17th August 2019
There is an interesting and important debate to be had soon in Scotland, one that has been needed in all nations decoupled from the (or any) Empire: should the names, the markers, the reminders of imperial overlordship be expunged in a cultural Year Zero, or should historical memories be maintained no matter how uncomfortable? In fact, the debate may have started.
We marched the length of Union Street, still the focal thoroughfare for Aberdeen, even if now more for access to the malls on side streets than a shopping mecca itself. At one point the Yes march filled the street along its length and in its breadth, neither noted for being small. AUOB say over 12,000 of us; it would be easy to believe a higher figure, and it certainly had the desired impact in the first such march in our third city by size. So much so that in the rally in Castlegate, one of the speakers at the Mercat Cross suggested Union Street be renamed Saltire Street. A liberating new
start, or an accommodation with the past?
Aberdeen is a schizophrenic city. In cloudy moments, it is a dour, drab place (though not without its granite chic); but in times of sunshine, it morphs into an incredible sparkling stonework of spires.
We saw both. As the YRS bus contingent from Sutherland to Nairn were midway along Union St, a heavy downpour appeared from nowhere, and left no time to don raincoats. But at the rally, we were bathed in more than compensatory sun, watching the rest of the march come down the street and checking out stalls and friends, old and new. Unlike other marches, we were rallying in full view of the town, and were in turn enjoying the glinting townscape.
After a relative increase for Oban, police numbers were again very low for all that there were of folk filling the centre of Aberdeen, with no need for any exertion on their part. Not that police look today as they used to. Apart from getting younger, they are displaying individuality more, and not just in beards. One young short-sleeved officer had not only paid much attention to her day’s makeup, but sported an intricate arm-length tattoo. Mingling by such police just added to the colourful diversity of the day.
As of course did the inevitable shouting from the small group of unionists, not many more than seen
in much smaller places. The Press & Journal caption may have said there were 25,000 of them (an error for which they have publicly eaten humble pie), but the paper would have been much nearer the mark if it had lost three zeros. And indeed, the tales of the less strident of their number having been coaxed at random out of the bar for a £20 note may be more than just idle rumour: YRS got a report from a reliable roadside observer of seeing one putting his rolled up Union Flag in his back pocket, going along the pavement a bit from his erstwhile comrades, then heading into the march to join some Yesser pal he had spotted.
Our driver from D&E is owed special mention for his accommodating approach to the day. In fact, all our bus drivers have been helpful and pleasant; though this one was happy to drive us the length of Saltire Street to recover the errant soul who was about to be marooned in the city. Such relaxed
determination typified the day. The driver had been in a supermarket when the cloudburst had drummed its roof, and said he had been fearful for his charges out on the march. But out on the
march, the answer to the deluge had been to raise a big cheer.