Oban became the Road to the Referendum for the day; and the Isles confidently stepped out onto that road. A large banner for Yes Mull and Iona was held aloft just behind our own contingent as we passed through the town: us, and seven thousand others, in a tremendous display for a place of the size of Oban. Equally impressive was the welcome from the townsfolk and tourists watching along the route, on the roadside or from the windows above. Not just watching, but mostly smiling, with many holding up indy posters or waving small Saltires distributed for this All Under One Banner march.
It is not just the venue that was a first for the indy marches. It is also the first time that Yes Ross Sutherland has sent a self-drive minibus of marchers. Previously we have had a coach or two, but Oban was one of a number of smaller marches run this year for which such a level of engagement was sadly not justifiable. But thanks to the drive, and the driving, of Richard Scott of the Yes Strathpeffer team, a mix of Yessers from Sutherland, Ross-shire and Inverness, including local members of Saor Alba Pipes and Drums, headed off for the day.
It was also an indy march first in other ways. Presumably because Oban is a road bottleneck along the Argyll coast, the march was kept to one side of the road to allow cars to travel in the opposite direction, separated from the marchers and many indy dogs by no more than the white lines. And perhaps not unrelated, there was a larger police presence than at the other local marches. Not that they had any work to do, and as ever they seemed to be relaxed about the occasion. But full marks go to the woman beside us who made a point of having a quick cheerful word with the officers stationed along the route, leaving each with a smile or a laugh.
Probably a further first was the appearance of Yes yachts, with at least two spotted in the harbour in front of the town sporting Yes Saltires in their rigging. But possibly the most memorable first of this march was that we all got a good soaking. Aye, there have been short, sudden showers before, in Glasgow a couple of years back and in Inverness last year. But those were once folk had reached the destination field, and were free to hurriedly volunteer to help on the many gazebo stalls. In Oban, showers are made of sterner stuff, and hit early and hit long. Nevertheless, Yessers are themselves hardy – though far from stern – and the summer rain only served to add that special something to the day. And as if to apologise, the clouds parted before the suns rays just in time for the turn of Saor Alba to take the limelight once we had finally reached the shinty ground.
Indeed, the journey home was a particularly stunning one, with the late sun bringing out the best of the hill and water vistas, and of the fresh lilac expanses of foxglove-covered slopes and rhody-infested woods. Infested, because though colourful, rhododendron is an intrusive menace, choking out diversity. So too are the inevitable cluster of loyalist youngsters grouped round that feature of all indy marches, arch-unionist McConnachie and his microphone. Makes you wonder what they seek to achieve; hardly encouragement, as a tiny band massively outnumbered, the subject of bemusement and photographs by the passing Yessers, and of disdain, surely, from bystanders.
Not that this is the only regular unionist input to the indy marches. Much more concerning is the emerging pattern of last-minute bureaucratic challenges to the well-laid and publicised march plans from within corners of officialdom in public bodies, in this case Argyll & Bute Council, whether acting independently or by prompt. But an equally proven pattern is the resolve of AUOB, backed by the Yes grassroots, to face down these spurious challenges. With such resolve, we can but win through to independence. (Though a penny or two to the AUOB crowdfunding wouldn’t do any harm, of course.)