by Samhuinn Watt
Mainland Europe continues to watch on in awkward bewilderment, as the Westminster government's handling of the Brexit disaster stumbles its way drunkenly, but with cussed determination, ever higher up a mountain of idiotic indignity. Britain is currently regarded over here as something between a once beloved cousin who's lost her way and slowly burned all her bridges in the process, and a laughing stock. On more than one occasion I've experienced a German cast his eyes to the heavens, let out a wistful little sigh while slowly shaking his head, then chuckle to himself and ask what those scheiss Inselaffen (bloody island apes) will come up with next. I would wish anyone luck in trying to come up with a period in its modern history where Britain's stock in Europe has been lower.
On 16th March however, in the midst of Britain's great shambles, a powerful statement was made on the warmth of feeling and strong bond of solidarity that extends towards Scotland from its continental neighbours. If Scotland has doubts about how it is thought of in Europe beyond the confused island it finds itself adrift on, the Germans for Scottish Independence demonstration that made its way through Berlin, concluded by a series of passionate speeches at its terminus, should assuage some of them.
Around 150 marchers braved a chilly Berlin day, a mix of Scots who had travelled from the Mawland, from all over Germany and beyond, a fair number of Germans and a sprinkling of supporters from various other countries. The march set off from near the Brandenburg Gate, on ground that, as event co-organiser Colin MacPherson pointed out, had once belonged to the no man's land of the Berlin Wall "death strip". Marchers were invited to think about how important popular pressure had been in bringing about the removal of the Wall and the demise of a government that had actively worked against its own citizens, while they walked a couple of hundred yards down the road for a brief stop outside the British Embassy. After a few words there from guest speaker Pat Lee about "the flag of tyranny, of subjugation and of absolute destruction around the world for hundreds and hundreds of years" that hangs from that building, the march carried on along its two mile route. Participants and onlookers were kept entertained on the way by two pipers and a mobile sound system playing a selection of Scottish songs.
The demo eventually finished up at the World Clock on Alexanderplatz, symbolically chosen both for the internationalism it represents and its historical role, from GDR times to the present day, as a gathering point for demonstrators. On arrival there followed an hour and a half of speeches, songs from folk musician Kevin Gore and the wonderful spectacle of a Strip the Willow being danced under the clock by a good number of those present.
Amongst the speakers there were contributions from Italy, Australia, Catalonia and The Netherlands, whilst planned speakers from Poland and France, being current UK residents, were forced to cancel due to Brexit uncertainty. When placed alongside several Scottish speakers based both back home and over here, this lent the whole event a truly international flavour. Giada Mazzetti, the founder of Italians for Scottish Independence, spoke about her love for Scotland and the mentality of its people, expressing the strong wish that she'll get to see an independent Scotland within the EU within her lifetime, therefore retaining the option to make it her home someday. Raimond Dijkstra of The Netherlands for Scottish Independence had his speech read out in absentia, with a criticism of mainstream media bias, a call for a united front within the independence movement until the main goal is achieved and an invitation to join his group's march in The Hague on 25th May. A small group of Catalans, as well as showing their solidarity with Scotland's campaign, also waved banners in support of the pro-independence activists and politicians who are currently imprisoned because of their political actions in their homeland. Their spokesperson Ferran Cornellà, as well as addressing this issue, highlighted how independence is about sovereignty rather than the wish to create new borders and how smaller countries in general are less bureaucratic, more efficient and therefore more democratic than larger ones.
Some of the best soundbites meanwhile, came from a fiery speech delivered by Ariel Killick, an Australian-born Gaelic artist. She made the comparison of the internationalism of this event to Nigel Farage's Leave Means Leave march, which was heading off from Sunderland towards London that same day. Farage was compared to a "Pied Piper leading lemmings straight off a cliff, on to a gold-plated ship he definitely won't share with the followers. He'll leave them to drown... (He) demand(s) an exit whose consequences he can well afford, but most of his followers can't." She referred in English and German to the five separate occasions on which Scottish voters have chosen in favour of pro-EU mandates in recent years, but have nonetheless had democracy denied to them. "Scotland was told the broad shoulders of the UK would help it punch above its weight, but now it just gets punched in the face... This was not the union we were sold." Citing the fall of the Berlin Wall as an inspiring example to the world of a peaceful transition to freedom, she described how "independence for us also means interdependence, not isolationism or imperial delusions. A UK government that speaks of enhanced lethality, an increased mass, is one that has learned nothing and changed little from the long gone days of colonialism, seeking to... rule the waves whilst waiving the rules." The ongoing Brexit process was meanwhile compared to "being driven in a chaotic clown car, determined to crash off a cliff with Scotland in the boot, held hostage by Tories who Scotland hasn't voted into government since the 1950s."
As the speechmaking continued with another couple of contributions from closer to home, the wind and rain picked up and the standard jokes about the Scottish weather having arrived were inevitably made. Flags were folded away and kilts dispersed into the Berlin afternoon, but many had a wee spring in their step as they went, having caught just a glimpse of what a shared European future for an open and outward-looking Scotland could look like.
Following the event I grabbed a few words with Marco Görlach, the founder member of and driving force behind Germans for Scottish Independence. He was glad to explain some of the reasons why support for the independence movement makes sense to him.
Alongside a love for the UK, and Scotland in particular, that he has felt strongly ever since his first visit in 1991, just after The Wall came down, he explained that,
“As a left-winger, trade unionist, Marxist, internationalist, revolutionary and peace activist, I am always interested when I travel in experiencing countries and their people first-hand. Because of this I got to know lots of comrades and colleagues in Scotland and therefore developed a good overview of its politics, history and society. But not only that. Whenever I went to Scotland, I had a strong sense that I was arriving home. It’s quite hard to describe. Sure, I was on holiday and saw many things through rose-tinted spectacles. Sure, I’ve never actually lived in Scotland and, with very few exceptions, have experienced its dark sides only from stories. But even taking all that into account and separating myself from any romanticised notions of the place, a massive amount of love for it still remains.
"Unfortunately since 2010 personal circumstances have made it extremely difficult for me to visit Scotland, and I began to miss it greatly. I felt a kind of extreme homesickness that was sometimes incredibly painful.
"Then the YES campaign arrived on the scene. I discovered a site called Americans for Scottish Independence on Facebook and was immediately struck by the idea of doing something similar here. It took me some time to overcome my doubts, but finally in January, 2013, I grounded the site Germans for Scottish Independence. I’ve always been a supporter of Scottish independence in principle, so my engagement through the Facebook site allowed me to take active steps to deal with my Scottish homesickness. Even if I couldn’t travel there in person, at least I could feel with my online activities like I was a little bit closer, that I was doing something, making a contribution.
"I see us as a part of the independence movement that is party-independent, democratic and progressive. We take a stand against war and atomic weapons, for peace and freedom. We fully support the lofty ecological aims of the movement. We stand in solidarity with the Scots in their desire for greater social justice. I feel that this more or less describes the general aims of both myself and, of course with some exceptions, our group. Thanks to the great range of progressive causes that the independence movement represents, I really believe that with enough momentum, an important impulse could be sent out from Scotland to the rest of Europe, so that all of a sudden the establishment would be forced to start living up to their own statements.
"As for the demo itself, I must admit that I’m really chuffed with how it went. The quality and content of all the speeches was extremely good. We had a clear intention of demonstrating the international character of the movement, which we certainly achieved. The great range of different backgrounds of the participants allowed us to place an emphasis on international solidarity.
"Also, in comparison to 2017 there were three times as many German-based participants on the march, which was exceptionally pleasing to me. It indicates that we didn’t simply reproduce a Scottish demo in Berlin, but instead were able to show what we, as Scots and Germans in Germany, were able to come up with together. We had our own concept in place and could therefore deliver our own unique take on things. For some time now, our group has been a tangible and recognised part of the movement. That makes me proud. All the endless time and energy spent on thankless groundwork, which at times didn’t seem to be getting us anywhere, eventually paid off in the success of the day, so that on the way home I was already inspired to start pondering how the next event should be organised.
"Our group is small and in Scotland we are irrelevant. At the same time though, we are here doing our best to send a message of solidarity over the North Sea that reaches out across borders. It can only ever be symbolic support, but all the same we hope that through doing so we can repay a little of the love, warmth and freedom that we have experienced as guests in Scotland.