IF 2017 was the year when the independence movement was stalled by the gains made by the Conservatives in that year’s Westminster General Election, 2018 will be remembered as the year when the independence movement regained its momentum and made its strength felt in the streets.

2018 was punctuated by a series of pro-independence marches and rallies across the length and breadth of Scotland, culminating in the massive march in Edinburgh last October when many tens of thousands marched through the Scottish capital in order to assert the absolute right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.

READ MORE: 2018: The year of the surge for independence

I was privileged enough to be asked to speak at the rallies that took place after the marches in Stirling and Bannockburn on June 23, and the Inverness march and rally on July 28.

The Inverness march was the greatest concentration of people demanding Scottish independence that the capital of the Highlands had witnessed since the Jacobite Wars of the 18th century, but unlike those events, this year’s march and rally was like all the others – entirely peaceful and good-natured.

READ MORE: Do not forget the issues that make independence so vital

I had also been asked to speak at the march and rally in Dumfries on June 2, but unfortunately at the last moment I wasn’t able to get there due to car trouble. That was particularly disappointing, as there is an active and vital independence movement in the south of Scotland, one which is often overlooked by a Scottish media which, with the honourable exception of this newspaper, isn’t great at representing the independence movement at the best of times.

Mark Twain said that there are only two types of public speaker, those who are nervous about speaking in public, and those who lie about not being nervous about speaking in public. It is indeed daunting to stand before a crowd of thousands of people and speak. According to a number of studies, fear of public speaking is the most common fear.

READ MORE: Momentum grows for Plan B route to independence

It’s even more common than a fear of snakes, horrible wee beasties, and poisonous spiders. Which means that it’s scarier to speak in public than it is to confront your average Tory politician. The very worst thing that can befall you when you are addressing a large crowd of people is that all of a sudden your mind goes blank, but if that does happen all you have to do with a pro-independence crowd in Scotland is to remark that you’ve suddenly discovered what it feels like to be Ross Thomson.

Scottish Conservatives are very quick to condemn pro-independence events for causing traffic disruption. Those same people are silent during the annual shame of Orange parades, which not only cause traffic disruption but which celebrate sectarianism and exclusion.

If the likes of Ruth Davidson and Murdo Fraser want us to pay any heed to their carping about independence marches, then they can start by condemning the hate-filled parades of Union flaggery, parades which unlike pro-independence marches and rallies are associated with violence, drunken disorder and fighting in the streets.

Opponents of independence also scoff because Scotland’s independence movement doesn’t attract as many on to the streets as the Catalan movement does. They condemn us for bringing too many on to the streets, they condemn us for not bringing enough on to the streets.

The Catalans are able to mobilise hundreds of thousands for a number of reasons. Firstly there’s the not insignificant issue of the climate. You can organise an outdoor event in Catalonia and be reasonably confident that the weather in a couple of months’ time is going to be warm and sunny. In Scotland you don’t know what the weather is going to be like in a couple of hours, never mind in a couple of months. Because of its climate, Catalonia, unlike Scotland, has a tradition of outdoor public events.

The National:

However there is also a more significant reason. Like Scotland, Catalan public opinion is divided on the issue of independence. In both countries approximately half the population supports independence. The difference is that in Catalonia the Catalan media is also equally divided on the question of independence. In Scotland we have 38 daily and Sunday newspapers, but only The National and its Sunday sister support independence. Where Catalonia has five TV channels of its own, Scotland has no control of broadcasting and no public service broadcaster of its own.

When there is going to be a large-scale public event in Catalonia, their media tells people about it in advance. Irrespective of your view on the constitution, it is news that there’s going to be a big public event. When you know about it in advance, you can then make up your own mind about whether you choose to participate or not. In Scotland we get at best a grudging few seconds on the BBC Scotland news after the event. Again with the honourable exception of The National, we are entirely dependent on social media to publicise pro-independence events. Given all that, the remarkable thing is not that Scotland’s independence movement doesn’t attract the same numbers on to the streets as the Catalan movement, the remarkable thing is that so many people in Scotland still turn out for pro-independence marches and rallies.

There are also those in the independence movement who scoff at marches and rallies. They point out from their social media accounts that no-one is converted to the cause of independence because someone marches down the high street carrying a Saltire. And this would be true. Mind you, it is also true that neither is anyone converted to the cause of independence because a self-righteous person is being self-satisfied, smug, and is flaunting their moral superiority on Twitter. But hey, horses for courses.

The National:

People who say that no-one is converted to independence because of a march and therefore marches are pointless are missing the point. The point of a march and rally isn’t to convert No voters to a Yes vote. The point is to make a public show of strength of the independence movement in a country whose media is overwhelmingly opposed to independence, and which systematically ignores and sidelines any news or developments which are good for the independence cause.

There was a perfect example of that last week. After years of giving front-page lead stories to minor and marginal Spanish politicians who have hinted that Spain may not look favourably on a Scottish application for EU membership, those same newspapers and broadcast media ignored the remarks from the Spanish foreign minister who stated bluntly that Spain would not veto Scottish membership of the EU. It was a development which was positive for the independence campaign, yet far from ensuring that the people of Scotland were fully informed about the death of a matter which the Scottish media had turned into a major concern, the story was ignored.

That’s the kind of reason why it’s vital for ordinary grassroots independence campaigners to keep marching, to keep organising public events, to keep demonstrating a public presence. When the media wants to sideline you and ignore you, you need other peaceful and lawful means of showing the people of Scotland that you not only exist, but that the movement counts on the support of a significant part of the Scottish population. That’s important because it’s opponents of independence who have their views normalised and supported by the media, leaving independence supporters isolated. A march and rally attended by tens of thousands proves to those isolated supporters that they are not alone, that they are a part of something bigger, something massive.

The marches and rallies also exist in order to boost the morale and enthusiasm of those who are already involved in the campaign. That’s vitally important. A successful campaign needs to look both outwards, in order to attract new supporters, to change minds and opinions, but it also needs to look inwards, to support, encourage, and enthuse those who are already involved in the campaign. It’s those existing supporters who are the ones who will be doing the persuasion, who will be working to assuage the doubts of the undecided and to change the minds of soft-No voters. They’re going to do better at that when they know that they are a part of a mass movement of like-minded people. That’s doubly important when the media doesn’t reflect the true extent of Scottish public opinion on independence.

As we go into 2019 and Brexit looms, a Brexit which is being imposed on Scotland against its will, it’s vital that we continue to march, to rally, to show that this movement of ours will always speak up for Scotland. We are in every town and village, in every street, in every community. There are going to be many more marches and rallies in the coming year, and as Scottish anger about Brexit grows, some of them are going to dwarf those which have already taken place. The streets are ours, and so is Scotland’s soul. We are marching to independence, marching to a better Scotland.