The Vole’s old yamil, Ma Hedgehog sent this report from the Radical Independence Campaign Conference. Watch out Carmichael, she is coming for you.
A week’s a long time in politics, they say and it seems that two months or so is a lifetime in this case. On the walk towards Glasgow riverside on this November Saturday our pace quickened and our excitement mounted – there was something in the air. It was early, still only 9am and already the crowd was assembling, lit – up energised people coming together for the Radical Independence Conference 2014. The Armadillo was the venue, with a capacity of 3,000 – the event was sold out. Last years conference had been held in The Marriot Hotel with delegates numbering around 800, a good start. Now though, something wonderful was happening; you really would have thought we had won after all!
In the foyer, we stood around while the space filled up and the buzz got going. We spotted some of the celebrities of the ‘new politics’ milling around. Great big brains like Robin McAlpine, Patrick Harvey, Caat Boyd and others including some of our very own MSP’s amongst them, while the press gathered. Inside the auditorium the atmosphere was electric. The opening speakers were drowned out by cheers and whoops from the crowd, whistling and standing as each big idea was hammered out by an unrelenting array of talented voices from the stage. The faces enlarged on the big screen were animated, full of passion. These ideas were not so radical really, but rather it seemed they were becoming the consensus amongst ordinary working folk. That’s pretty much all of us.
Lunch time came all too quickly – we were in the dubious position of being double booked as we also had tickets for the Nicola Sturgeon Roadshow across the way in the new and amazing Hydro! Somewhat reluctantly we left early, but were drawn to the potential for razzamatazz at the 12,000 seater opposite – also sold out!
While we waited in line to take our seats, I mused a bit on what had started all this. It felt and looked like a revolution, so many people from all age groups and all walks of life. For days and weeks after the referendum, I had not quite shaken the feeling of doom. The shock hit the “almost half of us” like a dreadful toxic cloud settling heavily in our guts. Gordon Brown like some surreal ‘dark knight’ on speed, had delivered a ‘solemn vow’ days before the vote. It had urgently poured out of every media orifice, but it would not be honoured. It must have taken his last bit of gall for now he was resigning anyway. The days that followed the no vote, revealed stark truth after ugly truth; pensions would be capped while the retirement age went up, winter allowances and free bus travel would be cut and sure enough the NHS would be sold off piece by piece while austerity was here to stay. Cavalier changes to all sorts of laws followed; on human rights and privacy, freedom of speech, property rights, fracking and TTIP the big forces of evil – the free market gone mad, nipping at our heels with our UK government ushering them in right over our heads. And we were at war again. These had been only the early headlines.
Climbing up the enclosed concrete staircase of the Clyde Auditorium reminded me of the climb up the North Ronaldsay light. Too high and suddenly my legs started to go – there was no visible sign of this I just had the urge to hunker down and felt slightly head-light! The spectacle though, as we emerged out into the ‘Gods’, made my vertigo disappear with a gasp and in its place elation. The sight of 12,000 people packed into the massive auditorium nailed the idea that we hadn’t lost anything. We had actually gained something invaluable. Never again would we Scots of all nations fall for project fear, that much was galvanised here this day. The editor of the new daily ‘National’, Richard Walker gave an impromptu speech from the floor, we had Alex Salmond in finest form and in his honour a standing ovation lasting quite a few minutes. We had Eddie Reader and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Stewart Hosie and finally the newly appointed First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon looking sharp and sounding strong, every inch the leader of the country now. She brought the house down, topped off by the most beautiful version of Caledonia I have heard in a long time, sung simply by Dougie McLean to be gradually joined by a chorus of 12,000 softly and sympathetically singing along. As for razzamatazz we weren’t disappointed. The big finish with confetti – like golden fireworks going off echoed the indescribable sound of 12,000 people going wild!
Just like the RIC Conference, the atmosphere was awesome: hope and positivity went through the ceiling of anything I would have imagined possible in contemporary British politics. Scottish Politics at that – this is where it’s at now. Nothing has changed but everything has changed. The people don’t seem to be going back to their sofas or even their burrows!