Why do we count heads?
When a political movement assembles to express its desires, frustrations or demands, it can’t be quantified by a simple sum of faces in the crowd. In the mind of every individual that wants change, there exists such a blizzard of possibilities that any numbers game becomes irrelevant. When we look at a group of dreamers, our focus shouldn’t rest on the group, but on the dream. It is the dream, after all, that brings that group together to give it substance, not the individuals that dream it – through that shared vision, the line between the solitary activist and the mass movement disappears, and all that matters is the strength of their united voice.
Of course, the volume of that voice matters. The size of a group is what gives it the power to affect change. But when we talk about Saturday’s March and Rally for Independence, a focus on ‘this-many-thousands’ or ‘that-many-thousands’ hides the real significance of the event. In photographs across the internet, Scotland’s independent dreamers walk in the tens, hundreds or thousands for a singular purpose: to put the power to shape Scotland’s future in the hands of Scotland’s people.
That collective canopy of purpose shelters a multitude of individual desires. In those photos you see happy, determined faces in the crowd, all with their own designs for Scotland – a mother and father who want their daughter to grow up in a nation that is safer for women, or a young arts student who sees independence as a blank canvas for the bold brushstrokes of imagination. We can see politicians, patriots and radicals mingling together for a common cause, demanding something better than a Westminster government that pushes our society apart. Like the solitary voices in the collective roar, those independent visions are brought so much closer to realisation by their small but essential place in the larger communal will.
So why do we count heads? Perhaps it’s because there’s a referendum to win. In elections, numbers matter, and so they should. That’s why we’re encouraging every supporter of independence to convert at least one person to a “Yes” by 2014. If we achieve that, we win. But independence, and the campaign that will make it happen, is about more than the referendum. Our movement straddles history; from the songs and saltires of the past to Scotland’s renewables revolution and a future in Europe, we learn from our mistakes, our triumphs and our tragedies to understand how we can best govern ourselves when the opportunity comes.
A Yes vote in the referendum is a crucial point (but not an end point) in the story of independence, and Saturday’s march was a crucial point in the campaign for that vote, but it reflected something bigger than the campaign: a much-needed physical expression of our movement.
We’re a committed movement, with many marchers making long journeys from all over the country to show their support; a diverse movement, with Scots and international supporters from all walks of life and a wide political spectrum marching, singing and cheering together; and a proud movement, holding our flags and our heads high as we hear the music, poetry and power of our world-class creative community. It was a physical expression of our vision, too: a vision of the same diverse, tolerant, peaceful and proud Scotland that the marchers embodied and the speakers described.
As an unusually confident Scottish sun poured across the banners and flags of Princes Street Gardens, we surprised the media, our critics and perhaps even ourselves. It was a march that we can be proud of, and we can’t wait to do it all over again. Let’s leave the shallow, obsessive head-counting to the Unionists – we’ve got dreams to dream, and bigger things to think about.
Photograph by Peter McNally