WE have just passed the 50th anniversary of the great All Under One Banner march that took place in Edinburgh on October 5, 2019. So much has changed in the brief half-century since that it is amazing to think of the world as it was then. Yet we forget those years at our peril.

I was on that march. The ancient videos – although weirdly flat in ancient 2D tech – are a vivid reminder of what it was like. The Scottish rain is still the same, though it was less penetrating then. We may have successfully stabilised CO2 emissions and even replanted enough of the Great Caledonian Forest to reduce precipitation, but it’s still bloody wet in 2069.

Back in 2019 most folk did not understand that global warming meant the world’s ice sheets melted into the cloud cover and came back as perpetual downpour. On that great march – almost a premonition of global climate change –we all got soaked. But I remember it did absolutely nothing to dampen our spirits.

READ MORE: AUOB Edinburgh: History in the making as 200k march for indyref2

Why did we march? If you visit the Independence Museum on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, go to the room dedicated to the AUOB marches. Look at the photos, watch the videos, hear the sounds still vibrant after half a century. See for yourself the beaming smiles, the happy faces, the children on parents’ shoulders, the dogs wrapped in Saltires, the home-made placards, the pipe bands, the Viking-bearded motorcyclists, the sea of blue flags interspersed with Catalan stripes, Welsh dragons and – yes – English roses. Why did we march? Because we had to.

These huge popular assemblies mushroomed unbidden out of nowhere, in the few years before the final, successful independence referendum. They represented a deep frustration among the ordinary people of Scotland – young and old; Highlanders, islanders and townies; of all classes but mostly of the common stock. This was Scotland getting off its knees. This was Scotland sending a message. This was Scotland’s true claim of right. This was an ancient nationhood reasserting itself. This was the people saying: “We will be heard.”

Of course, the historic declaration of Scottish independence from the balcony of the City Chambers in Glasgow’s Freedom Square (previously known as George Square, after a forgotten British monarch who opposed American self-determination) was only a beginning. Decades of de-industrialisation, austerity, environmental degradation, cultural oppression and loss of confidence had then to be overcome. Independence was followed by a burst of nation-building that transformed Scotland over the course of the next decades.

It was a bumpy road at times. For some, the referendum which abolished the monarchy was divisive and unnecessary. The argument for keeping King Charles as Scotland’s new head of state was based on continuity, on building bridges to our neighbours in England and the Commonwealth, and on not alienating those of our citizens who still considered themselves British. These were worthy aims. Yet the majority of Scots – especially the young for whom an independent Scotland represented the hope of a new and better world – felt it was time to break with the old society and its privileged elites and anti-democratic spirit.

The fuss over the declaration of a republic quickly dissipated. These days, no-one can remember why we ever tolerated an unelected head of state, unelected House of Lords, unelected bankers, unelected business heads and unelected BBC (the old, pre-independence state broadcaster). Yet there are no hard feelings. William Windsor (as he is called here) still comes to Scotland for his holidays. For old times’ sake, he has lunch with our co-presidents at their official Holyrood Palace residence. Wills presides over an England wracked with dissension, economically diminished and fortunately bereft of its weird, post-Brexit imperial fantasies. He probably comes to Scotland to escape these problems, like the half million of his citizens who have emigrated northwards since our independence.

It was tackling the climate change emergency that gave the new Scotland its greatest challenge and, perhaps, its greatest achievement as a new nation. The pre-indy SNP government had laid down a marker by adopting the target of making the country carbon-neutral by 2045. But in truth, the depth of the global crisis rendered even that goal faint-hearted. There was an element of pre-independence politics that tried to secure public backing for self-determination by implying that nothing much would change. Of course, this was being disingenuous. The whole point of seeking independence was to transform the nation for the better. This transformation required dedication and hard work, if not an element of self-sacrifice.

The moment of truth came when post-independence SNP governments had to confront the contradiction between their commitment to double (or even treble) GDP growth and their equal commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The National:

Photograph taken from Camera Obscura and World of Illusions by Colin Mearns

Reckless consumerism and growth for growth’s sake was the driver of the environmental crisis – not to mention the cause of the obesity, opiate addiction and stress-related mental illnesses that were killing the population. We had marched for and won our independence. Had we done all that just for life to go on as before, living like rats in a rat race?

Amazingly, improbably, Scotland decided, in the words of the great Jimmy Reid, that a rat race was only for rats. A free Scotland would be a different Scotland. Instead of climate change, there would be system change.

Post-independence, the great marches did not stop. The school strikes did not peter out. Young and old, Scotland’s citizens decided to run their own lives in their own way. To make their own decisions, rebuild their own towns, design their own homes and hospitals, insist on making their own local planning decisions, create their own school curricula, run their own local banks, work for themselves and not for foreign multinationals, grow their own food, make their own television programmes.

Somehow, the hundreds of thousands who had marched their way to independence decided they would keep on marching till they lived in a Scotland that fed its young, looked after its old, treasured its soil and mountains, enriched its culture and lived at peace with all its neighbours.

Strangely, this new Scotland abolished politics in the old, alienating sense of the term. As communities and workplaces across the land began to make their own decisions, at their own pace and in their own consensual ways, professional politicians suddenly seemed antiquated and redundant.

Scotland delved deep down into its collective unconscious and rediscovered a communitarian, collective way of doing things. Some called it socialist. Some called it a Celtic revival. Some didn’t care what it was called, only that it worked.

And that is one true real lesson to be garnered from those heady, damp, feet-weary AUOB marches of half a century ago. The people marched unbidden for a cause of their own making. When the second independence referendum finally arrived, it came with a mandate from the streets of Scotland – not via the whim of Westminster.

Our marches were not a way of letting off steam while Scots politicians got on with the real job. No, our gatherings and demonstrations gave marching orders to those very politicians to initiate the independence referendum. Ultimately, our marches represented the people in revolt. And when the people rise, nothing can defeat them.