Scotland: activists re-energise with a shot of independence spirit

Scotland: activists re-energise with a shot of independence spirit, Sep 14, 2014

Pure essence of yes was mainlined to an ardent, elated crowd at Edinburgh's Usher Hall on Sunday evening, as the cream of Scotland's musical talent performed at A Night for Scotland, a concert aimed squarely at inspiring and energising independence supporters for the final campaigning drive before Thursday's referendum.

Frightened Rabbit, Amy MacDonald, Mogwai and Franz Ferdinand performed to a saltire-waving throng that required no encouragement: the all-ages audience of about 3,000 was vibrating with excitement to the extent that even a piped Proclaimers number during the interval spun folk into a sweat.

And why not? At the end of a two-year journey, both on and off stage there was a palpable sense of disbelief that the day was almost upon them, coupled with a buoyancy born of a gathering momentum that yes campaigners now believe will deliver them a victory this week.

Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, her husband and SNP chief executive, Peter Murrell, and the actors Kevin McKidd and Martin Compston mingled in the upper circle. Downstairs, punters clutched pints in plastic glasses and young couples rubbed shoulders in the dark.

The organiser, Tommy Sheppard, a comedy impresario and former assistant general secretary of the Scottish Labour party, insisted that this event was not a celebration but was intended to galvanise activists in the final hours of campaigning.

But inevitably this was also a night of anticipation: strangers grinned broadly at one another, performers spoke of their pride in the hard work of yes activists across the country.

At a moment when, according to the polls as well as the mood on the street, Scotland is more divided than it ever has been, this was a determined statement of the optimism, inclusiveness and rowdy good humour that has characterised the majority of the yes movement thus far.

"I love all the yes voters," announced the singer Eddi Reader, "and I love all the no voters too: I love them so much I want to give them a country."

This was indeed the yes movement talking to itself – a frequent criticism of the campaign – but tonighthere it was for good reason. If Saturday's Orange Order parade in the capital was a visceral reminder of an ugly, tone-deaf conservatism that persists in some parts of Scotland, this was an evening with its eye to the future.

Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh performed their Deacon Blue classic Wages Day, an anthem to Thatcher's Scotland, which plenty in the crowd were too young to remember. Hip-hop collective Stanley Odd brought the politics up to date with a set that encompassed voter apathy, junkie stereotypes and a question for the country: "Rule Britannia, cool Britannia, cruel Britannia – d'you want to stay the full Britannia?"

Mogwai's eardrum-rattling segment and MacDonald's sweet pop ballads offered a chance to concentrate on the music but, as a reminder of the seriousness of the hour, on a huge screen behind the performers the figure "3 days" remained illuminated.

Hosting the second half, Elaine C Smith, one of the independence campaign's most enduring and street-smart figures, raised panto boos for Douglas Alexander and Ruth Davidson, but the mood was never hostile. It felt light years away from the angry protests against BBC bias earlier on Sunday in Glasgow.

This was not a night for dwelling on the intricacies of currency options: "I only want to hear one word tonight, and that word is yes!" Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos told the cheering crowd. But there was also an understanding that these people, and the thousands more watching online, will be doing the talking over the next vital days, in TV studios and, more crucially, on the doorstep, in the playground and the work canteen.

Before Frightened Rabbit raised the roof with the final set, Smith reminded the audience that conversations are powerful things. "We're going to do this!"

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