Iain Black: Thank You for 2014

Ben Wray

Iain Black, co-convenor of the Scottish Independence Convention and Voices for Scotland board member, publishes a note of thank you to everyone he campaigned with in the 2014 referendum, and explains why that campaign meant so much to him

As part of the five year anniversary, I wanted to contribute a very personal and local thank you, written to all those people with whom I campaigned during the first Scottish independence referendum.  I posted it on Facebook on 31 December 2014.

It is a story of one perspective in the Yes Edinburgh North and Leith. It may resonate with your story, it may not. But for me, the friends mentioned are still my friends, the best I have ever had and could ever wish for. The campaign still consumes me.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to read this again.  I had expected the five years to have hardened my nostalgic gaze, I was expecting to find what I had written naive and romantic, from a campaigner now seasoned by the intervening days.  But just like I was when I wrote it, I am sitting here with tears in my eyes as I consider what we did between 2012 and 2014.  We won the campaign despite losing the vote. We raised Scotland’s ambition. We inspired independence campaigns in Catalonia and Cymru. Throughout the whole slow moving Brexit shambles we ensured another voice whispered – ‘Scotland has a way out of this…’..  We, the grassroots, made Scottish Independence inevitable.


IN MANY ways this post should have come on about the 20 September, but like most I was too raw to write it.

2014 has been the most incredible year of my life and I wanted to write and say thank you, thank you to the many incredible people who have been part of it. With you I have laughed, cried, shared cold fingers and sunny days, late nights and hangovers, cycled many miles, spent countless hours on social media and on email, have been blown around and climbed many, many, many stairs, have pushed hundred of buzzers and inquired, ever so politely but with the zeal and belief of a converting religion, “could you let us in so we can deliver something about the referendum?”

We have counted hundreds of thousands of leaflets and newspapers into piles (350,000 at best estimate for YENL) and driven round and round our streets delivering them to the leafleting teams, who have walked round and round and up and down and delivered them. We have stood together on countless street corners, typically though you had to wait as I arrived, slightly manically, with countless canvass sheets and ready loaded canvass bags, and then off you headed without a moments hesitation (or at least just a brief moment to find out where you were on the map) to “ask people a couple of quick questions” about independence. A couple of quick questions that could easily last 20 minutes as we debated the finer points of microeconomics or the abstract benefits of being captains of our own ship.

We met, planned, drank, discussed, supported, argued, smiled, lifted, lugged, put up gazebos, designed, bought and distributed badges and posters, designed, bought and distributed more badges, more posters, more badges, more posters and then finally more badges and more posters until North Edinburgh and Leith was a wall to wall advert for Yes and more importantly, it voted Yes. We owned the Kirkgate, we owned Easter road, Pilrig church, Elm row, Drylaw shops, Boswall parkway, Granton road and Newhaven road. We were there come rain, wind or rain.

So to Paul Martin, Mr gazebo, the glue that held us together from the earliest days, thank you, from where I was standing no one lifted more boxes, made people feel more welcome, had more campaigning ideas and provided more kindness and hard work than you. To Rob, whose hard work well before and during the campaign, along with Anne Dana, Ian Dick (and so many long term SNP members) laid the foundations upon which we can now build so high, thank you.

READ MORE: Indyref at 5: Contribute to our special week of coverage 16-20 September

To Ian Dommett, if we had been paid per word or thought on the campaign we would both be able to retire now, I found the time we spent examining the voters psyche and what could be done to persuade them, fascinating and exciting. Learning from your knowledge and experience made me a much better campaigner and has made me a much better lecturer. I will never forget our twice daily meetings toward the end where you, Jason and I would load up and head off to every corner site in the area to talk, wave flags and create a positive buzz, thank you. So much of the 50 per cent increase in support for Yes is down to you.

To the brains trust: Jane and Tam and Marje, thank you for the truly amazing, best-thing-done-in-Scotland-during-the-whole campaign that was Leith Says Aye, and for so much more, we all look forward to it again this year. Another Festival is Possible. To Jacqueline for the quiet support throughout and the wonderful organisation of polling day and the count. To Jason MacGilip, a big man with a big sense of humour and big brain, you were an amazing source of clarity within the ever changing maelstrom of news, arguments and ideas that made up the campaign – then and now. Onwards my friend. To Craig, for the emails and their laugh-out loud moments (trip trap, trip trap, we are the 300!) and the stunningly efficient IT systems and websites you built. To Scott MacDonald, Mr YesMo, battling with that systems limitation to produce so many list and then to get the data entered and for your thoughtful insight on the twists and turns of the campaign, they have helped me frame more of my own politics, thank you. Thank you too, to all our new comrades in the SSP, RIC and the Greens. To Deirdre, for the help with the battles in the council and for seeing you at many canvass sessions. To Olive, the purse strings were managed perfectly, I love your no nonsense style and thank you.

To Jamie Symkowiak our pocket rocket, charming the birds from the tree, leading where leadership was needed and for calming me down when I should have known better, I thank you. I am so proud that you and now 11 others are looking for nomination to be the SNP’s candidate for the Westminster election. Marjorie Farquharson, listening to you phone canvass was like listening to waves from the ocean; wonderful and irresistible. Your gentle, powerful, inclusive manner seemed to me, to open so many minds in one of the toughest of campaigning tasks, thank you.

Stewart Bremner, the artist to the revolution, thank you for beauty and thoughtfulness you created: the beauty of your designs and the thought provoking way by which they made their point.

To the Edinburgh North team and our polling district groups that made delivery of materials so straightforward: To Fiona Campbell – give her a 1000 leaflets and they’d be out in a week, to Moni-Mr Amazing in West Pilton (70 per cent of whom voted Yes) when you weren’t on the radio or in a debate you were on the doorstep or the street corner, not letting anyone go until they’d been convinced, to George Gordon, give him 2600 newspapers and off they’d fly, to Fred Marinello, 1500 to him and the Roystons would get the message, thank you. To the Dudleys team and to Mark Coyle who covered so many of the new blocks north of lower Granton road, to all those with the thankless task of covering Trinity, even in that area we got close to 40 per cent, thank you. To Athol Bowman, a one man post office, thank you for always being available to cover a gap, and push another 500 pieces of material through local doors.

READ MORE: Val Waldron: Five years on, Scotland and the UK have changed dramatically since indyref1

To Lari and Miren Don, the crack mother and daughter team of deliverers, canvassers and speech givers, seeing your welcoming faces as I delivered you yet more leaflets late at night always made me feel that my efforts were not overbearing but welcome. Thank you, and thank you for laying waste to the lie of the nasty nationalist.

To Polly Thelwall thank you, thank you for making so many long bike journeys to reinforce us in the West. Whatever the weather, you were here, making me smile and be oh-so-glad for your company as I knew, when you were around we had a brilliant canvasser on our side. To Sara Marsden, another crack canvasser and confidante, if we could have got you in front of Alisdair Darling, I think you could have got him to change sides – thank you.

To Terrance and Kate, thank you for creating the most inspiring, beautiful shop in the Yes movement, personifying the type of hopeful, thoughtful, positive campaign we ran. Thank you for the coffee and the pastries and the understanding during those visceral weeks in June and July when the shop was opened. To Dani and Ian Simpson, Norman and the team of volunteers with whom I worked to get the office ready and working, thank you. Thank you for your patience at our struggles with getting systems in place that would hold up to the wonderful chaos created by new people with different (often better!) ideas of where things should go and how things should be done. My summer sessions with you in the office were spent blethering, swapping arguments that worked and listening to the news on the truly astounding job we helped do in getting Scotland registered to vote, I thank you and if you ever need a pair of scissors just let me know, I now have dozens.

To Dode’s thanks for the van, the music and the never used, but always good to have, karate skills. To Ros, Ross (and Max!) and Belinda and Michael, Jan, Graeme and Gavin Rankin, and the many other committed canvassers – you did the ego bruising, brain numbing, leg tiring work that more than anything moved EN&L from 30 per cent to 52 per cent. It was a privilege to knock so many doors with you and to listen to the 100’s of different reasons and motivations you had for wanting Independence. To Anne Meikle, for organising meetings and for giving the best hugs in YENL.

READ MORE: Karen Dietz: Remembering the Indy Choir

To Beth Watt and Barbara McNaugton, Neil Hay, Dave Sharp, Karen Newton, Sheena Jardine, Ben MacPherson and Fraser Thompson and all the other volunteers in all the other Edinburgh groups. Thank you for sharing super Saturdays, ideas, hope and hard work. To the tireless Fergus Henderson and Ian Grant, ploughing the rocky soil that is Edinburgh West, it was great to share a border with you and to always be able to rely on you. Bina and Colin, what passion and support you brought.

To Blair Jenkins, Stephen Noon, Shirley Anne, Ross Greer and the rest of the Yes HQ team, thank you for the opportunity to help and thank you, in particular, for the the most powerful tool we had as a campaign – the inclusive, positive, thoughtful culture that let so many great ideas flourish and inspired so many people in Scotland. I trust you are all rested, have lifted the weights you wanted and are ready for the fray once again.

To the Spaniards, the Catalan, the Basque, the Irish, the Poles, the English, Gywn and the Welsh legion, the Tibetans, sorry the Quebecans. Thank you.

To my old friends from around the world, some from my home town of Glasgow (the new Yes capital of Scotland) to all of you who sent messages of support and whose opinions you so kindly allowed me to try and sway, thank you. To those of you who live in England’s green and pleasant land, your messages of support reminded me of the hope for change that existed outside our wee corner of the world. My apologies in advance to you all however, as in the new year we will again fill social media with our cap in hand, “give us the powers you promised” message. Westminster – we are coming and we are going to create merry hell.

READ MORE: In Defence of 2014 – in defence of popular democracy

I have missed so many people out, by the end we were no longer the 10 from the first Drummond High meeting but we were the 450, thank you all. We changed Scotland, we have created the new narrative of Scotland, one where equality is more than a nice sentiment, it is something we demand and is possible and where the symbol of giving food to the monstrous network of foodbanks says “we will not stop until all those living in Scotland have the same opportunities and can receive the same helping hand”.

To Lisa and my children, for every hour I worked on the campaign, you matched me one for one. I owe you a thousand bath times and a thousand dinners, I owe you so much for talking me down so many times and providing love, kindness and understanding. Consigliera, I thank you and promise you this, I will stop talking about the referendum, soon. I love you.

So, thank you my friends, my comrades, thank you for 2014, I hope you have had a wonderful Christmas and all the best in the New Year.