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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 October, 2004, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Republicans converge on the hill
By Thomas McGuigan
BBC News Online Scotland

At 0930 on Saturday, Calton Hill in Edinburgh was anything but a hotbed of radicalism.

The location for the Scottish Socialists' alternative ceremony to "welcome" the Queen was cold and quiet.

Then the monotonous drone of a helicopter was heard as it prowled overhead, to prove that the city was awake for Holyrood's historic day.

Hand with Citizen Not Subject written on it
Protesters said they were citizens, not subjects

Those attending the alternative ceremony would sign the Declaration of Calton Hill.

It is a 450-word document which commits signatories to campaign for an independent Scottish republic "built on the principles of liberty, equality, diversity and solidarity".

At the brow of the hill, two coaches disgorged Japanese tourists, as a vanload of police officers looked on. They looked as though they wanted to be at the football instead.

The flash of digital cameras followed weak smiles as the holidaymakers shrank into their winter jackets.

The panoramic view of Edinburgh needed some hot rhetoric to puncture the autumn chill.

Everyone you talk to in the town knows Holyrood is the wrong location
Ray Burnett
Further on, a knot of photographers laughed heartily at a joke and stamped their feet to combat the cold.

Ray Burnett, from Benbecula, asked me if the ceremony started at 1000.

When I told him it started an hour later, he cursed and said he could have got his haircut after all.

The 58-year-old, originally from Edinburgh, said Scottish Parliament ministers had misjudged the mood of the people.

He believed that asking the Queen to open the parliament was a mistake, as was the decision to locate the MSPs' new home at Holyrood.

"This parliament should have been chosen by the people," he said.

Lone piper

"And the people would have chosen Calton Hill over Holyrood - just look at this view!

"Everyone you talk to in the town knows Holyrood is the wrong location."

A lone piper, 18-year-old Dale Glencross from Fife, said he was freezing but was happy to play on the day at the Socialists' request.

As the hill got busier, it was amazing to see so many dogs.

Dog owners were doing their utmost to keep their pets from attacking each other and talk at the same time.

Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan said it was time for a Scottish republic

Everyone seemed to know one another.

There were several cries of: "How are you doing? I haven't seen you for ages," doing the rounds.

A blue van, with its side down and two speakers below it, acted as the stage for those addressing the crowd.

Inside, a DJ was thumping out dance music.

The instrumental of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" seemed to last forever and triggered a barking fit from the rebellious canines.

As the sun threatened to make an appearance, the hill seemed like an outdoor rave for revolutionaries.

Surely the official event at Holyrood couldn't top this?

Laughter theme

Among the CND badges and Palestine and Iraq stalls, stood Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan in a suit.

He stood out like a sore thumb from all the winter gear on show.

Mercifully, the music died and the dogs gave their vocal chords a rest.

Colin Fox MSP was the MC for the day.

He said the ceremony's theme was laughter - "laughter at those down at Holyrood" on bended knee before the Queen.

A ripple of applause shot through the breeze.

Mr Fox said everyone on the hill believed Scotland's population were citizens not subjects.

Couple in Edinburgh with flag
A couple get ready to view the Riding down the Royal Mile

"But we haven't thrown off the chains of monarchy yet and that's our goal," he said.

The rally heard the merits of creating an independent Scotland and those present were praised for their "Herculean struggle".

Mr Fox said the working men and women of Edinburgh built the new Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse Palace.

"But all the kings and queens never laid a brick," he thundered.

The crowd liked that.

The next speaker, Ian Hamilton QC, said "every fibre of my being has been geared towards today and the declaration of a Scottish republic".

"Farewell Britannia and advance Scotland," he said.

Barbara Scott then sang Caledonia and the crowd fell silent.

Caledonia song

Saltires fluttered in the breeze as she sang Caledonia was everything she'd ever had.

An activist broke from the crowd holding a Union flag soaked in petrol.

As he lit the flag, the wind gathered pace and those close by dashed for cover as the flames licked their feet.

The heat from the embers gave those close enough a welcome shot of warmth.

Another speaker, expelled Scottish National Party member Campbell Martin, asked the crowd how they felt about being freedom fighters.

"MI5 even fear you," he said as everyone laughed.

Rosie Kane MSP and protester
MSP Rosie Kane writes on a protester's hand

The alternative ceremony needed an injection of sobriety and it was provided by Tommy Sheridan.

He thundered his way through the ills of the Scottish Parliament and how devolution had failed to tackle poverty and scrap nuclear weapons.

"You provide hope for a new Scotland, where people are no longer subjects to a diseased establishment but are citizens in an independent Scotland," he said.

"We don't want to debate dog poo or the height of hedges. We want freedom.

"Do we belong to a British nation?"

"No," the crowd shouted as one.

"Or are we a Scottish nation?"

"Yessss...," they said.

Mr Sheridan said people wanting to come and live in Scotland should be given the hand of friendship rather than the "fist of fury".

The crowd then signed their declaration cards and passed them to the stewards.

Then it was time for laughter again and an actor dressed as the Queen in a blue wig came on stage.

He promised to whip everybody into line before the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen was belted out the PA system.

Rabble rousing indeed.



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