28 July 2018
Just after 1 o'clock I cycled down into the centre of Inverness and arrived at the Northern Meeting Park shortly before 1:30. Pretty promptly the independence march began, led off by around 50 mobility scooters and wheelchairs. I wasn't there to march, though I'd have loved to join in. It was well organised, enthusiastic, funny and well behaved.
I said hello to a few friends in the march, saw John Finnie passing with the Green group and kept watching. Eventually, to my disappointment, I saw what I was looking for. A Siol nan Gaidheal (SnG) banner. Not the blue 'Tory Scum Out' one, but the black and white 'End London Rule' one. It was being held by 6 or 7 of their supporters, and they were walking in line with the banner facing towards the right-hand pavement.
In previous marches SnG have gained much more publicity than they should by using these banners. They've been reported as heading independence marches in previous events. However, what seems to be their tactic is that they walk amongst the marchers, but at some point they spread out across the street, back up the marchers behind them whilst letting those in front get away a little. This leaves a gap which a photographer can then use to make it look like the entire march is following them.
In truth, the bulk of the marchers have no idea who SnG are, and don't have a great problem with the text on the banners. 'End London Rule' is a valid slogan. 'Tory Scum Out' isn't language I'd choose to use, but I'd be delighted to live in a country which didn't have Conservative governments, so not too much to disagree with there either.
But the SnG logo on the banner and on the activists T-shirts is there for a reason. To legitimise their viewpoint as part of the mainstream independence movement. And I don't like that.
Search on Google for Siol nan Gaidheal and you'll find a Wikipedia page and this website in the top results. Check the menu on the website and you'll find a section called Demographics. Read it and you'll get some idea who SnG are/were. The first page is titled The White Settler Phenomenon. It contains phrases like "an intrusive English violation of our National Territory" and "the 'white settler' has real power over the native".
So, for me the march was both fun and horrible. I'd decided to do what I could to deny them a photo opportunity, so I joined the march, pushing my bike alongside the banner and trying to hold a position which put me between any photographers and the SnG logo. It was reasonably easy for the first few hundred yards. I kept pace along Ardross Terrace and onto Ness bridge. As the march turned 90 degrees onto the bridge the guy at the front of the banner politely asked me if I wanted to go ahead, but I declined. Half way across the bridge (with the procession moving very slowly) the SnG folk decided to swap the banner round to the other side of the march to meet up with a few Union Jack waving unionist counter-protesters near the Gellions, so I swapped to the other side of the road too.
We watched the Yes Bikers go past and cheered, then continued to snake up Castle St onto Culduthel Rd. It was difficult to stay beside the banner at times with my bike, as I was aware I might bump into someone or scrape a car with my pedal, so I occasionally diverted, but in general held my station.
Around half-way (about a mile) up Culduthel Rd they swapped sides again, this time so that one of their members on the clearer pavement could take a photo. I swapped too, and this is perhaps the first time they realised what I was doing. The photographer and a couple of the banner-holders asked me to move out of the way, but I said no, I was quite happy where I was.
Still moving, there was a bit of banter coming from them, including them starting to call me 'Bicycle Guy'. They called a steward who walked with me for a bit and asked why I wouldn't move for the photo. He wanted to keep things civilised, which I entirely understood, but I explained I was going to continue to try to frustrate the photo opportunities.
Another hundred yards on they changed position to be fully across the front of the march - the tactic I'd mentioned above. They slowed a little and I moved in front of them. To more jeering, I tried to keep pace with their speed, in front of the logo. At this point they rushed forward and lifted their banner over my head and over my bike leaving me behind them. I'm guessing they managed to get their photo then unfortunately.
Once they resumed a side-on position I regained my spot in front of the logo until we turned onto Balloan Rd. At this point they managed to persuade a handful of marchers to walk in front of me, keeping me back, so from then on there were probably a few photos taken too.
At a few points they would ask me why I was doing this. I explained it was about the logo, and about the SnG website. They said it was an 'archive' website (and it is indeed very old), and that they're on the 3rd iteration of SnG. I asked them what the logo/SnG stood for. I asked if they had a current website where I could find what they stood for. The main guy laughed but didn't give me any information.
So, whilst the march was clearly fun with thousands of folk having a good time, I didn't enjoy it so much. I didn't succeed in preventing a clear photo, but there was no way I could go on the march without trying to do something to show how much I disapprove of the SnG views.
I'm a member of the SNP. Before the 2014 referendum I helped organise the Yes Black Isle group, got Yes Highland T-shirts and car stickers printed and stood on street corners trying to persuade people to vote Yes. On the referendum night I was Wings Over Scotland's official delegate at the count in Dingwall. Some of the folk who saw me trying to block the banner assumed I was anti-independence - nothing could be further from the truth. But the independence I support is civic independence, where everyone who lives in Scotland is accorded the same rights and is as welcome here as anyone else regardless of their origins, not the kind that SnG want.
99.9% of the people on the march have nothing to do with SnG and don't support their views. The march organisers want the march to be as inclusive as possible, and I understand that too. But I hate the idea that the Yes movement as a whole might be associated with their view.
If someone from SnG wants to get in touch and explain how their views nowadays are not racist and based on ethnicity I'll be delighted to hear from them and will give their explanations equal prominence to this blog post. Maybe I was wrong in what I was trying to do. But, despite failing, I'm proud that I gave it a go.