The Scottish Parliament independence camp shows some will not move on from the referendum
When the Scottish Parliament independence camp pitched up in November, there was no reason to assume they would make it through the winter. Four months on and the camp, sitting on the edge of the parliamentary estate, next to a roundabout and underneath the Crags, seems a weirdly normal part of the landscape.
Officially known as the headquarters of the Sovereign Indigenous Peoples of Scotland, the group arrived with the aim of camping out next to Parliament until Scotland is independent.
The camp consists of a circle of caravans, camper vans and tents. Furniture seemed to proliferate. There are walkways made out of wooden pallets. Usually, once it gets dark and cold, they light a fire in the middle, a few hundred yards from the Parliament’s entrance.
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The residents were in court recently following the Parliament’s attempt to evict them. Lord Turnbull said he would consider the case and his judgement will likely be made public very soon.
For the media, the spectacle is pure gold. Representing yourself in court is a famously bad idea and the camp’s arguments for being allowed to stay – variously citing the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, the Act of Union and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – made for a pretty colourful day in court.
The campers have faced a fair amount of derision, and sitting in a tent on the edge of Arthur’s Seat from November to March, then being taken to court, doesn’t seem much fun. But in some ways I envy anyone, whether they voted Yes or No, who feels as sure as the campers do about politics.
Much of the referendum was dominated by arguments surrounding the impartiality of the media. But I spent the 18 months watching the campaign with absolutely no idea which side was right. It’s a lonely feeling to be sure of nothing at a time when everyone seems to be taking sides.
The vote came and went and the reactions varied. But almost everyone reading this – regardless of their political view – will have gone back to engaging in politics, in some way, at some level.
For me that meant following the trajectory of the Vow. The Smith Commission formed and then the Scotland Bill followed. After that came the General Election – in normal times the most exciting event possible for a political journalist in a peaceful country.
But others didn’t move on in the same way wider politics did. If you walk around almost any town in Scotland, 18 months on, you will still see Yes flags in windows. I would bet that those are not left up because the owners can’t be bothered to take them down – it’s because they can’t bear to.
And while I struggled to identify with either side during the referendum, the thing that I found exhilarating was the level of political engagement. For a few months it was electric.
There are people in Scotland who are accustomed to being listened to, and those who are not. The referendum debate seemed to change that. Everyone had a vote and for a time everyone was worth listening to.
The debate made people feel powerful. It gave them a greater sense of control over their own lives. Whether it was in the months leading to September 18 or just during the few seconds they held a ballot paper in their hand, Scots felt a new sense of political agency.
And so after the vote, some went back to normal mainstream politics, and others went back to the political edges. The independence campers, meanwhile, are a third group; people from the political fringes who held power, for a while, and now refuse to let go.
There is a good chance that, at some point over the next few weeks, the camp will not be there if you walk past parliament.
In some ways I’ll miss seeing it.
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