ON Saturday, Stirling welcomed the latest independence march to the city and to the Bannockburn battleground, and I was proud to march alongside thousands of Yessers and to speak to the rally afterwards. As the current (and I hope last!) Westminster MP for Stirling, I think it would have been strange had I not, and I know a lot of my members in Stirling were glad to see me there.

In my brief speech I welcomed the crowd to Stirling, where the SNP presently has the MP, MSP, and just won the biggest group on the local council (Bannockburn ward has no Tory representative at all, even though, strangely, Bannockburn battlefield is in Stirling East ward!). We didn’t always have this support or success. I also quoted back to the first time I addressed the rally, eighteen years ago in 2004 just after my election for the first time to the European Parliament at a time when we had neither MP nor MSP, nor a single Stirling councillor.

Back in 2004, one of the stewards on the day berated us all as the march got a bit straggly, saying that “we need to close ranks!” and it struck me as a useful message for the Yes movement today. The best source of support, encouragement and nourishment for any Yesser is other Yessers. We need to be united, we cannot afford to be divided. We see on a daily basis just how low various elements of the No campaign and their enablers will go. The nasty ad hominem attacks, the snide innuendo, the wilful misrepresentation, the outright abuse and in parts bullying, I’ve had it all personally.

We saw some person covertly recording the meetings at the recent Aberdeen Independence Movement meeting like some cosplay John le Carre character, then selectively making partial recordings public without any context. Trying to present an honest discussion amongst friends as some sort of divisive rammy, lapped up, of course, by elements of a scoop-hungry media.

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The Yes movement is diverse, and the SNP doesn’t have the monopoly on independence, but you know what? It won’t happen without us and we’re the main driver of it. I don’t agree with everyone on the march about everything, and that’s OK. I committed myself in my speech, as I always have, to work with and for anyone towards winning our independence – I’ll focus my efforts on things that are (in my view) actually going to persuade people to our side. To those who want to do other things, stroll on, but maybe while you’re at it have an honest discussion with yourself about whether you’re helping.

Because much as we were there to commemorate the Battle of Bannockburn, I wasn’t there to celebrate it. I don’t want independence because of old songs, battles, flags, and anthems – we’ve got all that now. They made us what we are but I don’t want to be a prisoner of them. I don’t want independence to be different, I want independence to be the same as other countries, with the normal powers of an independent state.

Above all I want to build a state where everyone, wherever they’re from, has a stake in our community now and our future too – if you’re here you’re one of us. There are some, not many but some, who would try to hijack our movement to sow discord and even ethnic division, which we reject them altogether – 1314 arguments won’t persuade naebody to our cause in 2023.

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Let us all agree too, independence isn’t about the current "here today, gone tomorrow" incumbent in 10 Downing Street. I have to see this rotten Tory government at close quarters, and you’ll have no arguments from me that they’re dreadful and Scotland can do better. But we’ll not win if we’re talking about them rather than the better Scotland we want to build.

And where there was largely a great atmosphere, and it was well organised, a small number of folks do need to have a think about whether they’re winning votes for Yes or losing them. I won Stirling by persuading moderate indy-curious, pro-EU Conservatives to lend me a vote, and many did. I hope they didn’t hear some of the chants I’m told (I didn’t hear them myself) that some folks thought was helpful. In a city where the Tories came second in the last three elections, those chants simply won’t help us win.

The No campaign is desperate to deal in caricatures – that we’re the divisive, nasty Nats that care more about the past than the future, or where someone’s from than whether they’re here now. Nothing could be further from the truth, but when did that ever stop them? We must not give them ammo, we have to go high when they go low. Most folks on Saturday did that – but not everyone – and all of us need to do better.

There’s a great campaign ahead of us and after yesterday’s statement by out leader, I’m excited. But we need to win and we’ll only win by persuading people we deserve their support. The people of Scotland are looking to us for hope, reassurance and inspiration, and I’m confident we’re up to it – but all of us need to rise to that challenge.