I SPENT the bulk of last Saturday afternoon helping out in a voluntary capacity at a stall set up by the Prestwick branch of the SNP at a busy gala day at the town’s promenade on the beach.

Full disclosure – I am a member of the SNP’s Troon branch but as Prestwick is a five-minute train ride away and the weather was good enough to attract a relatively large number of people, it seemed a good use of time to drop by and distribute independence literature to those who turned up and talk through the issues with anyone interested in doing so. It was a great day, with pro-indy materials produced by the party and by Business for Scotland encouraging some positive chats.

The Prestwick SNP stall was next to a Yes Prestwick stall and there was plenty of good-natured banter between the two.

It’s impossible to say for sure whether any minds closed to the potential of independence were opened that afternoon but we must surely consider that a possibility. I like to think of such events as akin to planting a seed. We may not see the result at the time but ideas and information can take root and result in an enthusiastic Yes vote when the time comes.

Yet when photographs of the stall were posted on social media, they attracted criticism not just from those Unionists who take issue with the very suggestion that people should be exposed to arguments in favour of indy but from some within the movement itself.

They were unhappy because our support for independence took the form of a stall at a local event rather than attendance at an All Under One Banner march less than half an hour away in Ayr. Here are just a few of the comments posted:

  • “Couldn’t make it up the road to AUOB Ayr? So much for the SNP showing some unity with the Yes movement.”
  • “I’m looking forward to the SNP losing some 20+ seats at the GE. If we have to take a step backwards to move forward, so be it. The destruction of Yousaf/Sturgeon’s nuSNP will be worth the bitter blow of a defeat at the hands of Unionist parties. #ScotlandUnited anyone?’’
  • “Traitors! It’s time you all at the SNP realised that you are not the arbiters nor owners of the independence movement...”

I’m responding to such comments not because I challenge people’s right to make them. People are perfectly entitled to express their views and I defend that right. Nonetheless, such a public discourse on social media would benefit from some context.

No-one I spoke to at these stalls voiced any dissatisfaction with All Under One Banner or with any of the marches it has been successfully organising for years. Indeed, many were disappointed they felt unable to attend because of their commitment to take part in an event which they believed could reach local people who have not yet been convinced of the benefits of independence.

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I have attended many AUOB marches and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. When I was editor of the Sunday Herald and, later, The National, we devoted many pages to supplements covering the marches in words and pictures, in a way that other branches of the mainstream media refused to do.

I’ve never accepted criticism that such marches will never change the minds of those not yet convinced about independence – and indeed can prove to be an alienating factor in the campaign – and therefore serve no useful purpose.

Even if they appeal mainly to those already in the movement, they provide inspiration, support and a feeling of unity for those taking part and that’s a useful function in itself.

But large, inclusive, well-behaved and even joyful shows of strength can show the public that support for independence remains high and positive and act as persuasive public relations exercises. That’s not nothing.

The National: Yes supporters at a rally in Glasgow in 2014

I can remember the heady days leading up to the 2014 referendum when the Yes campaign dominated the streets of Glasgow. There were stalls along Buchanan Street and enthusiastic crowds in George Square. The atmosphere was febrile and engaged political discussions were everywhere.

But, I hear you say, we did not win our independence – and that, of course, is true (although Glasgow voted Yes). However, the campaigning significantly increased the Yes vote from around 28% to 45%.

Although I believe marches certainly act as a feelgood boost for those taking part and also have the potential to increase the Yes vote, I don’t believe they are the only way to win over voters. They are one element in a range of tactics to win the support of those who are either yet to make up their minds or still need convinced that independence offers the best future for our country and those who live here.

Traipsing the streets delivering leaflets hardly generates the endorphins in the way a large-scale march can but it certainly puts important information into the hands of voters who may still be unaware of all the arguments in support of voting Yes.

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Indeed, this paper collaborated with Believe in Scotland and the SNP to produce an eight-page special newspaper to get the pro-independence message into a million homes all over Scotland. It was a huge undertaking and involved a lot of hard work from those involved to put together.

But when the presses rolled on the finished product that was far from the end of the story. Volunteers still had to wear out the shoe leather delivering the newspaper throughout their local communities. It was tiring ... but I think most independence supporters would agree it was worthwhile.

Yes groups all over Scotland organise stalls and meetings month after month, week after week, day after day.

I defy anyone to argue that these local events are less important than AUOB marches. Both have their place in an overall Yes campaign if we are to reach our goal. If every one of us wins a single voter to our side then we will comfortably win the next vote.

The National:

How exactly we achieve that next vote is not straightforward. But while we work towards the answer, the last thing we need are social media spats throwing shade on those who calculate that they can be most effective on a given day by concentrating on those attending local events rather than joining those already converted on a march that was always going to attract healthy numbers.

It was interesting to note that many of those indulging in criticism of those manning the stalls were supportive of the principle of Scotland United.

It doesn’t seem to me very united to attack those who are spending their own time campaigning for independence in their own way. It makes me suspect the call for unity is a thinly veiled bid to undermine the SNP, still the most popular political party in Scotland by some considerable distance and still the only political route to overcoming the obstacles Westminster puts in our way.

Ask yourself if social media attacks help or hinder the case for Yes. Ask yourself if it is sensible to abandon local campaigning in a local community event whenever they clash with an independence march. Both forms of campaigning are worthwhile and it ill behoves an independence supporter to criticise anyone who gives freely of their time and energy to work for independence.

The suggestion that it’s necessary to give the SNP a bloody nose to refocus the party on independence doesn’t bear much scrutiny. The party has new leadership, with the avowed aim of strengthening ties with the wider Yes movement.

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It has vowed to make support for independence central to its election manifestos. And indeed there have been SNP speakers at wider Yes events. Humza Yousaf and independence minister Jamie Hepburn will both speak at a march and rally for an independent Scotland in the EU in Edinburgh on September 2 organised by Believe in Scotland and Yes for EU.

Make no mistake ... these are perilous times for Scotland’s democracy. Westminster is challenging legislation approved by the Scottish Government. UK politicians, after disgracefully ruling out our right to vote on independence, are now agitating against even Holyrood’s right to enact key manifesto commitments to put forward the pro-independence argument.

It’s essential that the Yes movement strongly resists these attacks with every tool at our disposal. There should be no room for sniping at those activists who decide that there are times when we need gala stalls and talking to people face to face as well as marches. For me that would be the real meaning of Scotland united.