“Standing in the middle of George Square, among thousands of Independence supporters, my connection with this man, this stranger, felt like a moment of realisation and clarity: We were both home. We had found our community, a community of kindness, openness, and hope for the future. “
Today’s All Under One Banner rally in Glasgow was my first time speaking to such a large crowd. Thousands gathered in support of independence, in support of everyone sharing this event, but still my nerves were wrecked wondering if people would understand me, if they would appreciate my words, and if I might encourage some to understand the part we all play together as EU Citizens and native Scots alike, in this campaign for independence.
With the whirlwind of wonderful speakers, rushing one after the other, I barely remembered the words I had just spoken as I left the stage to applause and cheers from the crowd. I squirmed my way out of the bustling backstage area, all the time analysing my own poor opinion of the 45% of my 2 minute speech I was able to squeeze in, before hurrying to a finish to keep the schedule moving.
Up on stage I was so focused I could hardly tell what the crowd thought of what I was saying. My nervous body just wanted my mum, and for once I knew she was near, having come all the way from Germany for today’s rally, and was waiting there in the crowd for me. As I made my way to my family, people touched my arm, saying “Well done!” and “You did great!” – These were the people I was there to reach out to, and so my nerves began to subside.
Once I reached my mum and the rest of our group there was big hugs and a great deal of love. “I can calm down now” I thought.
But on the periphery of my vision there was a small figure dressed in black, a blurry energy spike. I turned to see and was met by the big, expressive eyes of a slender man, about my height, dressed in a black jacket.
”Good speech!” he said quite coyly, in an English accent that I found really hard to place in the noise of the crowd. I could tell congratulating me was not the only reason he came to see me, so I said thank you and waited for him to continue.
He told me he is a veteran; that he served in Afghanistan. He had returned from duty to his home in Liverpool, suffering from combat stress and needing medical and mental health support. Sadly, he did not get the help he needed.
Not quite knowing his full story, I told him to move to Scotland, that everyone is welcome here, that we all look after each other the best we can. I needn’t have bothered though, as he replied that he already moved here! He now lives in Scotland, and the reason for his move was to access to proper healthcare.
”I fought for this country and they cannot even give us what we need when we come back!?” he said.
I didn’t know what to say, really. My heart was physically hurting for him. His face tells dozens of simultaneous story lines, interwoven into an almost indescribable expression of firm, brave defiance fighting a deeply exhausting personal struggle.
”There are so many suicides and they don’t care! They needed help, there are so many people that I know…” he stopped there.
The expression on his face made my heart ache. Desperately trying to find appropriate words that can somehow help, I respond ” I don’t know what to say to you, other I do not feel pity for you, you don’t need pity, I just really feel for you, from the heart. You went to war and when you got home you realised your own war had just started and everyone else had fucked off”.
He looked at me, then at his busy, tense hands, then me again, so I continued: ”I understand this won’t leave you and go away, you’re stuck with this and, honestly, I can feel it, it’s breaking my heart for you right now. The only option here is to turn that past into something better going forward.”
He stood in front of me and I knew we understood each other, that we both know these human connections matter, especially when you’re going through the dark valley on your own, and have been for way too long. I asked him whether I could hug him, and without the usual distance between strangers we wrapped our arms firmly around each other, no hesitation. His shoulder blades started jumping underneath my hands and I held on.
“I know,” I whispered to him, “it’s not fair”.
”No, it’s really not.” I heard him say quietly over my shoulder.
Standing in the middle of George Square, among thousands of Independence supporters, my connection with this man, this stranger, felt like a moment of realisation and clarity: We were both home. We had found our community, a community of kindness, openness, and hope for the future.
He’s a New Scot, like I am. He is a migrant, in fact, when he arrived he damn near could be considered a displaced person, seeking refuge. An Englishman and a German; we’re both EU citizens, both citizens of the world, we’ve both been through a lot. We’ve been ignored, discriminated against, mocked, marginalised and used as the cannon fodder in someone else’s war. And we’re both brave to still be here.
For the rest of my life, I will not remember today as the first I gave a speech in the name of Germans for Independence & EU citizens for an Independent Scotland. I will not remember the fluster of nerves, the roar of Yes Bikers, or the cheers of the crowd. Instead, I’ll always remember that one person, and the connection of our paths, on the road to independence.
And if he’s reading this: I never asked your name, but I hope you get in touch.
Let’s have a coffee, or share a meal. We’re friends already.