WHEN the history of the Scottish independence movement comes to be written, 2018 will surely go down as the Year of the Surge, when cities and towns across Scotland witnessed rivers of people marching for independence, waving Saltires and other banners for independence and all merging into a great tidal surge that is sweeping Scotland to our own sunlit sea of self-determination.

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Admit it, if someone had told you at the beginning of 2018 that in October we would see 100,000 people march down the Royal Mile for the cause of independence, you would have scorned them. I know, because I doubted at first whether marching would do any good, but as the only journalist to attend half the marches I have to confess to being firmly converted to the idea that these events have been a positive game-changer for the Yes cause.

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If someone had also suggested that a group of half a dozen or so activists would walk 500 miles from Skye to Edinburgh via all sorts of towns and villages then I might well have believed them because I knew there were such committed activists – and I saw the blisters earned by Dean Woodhouse of Yes Linton and his colleagues on the walk. Heroes, all.

The six main marches were organised by All Under One Banner (AUOB), which was originally a small number of activists who formed a protest group in Glasgow.

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Given the extraordinary success of AUOB this year, it is worth recalling that the group did not start with a massive hit. Indeed, founder Neil Mackay and the original group started with a plan to stage simultaneous marches across the country on the same Saturday before the 2015 General Election.

The only team that followed through was Glasgow, who hosted the first march on April 25, 2015, from Glasgow Green to George Square – just 200 people took part.

By the time the next Glasgow march took place on August 1, 2015, from Kelvingrove Park to Glasgow Green, the number of participants had risen to 2000.

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Smaller marches were held in Glasgow before the big breakthrough came in the city on June 3, 2017, when an estimated 25,000 people took part. The group made the crucial decision to take AUOB out of Glasgow with the aim of bringing marches and rallies to other cities and towns across Scotland.

That such activity was not only possible but could attract serious numbers was shown in March when activists reacted to the Tory Government’s power grab by quickly organising Hands Off Our Parliament – HOOP – at Holyrood.

It caught the imagination and an estimated 3000 people took part. Organiser Dave Llewellyn – he later did the 500 miles walk – told me at the time: “We know of 80-year-olds going to their first ever political demonstration and the good thing is that people of different politics are going because they can all unite over the threat to our Parliament.”

The stage was set for a transformational period of months of marches at the end of which it can be firmly stated that marching for independence is here to stay.

Nobody who was there will ever forget the AUOB march in Glasgow on May 5. I watched and, with a friend, counted the river of 60,000 people that flowed from Kelvingrove Park through the city centre to Glasgow Green.

AUOB had not always been popular within the Yes movement and despite SNP members taking part in it, there was some suspicion within the party about them and their motives – that was all blown away by the surge in Glasgow.

For the first time, there were serious SNP figures on the march such as MP Tommy Sheppard, who said: “Because there is so much political chaos, we have to accept that the phase we are in is a preparatory one, but we must maintain awareness and presence. This march and the recent Hands Off Our Parliament event help greatly.”

MSPs Keith Brown – soon to be named depute leader of the SNP – and Ivan McKee joined in. Brown said: “I have been in the party for 35 years and I have never seen a march like this. It’s fantastic.”

AUOB were ecstatic but not surprised. As we shall see later, they had been building up to such a day, and a key element had been introduced – a properly organised rally at the conclusion of the march with powerful speeches by the likes of Craig Murray and Peter Bell in Glasgow and entertainment from indy-supporting musicians. Next up was Dumfries when the town was swamped by more than 10,000 marchers, and by now the word was spreading through the Yes movement that these events were not just inspiring but also fun. “It reminds you that you are not alone in your beliefs,” said one Dumfries marcher.

More than 20,000 people turned up for the march from Stirling to Bannockburn on June 23, probably more Scots than took part in the actual Battle itself in 1314.

What happened next was truly astonishing. On July 28, more than 14,000 activists marched in Inverness, the largest demonstration ever seen in the Highlands.

In August, the venue was Dundee with more than 16,000 people marching. It was a superb day of political protest and a highlight was the noisy arrival of the Yes Bikers group at Magdalen Green where the rally included excellent music as well as passionate speeches.

And so to Edinburgh on October 6 when the weather gods smiled on the capital and the Saltires were framed against a bright blue sky. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) had inadvertently helped crank up the publicity for the march by trying to ban the rally in Holyrood Park. Eventually Police Scotland overruled HES and the march and rally went ahead as planned.

What a day. What a cavalcade of joy that took more than two hours to pass a single point. At the rally, Keith Brown – now charged with energising the campaign for independence – spoke movingly against the austerity policies of the Westminster Government.

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He said: “This austerity world that we live in is not good enough for us, so we have to work to change it, we have to work to convince people, like NHS for Yes going out and talking to fellow health service workers about how they can better protect the NHS in an independent Scotland and how they can prevent the wholesale privatisation taking place in England.

“We have to talk to people in a friendly, reasonable, responsible and engaging way – that’s the way we will convince people to come across to our side.”

The audience cheered each speaker and musician, and still they came pouring down the Royal Mile even as the speeches were going on – the Yes Bikers on 250 motorbikes (and one bicycle) made a spectacular entrance, and all over Holyrood Park, Saltires flew.

You can tell your opponents are rattled when they sabotage your Wikipedia page. Just the other day, some anonymous person – aren’t they always scared to name themselves – altered AUOB’s wiki page to say that just 20,000 marched in Edinburgh. Well this reporter was there and I asked a cop who told me “100,000 easy” which concurred with my own estimate that used a recognised system of head counting.

That’s what the marches have done – the Unionist side can say all they want about the lack of desire for independence but when 100,000 people give up their day off to march in the nation’s capital the evidence is there in human form that the appetite for indy has not gone away and is only growing.

AUOB have already drawn up their list for next year – Glasgow on May 4, Galashiels on June 1, Oban on June 15, Ayr on July 6, Campbeltown on July 27, Aberdeen on August 17, Perth on September 7, and ending again in Edinburgh on October 5.

Those who have been on AUOB marches feel safe and secure, and that’s thanks to AUOB’s head of stewarding Manny Singh and his cohort of well-trained stewards who are now an integral part of the marches.

In the wake of last week’s flying visit to Scotland by Theresa May, Gary Kelly of AUOB says the group will be issuing a special invitation to the Prime Minister. He told The National: “We will be offering her the chance to speak to tens of thousands of Scots at our rally in Glasgow next May – whether she’s still Prime Minister or not.”

Kelly’s not holding his breath waiting for an answer, he added: “We knew the grassroots wanted to show their support for independence and it’s the grassroots that mean more to us than anything. That’s why we are confident about going to different places next year.

“If we gather anything above 10,000 in most places that will be a roaring success, though we have to take account of the fact that places like Campbeltown are further away from the main centres of population so maybe we might just get four or five thousand there. We’ve not been to Aberdeen or Perth before and I am sure we will get big crowds there.

“The Glasgow march in May was the turning point and we knew from then that Edinburgh would be huge. The carry-on with Historic Environment Scotland helped build the publicity – Scottish people don’t like being told what to do.

“The mainstream media had no choice but to report what happened in Edinburgh, and the publicity showed that there is a real appetite for independence that cannot be ignored.”

AOUB are currently doing a crowdfunder exercise to pay for next year’s events. The group is now properly organised with a legal structure, published accounts and plans to become self-sufficient through the sale of flags and banners.

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There were other marches and events such as the Forward as One march and rally in Dunfermline in September, and the M8 Bridges event in April that showed the ingenuity and commitment of the Yes movement, but AUOB have taken the lead in organising mass marches. Peter A Bell is a regular speaker at their rallies. He said: “The AUOB marches are wonderful expressions of grass-roots political engagement and highly visible demonstrations of mass support for the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence.

“But they are also a lot of fun. They are great social events. Sandra White MSP once addressed a post-march rally welcoming the assembled throng to ‘the biggest family gathering in Scotland’. And that’s very much what it’s like.

“The marches are often dismissed as the Yes movement talking to itself. But, quite apart from the political significance that such suggestions seek to diminish, these occasions are important as opportunities for Yes activists to meet and talk and encourage and inspire one another.

“It is at events such as the AUOB marches that we form and reinforce the bonds which hold us together as one Yes movement.”

The best stories of 2018’s surge can be told by the individual people who took part.

Roy Mackie, of Yes Kirkcaldy, said: “In March 2018, I travelled over the Forth Bridge to support the Hands Off Our Parliament protest at Holyrood. It was the first time I’d taken part in anything like that, and I was taken by the positive, carnival-like atmosphere created by all the people there, and when the Yes Bikers arrived I knew immediately I wanted to be one of them, despite having given up motorbikes 30 years previously.

“Following that, I marched at the AUOB events in Glasgow, Stirling and Dundee, and bought a bike especially to drive with Yes Bikers at the Edinburgh march.

“The reception we got when we were driving through the crowd in Holyrood Park was quite overwhelming, and I was in serious danger of losing control of my emotions. These marches are a great way to galvanise, motivate, and re-energise the independence movement after years of struggle. Let’s keep them going until we achieve our goal.”

Clifford Serbie told us: “I was very fortunate to be able to go to every march that was done in this busy year of activism. I was either involved or was a steward or just a marcher like the many thousands that where there at the various marches.

“The two that really did it for me were Inverness and Edinburgh. What a welcome and turnout of people in Inverness.

“There were people playing bagpipes and on balconies of the shops people where clapping and cheering us all on as we marched our way up through the cracking city.

“The second one in Edinburgh – what a march that turned out to be. Hundreds and thousands of us in a sea of blue and white stretched across the whole of the Royal Mile to finish where it all started with at the beginning of the year with us surrounding Holyrood in defiance to Westminster.

That was back in March.

Since then we have been everywhere! I even jumped on board with Dave Llewellyn and got involved in the 500 miles walk.

“That was an awe-inspiring walk all over Scotland which also ended at Edinburgh as we joined the march after a stop-off at Bute House.

“This year has shown a massive surge for a free country, an independent country, and I for one and the millions of others will be active till we are.

“I have laughed, cried, walked, marched, displayed and then some. I have walked with the most amazing strangers who have become friends and I must say the more I travel around this country with others with indy in mind the more prouder I become to the extent I feel my heart swell, my eyes tear up as I shake and hug every person who will walk with us.

“Scotland is doing itself proud and even though our own media and papers – not including The National – don’t report the truth about Scotland,we still get it out there. We are The Tartan Spartans.”

Jim Love said: “Glasgow was my first march. I went with somebody I’d only met a couple of months beforehand, but who had met me 26 years ago, when she was the first person ever to see me – when scanning my mum. What struck me was the friendliness and hope we all shared. I got a wee bit misty-eyed as I saw people waving flags from balconies at passing Yes Bikers, and I was – justifiably – proud to be part of it. In total I attended four – Glasgow, Bannockburn, Dundee and Edinburgh. I made new friends and saw parts of Scotland I hadn’t seen before.”

Ron Buchanan said: “Although lots of us canvass and campaign also, the marches allow us to meet up with friends old and new in a happy carnival-type parade.

“The spectacle of tens of thousands wandering through somebody’s home town or city shows every shopkeeper, flat dweller, pedestrian, onlooker and Yesser not on social media that we’re growing and when it’s not shown or reported factually in the mainstream Scottish media (MSM), those folk that see us might just question the impartiality of the MSM.

“We’ve had folk that have come on the march initially and are now much more involved, including leafleting. It’s a fun way in to meet folk and engage for indy.”

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Nadia Fraser said: “I marched in Glasgow with my two children and niece. I then marched in Edinburgh with my husband and children.

“I am not someone who enjoys mass gatherings or marches and normally I’m not inclined to wave flags. I felt compelled to attend these marches as I wanted to be a part of the independence movement and show my support. I felt it was important to participate and not just sit passively, leaving it up to others.

“A message needed to be sent to the government that there is an appetite for independence and it is not just a few activists but the wider population who are ready.

“I am proud to have been part of that message, proud to have waved my flag and involved my children in shaping their future, proud to say that I did my bit.

“This is too important an issue to just wait and do nothing about. To that end I will continue to march and become more involved in taking action for indy.”

Jane Phillips said: “Marching on its own will not bring about independence – there’s a lot of work on the ground needing done – but it keeps the goal of independence firmly in the public eye. We’re not going to go away.

“And it’s a brilliant day out: marching with 90,000 like minds, seeing old friends and making new ones. What anti-indy folk actually don’t get is that the Yes movement really is positive and happy.

“How could it be otherwise? We know that we are going to win. Let 2019 be the year Scotland joins the rest of the world.”

This point about marching on its own not bringing independence is a good one, but does marching do any good at all? The answer from a man who knows all about motivating people is yes.

One of Scotland’s top experts on motivational training is Brian Williamson, entrepreneur-in-residence at Kissing With Confidence training in Glasgow, who distinguishes between two types of marching.

He said: “It is interesting to see the power of the people, or the lack of it, when 700,000 Remainers marched in the hope that Brexit should be put to a second People’s Vote. Or, over the course of this year, when thousands marched for Scottish independence in towns and cities across the country.

“Marching in Scotland has been characterised either by marching in favour of what you stand for and support – Gay Pride – or marching for what you are against – nuclear weapons at Faslane.

“It seems that marching in a positive cause, for something, raises the profile of the cause and, it could be argued, reflects a view of what is bubbling under in society and normalises it. Marching against something is more about trying to change a rule or perhaps the status quo. But do they achieve anything? And is Scotland different from the rest of the world?”

Williamson cited some world-famous marches: “One million marched against the Iraq war and nothing really happened to stop that. The biggest lesson we can learn, however, and which may be directly applicable to Scottish independence or to Brexit, is the story of the Vietnam war.

“In the 10 years of US involvement it triggered the most, and the biggest, marches over the widest possible geographical spread, in the history of anyone complaining about anything.

“And did that change anything? Well the American public thought it managed to stop the bombing and it did very briefly. Then the bombing re-started and guess what … so did the lying.

“So that’s the No argument … nothing really changed, the war continued.”

Yet Williamson is confident that marches motivate people: “Marchers do achieve big things, however, perhaps bigger than they imagine. Marching can win wars rather than win battles.

“As for Scotland, does marching achieve more and why would that be? One thing is for sure: Scots are passionate about their beliefs, no matter what side of the fence you are on. This passion impacts views but, does it change minds and specifically voting intentions?

“In 2015 the SNP had its best-ever performance winning 56 out of 59 UK Parliamentary seats. Hot on the heels of an independence vote that was narrowly defeated, Scots seemed to come together. The message seemed to be clear in my mind – we may well have made our mind up about independence for now but we are not a divided nation.

“The marches that clearly work are the marches to the polling stations. After all, we live in a democracy and despite its flaws that works for Scotland.”

That is so very true. All the marching in all of Scotland will all have been for nothing if the river of hope breaks on the dam of fear.

It’s time to get everyone marching – to the polls to make Yes the winning vote.