bi Stuart McHardy
This time o the year as the 10th o April approaches A aye mind whit happent in 1992. Back then a bunch o fowk gaithert on the Friday nicht on Regent Road tae protest agin the election result which saw Scotland bein ruled bi a pairty hardly onie o us had voted fer. The cry was fer a Scottish Parliament but there wis nae wey that the Tories in Londin wuid listen tae oniethin like yon.
The protest wis stairtit by Scotland Campaign to Resist the Atomic Menace, a bunch o crusaders agin Dounreay Nuclear Power station and they had hiedit doun tae the capital tae tak a stand. Uisin their ain contacks an the phone trees developt bi the Anti-Poll Tax movement they’d managed tae drum up some support an aroun twa hunder fowk turnt up on Regent Road across fae the then Scottish Office an ootside the gates o the Royal High Schol, that sae mony fowk wantit tae be the site fer a Scottish parliement. There wis a bit o buzz in the air – no jist anger but a hairt-felt need tae be daein somethin in the face o sic a dreadfu democratic deficit that saw us deprived o aw pouer in oor ain land. It wisnae lang efitr fowk had gaithert that a wee whisper stairtit spreidin aroun. Raither no the weekend protest that SCRAM had pit thegither, hou shuid we no mak it a permanent protest til there wis sic a baist as a Scottish parliement?
It happent fast. Suin discussions were takkin place atween wee groups o fowk as tae whit wis tae be duin. An suin enuch it wis decidit. A permanent protest, a Vigil fer a Scottish Parliement. Bi the Minday it wis up an rinnin an fer the next five year ye cuidnae gang alang Regent Road withoot seein the flame o democracy burnin in a stinky auld yle barrel.
Nou fae the aff it wis settled that fowk wuid dae twa hour shifts an there wis nae lack o fowk ready tae dae their bit – some daein a hell o a lot mair nor twa hours at a go, an some comin in fae as far awa as Inverness an ayont tae dae a few hours ivvery month or so. Ithers cam aince a week, some aince a day. An as it settled doun there wis a bit o a stramash as various o the political pairties tried tae tak it ower – nae chance, tho fer a wee while there were fowk haein ‘offcial poseetions’ as Democracy fer Scotland briefly ettlit tae be a anither political pairty. It didnae last.
Nou the Vigil wis supportit by fowk fae aw walks o life, kiltit, hairy Weejie rockers an blue-rinsed Torie wifies were baith seen aroun the place bit ithers were getting intae the fecht. Apairt fae Common Cause an Charter 88 the political pairties began tae tak up the notion o devolution. An in steppit the Labour Pairty – an A’ll no tell ye whit A think o them – tae pit thegither Scotland United. Pretty suin they had groups in aw the major cities o Scotland an were organisin big rallies like the ain in George Square in Glesga.
Fae the aff tho, tho there wis somethin wrang wi Scotland United. Whan twa representatives fae the Vigil turnt up at George Square they wer alloued tae the platform but werenae alloued tae speak. Weel we aw ken the Labour Pairty’s idea o democracy – gie’s yer vote and dae’s yer tellt.
Still the Vigil wis daein whit it wis set up tae dae, an een tho we werenae alloued on the the platform at the big demo on 12/12/92 we cuidnae be pit aff. We jist cairriet on – wi fund raisers on Calton Hill an stalls gettin set up aw ower Scotland tae get he siller we needit tae cairry on – an fowk wuid come bi wi wuid fer the fire – jiners, shop-fitters an gairdeners, an ither fowk fae bakeries and cafes wuid bring grub at the end o near ilka day – an fer a wee whilie the Vigil got a bit ower muckle like a soup kitchen.
But that passt an on we went, wi street theatre an fancy dress events tae nark the fowk in the Scottish Office (tho we had lots o support mang the warkers there) – wi the odd Scots history class an music session flung in roun the brazier.
Then an oorie thing happent – weel mebbe no that oorie. Echteen month eftir they had startit up wi paper hats and trumpets, Scotland United foldit. Jist like that. The twa lads that had been runnin it baith walkit oot, they were employit in the office o an MP cried George Galloway, best kennt these days fer makin an erse o hissel on Big Brither. Baith resignit on the same day an that wis the end o Scotland United. An A hae nae doot that the Labour Pairty thocht that wis the end o devolution forbye. Houaniver they hadnae reckont on the Vigil. The thing is the fowk at the Vigil didnae really ken whit wis happenin – they were jist plain bluidy thrawn. They werenae gonna shift.
Ye hae tae mind tho, that in the the early 1990s aw the papers were dumbin doun at an affy rate – led bi yon shinin beacon o truth an honour Rupe the Scoop Murdoch. Stories nou wuid only be rin gin ye cuid get a picture tae gang alang wi them – eftir aw the man or wumman in the street wis thick, richt?
But there wis ae unforeseen side-effect o this. Whanivver onieboadie said oniethin aboot devolution the editors wuid snap, “What’s the picture?” An there sittin on Regent Road wis a blue an white Portakabin, a burnin oil-drum, a Scottish flag, a wee sculpture bi George Wiley an ivvery day at least ae Vigilator. In retrospect that’s mebbe aw we did – provide a fotie opportunity fer the press, bit ye cannae tell me that it didnae keep the story o devolution in the public eye.
The year eftir it aw feenisht an we had oor Parliement on the wey we aw met up an had abit crack. The idea we were nae mair nor a fotie opportunity wis a bit o let doun, tho we had duin whit we stairtit oot tae dae. An by we A mean aw the fowk that came aince,or twice, or ten times, or a thoosan – we were aw init thegither, nae leaders, nae comatees, nae manifestos jist sheer bluidy determination tae get somethin duin.
An the next day whit wis there on the back page o ane o the Sunday blatts – a picture o the Vigil, wi the story that the road wis getting wident an the pavey whaur the fire an the Portakabin uised tae sit wis taen awa. The paper cried it Donald Dewar’s revnege fer they kennt fine he had hated the Vigil wi a pashion. But we didnae care. An nou whan some o us meet up – an we’re getting aulder, an slower an greyer, there’s some daft bugger ay says, come on let’s dae it again till we get it richt an awa fae Doun There awthegither!