THE cry of “yes” echoed from the top of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill on Saturday as Alex Salmond made a rousing rallying call urging thousands of independence campaigners to vote for a new future of prosperity and equality.
The First Minister declared that Scotland was a “nation on the march” as he addressed the Saltire-waving and tartan-clad followers who had marched through Edinburgh to the summit to show their support for independence.
“How are we going to vote next year?” yelled Salmond as he reached the end of a speech, which saw him accuse his opponents of peddling fear and doubt to thwart the independence cause.
“Yes,” rang out the reply.
“Let’s do it one final time so that they can hear it on the River Thames,” was Salmond’s response. “This is a country and a nation on the march...How are we going to vote next year?” he repeated.
A final “yes” escaped from the throats of the multitude as the First Minister left the stage, constructed specially for the Independence March and Rally.
With a year to go to the referendum, estimates of turn-out varied from the 8,300 figure put forward by Police Scotland to the far more optimistic 20,000 to 30,000 attendance claimed by the event organisers.
But by whatever measure used, it appeared the numbers that thronged to Calton Hill were in excess of the 5,000 estimated when a similar gathering was organised almost exactly a year ago in Princes Street Gardens.
“The challenge was to fill the hill. I think we could have filled all seven hills in our capital city,” was the way Salmond put it as he opened his speech. The First Minister described the referendum as an “unrivalled opportunity” to achieve something no previous generation of Scots had ever done.
“To vote this nation into a new future of prosperity and equality – and to do so in a totally peaceful, civic and democratic manner,” Salmond said.
With opinion polls suggesting that Yes Scotland is facing an uphill struggle, the First Minister warned his supporters that the forces ranged against them were “powerful and great”.
Salmond said: “For generations they have preyed on fear and doubt. They peddle fear, they thrive on doubt. They even now call themselves Project Fear. But doubts can be overcome and fears can be dispelled.
“For years this nation’s resources have bankrolled Westminster. For 40 years they have told us we are subsidised, for 50 years they have polluted this country with missiles and bombs and told us it was all for peace. For a quarter of a century they have promised us progress, but delivered us the fourth most unequal society in the developed world. These forces are powerful. But look around, friends. Feel your strength. We gathered here are the change we wish to see.”
As he renewed his pledge to renationalise the Royal Mail in an independent Scotland, Salmond was keen to emphasise that voting Yes was not simply about a win for the SNP.
“A Yes vote next September will not be a victory for the SNP, or the Yes campaign, or even the huge coalition of interests and enthusiasm gathered here today,” he said.
“It will be the people’s victory. ‘Yes’ will be act of self-confidence and self-assertion which will mean that decisions about what happens in Scotland are always taken by the people who live and work here – not by a remote Westminster system.”
Salmond’s appearance on the stage and the gigantic television screens put up on the hill and at its foot was just one cameo during a colourful event, which saw the independence grassroots joined by some of the Yes campaign’s high-profile supporters.
Objection to Westminster rule was a recurring theme as speaker after speaker, including Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Yes Scotland chairman Dennis Canavan and the campaign’s chief executive Blair Jenkins, took to the stage to say why they believed in independence.
The actress Elaine C Smith, who compered the event, spoke of the chance to create a democratic parliament with a written constitution where sovereignty lay with the people of Scotland.
She also distanced herself from the notion put forward by some independence supporters that there are distinctive “Scottish values” north of the Border.
“I don’t think that as Scots we are better than any other nation,” Smith said. “But what I do know is that we are every bit as good as any other nation.”
Supporting Yes did not make independence supporters more Scottish than those Scots on the other side of the argument, she said.
“We have a common bond in that we all want to make things better. Where we differ is how we can achieve that,” she said.
The speakers were interspersed with contributions from independence supporting musicians, including a rendition of Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye sung by Eddi Reader, Sheena Wellington and Dolina MacLennan.
That was followed by Wellington singing Robert Burns’ expression of an egalitarian society, A Man’s A Man for A’ That, which she sang when the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999.
The march had begun around four hours earlier at noon when a pipe band struck up to a great cheer and led the marchers from the Royal Mile, along North Bridge before turning right at Waterloo Place up Calton Hill. “Intellectually and technologically we are such a strong country, but we are being held back. It is about time we stood on our own two feet,” said Dean Burrow, 26, who with his wife Maggie had entered into the spirit of the occasion by dressing in a tartan onesie.
But Yes Scotland’s opponents were unimpressed by the event. “It’s a shame the supporters from the nearby Hibs v St Mirren game didn’t pop along to double the attendance,” said the Tory MSP Murdo Fraser.