Alistair McConnachie published Sovereignty from July 1999 to its 120th consecutive monthly issue in June 2009, and he continues to maintain this website.
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|"HOLYROOD... WE HAVE A PROBLEM!"
... say 15,000 on rural protest march. Alistair McConnachie reports. Below, Alistair McConnachie and Kirstin McBride with the Sunday Telegraph article about her, which appeared on the same day.
In what was the largest rural protest march ever in Scotland, Sunday 16th December 2001 saw 15,000 protestors march through Edinburgh under the banner "Freedom for the Countryside".
Billed "The March on the Mound" - the "Mound" being a road running through the centre of Edinburgh, and where the Scottish Parliament is presently located - it was organised by the Scottish Countryside Alliance, and saw protestors arrive from all over Britain, including Cornwall, Devon and Wales.
Eight Sovereignty activists were present and distributed 3,000 leaflets, advertising our Website and Journal as a premier resource on countryside issues.
The Rally began at 12 noon in The Meadows, a large park near the centre of Edinburgh.
Ronnie Brown formerly of "The Corries" folk group, opened the proceedings in song (pic left). Speeches followed for half an hour, and the marchers heard from:
Allan Murray, Director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, who set the scene by emphasising "freedom to choose". He called for "fairness, tolerance and justice" against "ignorance, prejudice and bigotry".
Roy Rowntree, a gamekeeper, called on the marchers "to fight ignorance and to fight the arrogance which threatens the survival of our country and our countryside." They were there, he said, to fight "the poison coming from the rabble on the Mound."
He ended, "We are here to fight, to defend rural rights, to protect rural minorities and to address real rural problems. We are here to educate the ignorant, to humble the arrogant, so march with your heads high, for your countryside, for my land, for your land, for Scotland."
Mike Rumbles, Lib Dem MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire emphasised the loss of jobs and services throughout the rural communities. He said that 2,000 rural post offices closed during the period of the last British government, and 200 are being closed down each year. He reminded the marchers of the prediction of Lord Haskins, the "Rural Recovery Minister" that half of all farms would go bust in the next 20 years.
David McLetchie MSP, the Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, called the Land Reform Bill a "bureaucratic nightmare" which was "unnecessary and positively damaging to the interests of those who live and work in Scotland's countryside."
He called for "a recovery plan to help the economy from the damage inflicted by the consequences of Foot and Mouth, and the damage which has been done to our tourist industry."
A plan was needed, he said, which would "focus on agriculture and tourism, bring investment to our roads and help to protect many of the small skills which are at the heart of rural communities."
"Instead", he said, "we have a Hunting Ban, and Land Reform Bill, schools closing and roads going unrepaired and unimproved. And at the same time, tens of millions of pounds are wasted on the folly which is the new Scottish Parliament building, which sees money going down the drain week after week. It is not only the new Edinburgh disgrace, it is Scotland's disgrace. There are far too many people in our government and rulers today who are deaf, indifferent and ignorant to the needs of the Scottish countryside. We have to make them listen. We have to turn indifference into concern, and ignorance into understanding. Do not despair. Let's keep going, because you are right, and ultimately right will prevail."
Tom Parker, a dog handler, said many people felt "excluded, not included" in the Scottish Parliament. He berated the Executive for "trying to thrust their moral values on us and their moral values don't stand up to scrutiny. So we've got to keep together and keep pushing. Now is the time for everybody to go and see their MSPs or their MPs."
In an obvious reference to the newly formed Direct Action group "Rural Rebels" which, in the manner of the anti-globalisation protestors, has adopted a boiler suit identity, he said, "If this Executive doesn't start to listen and start to listen soon, we'd better all start ordering Orange Boiler Suits."
Baroness Ann Mallalieu, President of the Countryside Alliance, spoke about "the fight against bigotry, intolerance and the bullies who use their power in office, not to do good, but to force their personal prejudices on others". She called for politicians to fight "the real problems of the countryside".
John Jeffrey, farmer and former Scotland rugby team player stated, "You'd better believe it. Our countryside is in crisis."
He emphasised that the March concerns were wider than the proposed ban on foxhunting. It ranged from the closure of large and small rural business, and the closure of schools and post offices.
He stated that the appointment of Lord Watson - the man behind the hunting bill - to the post of Minister for Sport and Tourism was, "Quite frankly, taking the piss." To cheers he added, "And I don't know about you, but I don't like people taking the piss out of me!"
He concluded that it was time to show Mr Blair "the depth of our feelings. And if he thinks we are going to lie down, then he is gravely mistaken. All we are asking for is our rights. We want freedom for the countryside. We want freedom for a say in the issues which affect us. We want freedom for our families to enjoy the rural life, and we want freedom for us to make the very best of this great land."
He introduced Ronnie Brown again, to lead the marchers in Flower of Scotland. John Jeffrey emphasised that the words of the song, 'And fought and died for our wee bit hill and glen', were, for him, very poignant. He ended, "That is what I am prepared to do."
The March set off and took approximately an hour and 15 minutes to pass.
The March organisers attempted, fairly successfully, to bring all of this under the slogans "Freedom for the Countryside" and "Save Rural Jobs".
Immediately after the March, Sovereignty activists who had been delivering leaflets, repaired for a brainstorming session. Here are some of our ideas. Firstly, we examined some of the familiar refrains heard from rural activists:
"Nobody is listening to us"
"Urban People do not Understand Rural People"
"The Urban Population isn't Listening"
Moreover, in many cases, it is not true. Many in the urban population are watching and listening, and many are sympathetic. Rather, it is the urban political class which can present the problem, not the urban people. It's the politicians not the population.
SOME SUGGESTIONS TO HELP RURAL ACTIVISTS MOVE FROM
PROTEST TO PROPOSITION:
This may be true, but it is not a particularly robust or effective political position.
Politics is about saying what you want, and working to achieve it. Therefore, at the same time as you protest, it's also necessary to propose; in the clearest, most succinct terms possible, and in a way which will appeal to the widest possible constituency. So:
Recognise that Urban and Rural People have a Common Enemy
Link your Issues with Urban Examples wherever Possible
SOME ISSUES WHICH RURAL CAMPAIGNERS COULD CONTINUE TO EMPHASISE AND BUILD ALLIANCES AROUND
Calling for a Public Enquiry into the Foot and Mouth crisis is all very well. However, we have already had two public enquiries in the 1950s and 60s which basically said everything there is to say and which were simply ignored by the Government.
The reason the countryside went into "shut down" in 2001 was due entirely to the slaughter policy. Vaccination would have allowed the countryside to function as normal and FMD would, almost immediately, have become just like any other animal disease which the public never hears about and doesn't care about.
The fact is: If you don't want the countryside to be put through that trauma again, then vaccination is the only answer. Sure, call for a "Public Enquiry" but it is vaccination which will prevent a repeat of the 2001 disaster.
IS A BIG FIGHT BREWING?
Therefore, and without taking a position on the fox-hunting debate per se, we think the government is relying on the innate respect that most country folk have for "the law" - whatever that law may be - to simply get their way.
However, it is pretty obvious that if hunting with dogs were to be banned, and massed ranks, this size and larger, simply chose to ignore "the law", then it is difficult to see what the authorities could do about it. The "law" would quickly become unworkable.
Is a big fight brewing?