time we’re definitely organising an after-party.
8. While there’s no point having a rally and not having lots of speeches, too many were uninspiring. It is of course vital to have as wide a spectrum of speakers as possible, but some were clearly there to tick boxes rather than for their oratorial skills. People like Hardeep Singh Kohli and Elaine C Smith stood out a mile for their comfort being on stage in front of people.
We’d like to see more normal people, as well as more people experienced at whipping up a crowd, rather than just a parade of the same old politicos. And while we ourselves are obviously too awful and divisive, it was ludicrous that there was NOBODY onstage representing the vast online Yes community.
9. The print coverage, in fairness, wasn’t bad. The Sunday Herald had plenty (including the front cover), Scotland on Sunday wasn’t bad, the Sunday Mail had a decent two-page spread, even the Express was fairly respectable. (The Telegraph, on the other hand, soiled itself abysmally.)
The broadcast media, however, was a disgrace. The BBC and STV both gave it the absolute minimum airtime on news bulletins they could possibly get away with, and devoted almost as much time to “Better Together” director Blair McDougall as to the march. BBC Scotland is so (rightly) ashamed of itself that Saturday evening’s teatime Scottish news bulletin still isn’t available on iPlayer, and we strongly suspect never will be.
Sunday Politics Scotland, meanwhile, gave the rally exactly four seconds of coverage. If we use our modest 15,000 attendance guess, a rally of that size in Scotland is the equivalent of about 150,000 people from England marching on Hyde Park, and the notion that that wouldn’t be reported at length – imagine, say, that it was making a demand for English independence or an English Parliament – is so obviously absurd it doesn’t even need saying.
(Much of the show was instead devoted to the Labour conference. Is it fair that in specifically Scottish broadcasting, the Unionist parties get twice as many bites of the cherry as the SNP do, having both their Scottish conference and the Scottish bits of its UK conference given extensive airtime?)
Anyway, we’re drifting off the subject, so let’s wrap it up there. Those are all the things we thought about the independence rally. Now we’ve got stuff to do. Back soon.