We’re moving into what’s often described as the heartland of Scotland. Clouds moving across what Andy called ‘big skies,’ sun and shadow, patches of green and orange fields leading into green-blue hills. There’s something comforting about this, like being embraced by the landscape.
You can feel it’s the final leg. Whenever Zara’s not driving, she has her phone to her ear, another journalist belatedly figuring out something might be going on. (Since the start of the tour, we’ve had interest from Japan, America, Germany… And the local and London papers picked up on it as we went. Only the odd whisper from the Scottish media, though.) The radio shifts between dance hits and Robbie Shepherd as we drive.
Tonight we’re staying at the house of Stuart and Alison, who responded to a plaintive cry for accommodation within reach of Perth. We’d have been grateful for a garden to camp in, but they’ve offered us space in actual beds, as well as a range of comfy sofas. Zara, Robbie and me sit drinking tea in their garden, with its unbelievable view of the Perthshire hills, and they tell us they didn’t think they’d see this chance again, not after 1979. The end of the tour is tangibly within reach, but so, now, is September. And whatever may lie beyond that.
We’re tired, a little ragged, occasionally frustrated. We’re only human. But we are sustained, and revived, by the incredible kindness of strangers, acquaintances and families that we have been shown on this trip. People like Stuart and Alison – who are leaving early in the morning but insist on leaving out breakfast for us – and Joe and Chris who got in touch in Dundee, saying they’d followed our travels online and would like to cook us a barbeque. Everyone who gave up fields to camp in, showers, beds, cups of tea at that vital moment where everything might just be on the verge of becoming too much. You are National Collective. We are lucky to have you.
We’d unwittingly waved goodbye to Gloria Yestevan for the last time in Dundee. With nowhere in Perth to park her, Simon and Rós had taken her on to St Andrews. Nowhere there either, on the narrow cobbled streets, so on they went to Stirling. But when the jail was built in medieval times, they failed to take into account the need for future activists to get a 1950s silver Airstream trailer into the courtyard. Thoughtless. I wasn’t there, but I hear the scene wasn’t pretty. So Gloria has gone back to her home in Fife, after a brave and selfless month’s journey to aa the airts.
If we felt discouraged by this setback, it wasn’t for long. The Airstream is a symbol of Yestival, certainly, but it isn’t Yestival. The people are Yestival. The artists who give their time and talent for free, the audiences who give their energy and enthusiasm to this campaign, and Team Yellow T Shirt trying to hold it all together, we are Yestival. Stirling’s going to be amazing. Lots of the guests from earlier in the tour are coming back, to perform or just to party. The medieval jail will be transformed with colour and celebration – there’s something nice about holding a self-determination and democracy party in a former jail.
Later, in the Twa Tams, we’re impressed to see the number of people who’ve come out to see us, despite us not showing St Johnstone’s Europa league match. Robbie opens the night with his last gig for us. We’ve also got Brian Johnstone, a former teacher and excellent poet (with a moustache even Grandpa Broon would be in awe of.) His last year of teaching was 1997, that Labour victory, that people thought would change everything. He remembers the sense of optimism, reads a poem from that time, A Stand of Thistles. The Yestival team were school kids in 1997 – Brian could have taught some of us – but we remember the optimism too. For a lot of us, it’s the first time we’ve had something political to get involved in, the first time we’ve felt like we could make a difference.
Zara, hosting tonight, tells us about a man in his seventies in Dundee yesterday, who said he’d never experienced anything like this in his lifetime. Things are already changing. It’s not that we didn’t care before, it’s just that we thought we wouldn’t be listened to. People know now there’s another way to do things, that politics is only inaccessible if you believe that it is. There are a lot of men (and a pucklie women) in suits who will do everything in their power to make you believe that. But many of us no longer believe them. There’s no going back, Zara tells us, to cheers from the floor.
It’s Lou Hickey’s last show with us tonight too, and she sings her first political song, written last year for the Independence Rally – you can’t look back now, a change is coming round. Rushing on stage to perform at the rally, she thrust her handbag into the arms of a bystander to keep a hold of. Coming off stage, she’s handed it back – by Alex Salmond. ‘I can’t believe I gave the First Minister my handbag!’ And why not? He wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for us, remember – it’s really the least he could do. When someone shouts from the bar ‘This is a pub, not a political rally!’ Zara responds with ‘The whole country is a political rally just now!’ And she’s right.
Ruth Mills is still with us, pure visceral energy that hits you in the face and makes you want to make the world a better place – and that’s just chatting to her in the bus. The sound tech at Dundee last night told her he’d never seen art like that before. This is what’s so good about having such a motley crew of artists and performers with us. Many people wouldn’t have gone to see a dance show – I wouldn’t have gone to see a dance show. But now I would, and so would the sound tech, and many others.
Another poet, Tom Hubbard, gives us poems which swing in tone between ‘sincere hope and sarcastic bastard-ness.’ Sometimes that’s the only way you can cope with sincere hope. One poem, on the tragic mystery of Fife, has the haar as the main character, with its sinister, transformative nature. We’ve also got one of National Collective’s TradYes members, the brilliant Norrie MacIver of Lewis. One of his songs tells us the story of unsung hero Benny Lynch, a boxer from the Gorbals who fought his way to world championships and fame during the Great Depression. Sadly, his battle with alcohol cost him his career, and probably his life.
The local duo Red Pine Timber Company finish the night for us, who met the Yestival tour earlier while on holiday in Ullapool. They sing American songs, which – as they tell us – may as well be Scottish. You hear songs and stories crossing the Atlantic and back again, names and details shifting with time and place but the core of them the same. Scotland seems to have a particular love for country music – perhaps it’s the misery, perhaps it’s the tractors. Red Pine Timber Company end on a singalong number – a Scottish song that, they tell us, they learned from American band The Byrds. They launch into Wild Mountain Thyme – which I had no idea the Byrds had ever heard. There you go. (Jamie’s just informed me that the song, in fact, originates from Northern Ireland. There you go, again. Every day’s a school day on the Yestival.)
Zara closes the night by urging us to be visible and audible – wear badges, t shirts, have conversations – so that we can let others who are wondering know that we’re here, we’re thinking about this. We are trying to build a society that we can be proud to be part of. Travelling around Scotland on this tour, making the connections we’ve made over the past month, meeting people and hearing their stories, experiencing their kindness and resourcefulness – we know there are strong foundations in place. There is such a thing as society, and this is it in action.