It doesn’t seem like more than ten years since the massive anti-war demonstrations, held to dissuade Blair from joining with the US invasion of Iraq. Yet February 15th marked the date of the biggest peace rally in recent times.
I remember it well. It was one of those clear, bright February days, not unlike we’re experiencing at the moment. Glasgow Green was full of thousands of people – a police estimate of 30,000, and an organisers’ estimate of 80,000.
Amongst the marchers were the usual political types you usually find at rallies – the SNP, the Greens, the SSP, and even some Labour Against the War marchers. Then there were feminist groups, community groups, voluntary organisations, and a whole host of ordinary people who had given up their Saturday to come along.
As part of the day, I’d volunteered to help give out survey packs and do short interviews; I was at university and some of the staff were carrying out a study of the marchers. It was interesting speaking to people and finding out who they were – some were new to protesting, some had marched for various causes in previous decades.
It took a long time for all the marchers to leave the Green, and even longer for us all to assemble at the SECC. I remember getting to the SECC car park and, in the distance, barely seeing and hearing Tommy Sheridan delivering part of a speech, over the crowds.
Then, we drifted away – I went home to prepare for my 21st birthday night out (yes, I am that old now!), while most other people went to the pub.
It was a fantastic, one-off experience to be part off. I’ll remember the day as long as I live.
I’ll also always remember the more chaotic protest in George Square after the war was declared. “All I am saying – is get me a bus!” shouted one wag, who was walking through the Square and not impressed with the efforts of some protestors to block traffic. I remember another woman getting out her car and slamming the door in a rage at not being able to pass, and then looking somewhat sheepish as a TV crew spotted her, and descended on her for an interview.
The world has moved on since then, of course. The SNP was a rather turbulent party at the time, but, since then, we’ve overcome many of our differences.
The SSP, who were there in force, have largely disbanded. As I write this, I wonder what happened to the Labour Party Against the War group – I didn’t know any of them, although it would be interesting to know how many of them stayed with their party.
Things have also moved on for all the individuals there too, of course. A fair chunk of the people in my age group who were there that day have forgone post-protest pub sessions for marriage and kids. Some are even government ministers. Some have left Scotland altogether and are in far flung places; I think of I knew from school who I saw at the rally, who is now teaching down in England, and one of my friends, who is now in South Korea.
You could argue that the march was ultimately a failure. That they didn’t really changed anything.
But they did bring many, many thousands people together, united in a common cause – not just in Glasgow, or in Scotland, but across the world. People who, just for one day, were brought together in the cause of peace. And I think that’s something worth being proud of.
One of the many exciting things about the independence movement is that many other nations in Europe are also seeking their independence. The one that Scotland is most often compared to is Catalonia.
One of the current controversies going on in Catalonia is the issue of bullfighting. Traditionally, bullfighting is seen as a cruel Spanish cultural imposition on Catalonia. The Catalan government, acting with popular support in Catalonia, acted to ban bullfighting in 2010, with the legislation coming into force in 2011.
Numbers attending bullfights had dwindled, with some bullrings closing before the legislation was passed, because there was not enough trade to sustain them.
However, last week, the Spanish government began a process of enshrining bullfighting as part of the cultural heritage of Spain. This could be used to give bullfight organisers tax breaks. It could also be used to declare the bans on bullfighting in Catalonia and the Canary Islands illegal.
Catalonia, like Scotland, is moving towards an independence referendum. Similar debates are being had about entry to the European Union – in fact, in the course of researching this article, I found quite a few pieces about Scotland in Catalan online news sources.
It just seems very depressing that, in the 21st century, what has widely become regarded as a barbaric practice has become a political football, something that politicians in Madrid are seeking to foist upon unwilling parts of Iberia, in an argument about which culture should be dominant.
Correbous, similar to bullrunning, is popular in some parts of Catalonia; although that doesn’t involve killing bulls, it does sometimes involve attaching flares to their horns. There is an argument that Catalan nationalists are more interested in stopping a traditionally Spanish pursuit than they interested in promoting animal welfare.
But there’s no doubt that any moves by Spain to roll back the Catalan ban will be regarded with revulsion by most other Western countries.