By a Newsnet reporter
The largest pro-independence march and rally to date has attracted thousands of people to Edinburgh to demonstrate their commitment to an independent Scotland. Under the banner Independence for Scotland, Princes Street Gardens was awash with saltires and lion rampant flags as people from all over the country gathered to show their support for a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum.
Saturday's rally was independently-organised and distinct from the official Yes campaign. Rally organisers intend to hold similar events in the lead up to the referendum and have already announced plans for a similar march and rally this time next year.
Figures from across Scottish society came together at the rally to celebrate the opportunities that arise from Scotland being an independent nation. First Minister Alex Salmond and representatives from the SNP addressed the crowd, other speakers included former Labour MP and former independent MSP Dennis Canavan, independent MSP Margo McDonald, Scottish Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie, journalist Ruth Wishart, human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, author and broadcaster Cameron McNeish and comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.
Addressing the rally, independent MSP Margo MacDonald said:
"If a third of Scots believe in independence and want independence now, every one of us has got two years to persuade another Scot, and then we're home and dry.
"That's not fanciful, that's just practical."
Respected lawyer Aamer Anwar, perhaps best known for his defence of Tommy Sheridan during his perjury trial, told the rally that the Olympics were over, and the Unionist parties should stop imagining that flag-waving will win the campaign for them.
Mr Anwar added:
"I've spent most of my life believing in the Union and I no longer do. I don't want to be dictated to by Westminster. I want a future for my children. A future which isn't one predicated by austerity for decades and decades. I think the people of Scotland can govern themselves."
Writing in the Scotsman about her decision to attend the rally, journalist Ruth Wishart said:
"I will vote Yes, and I will do so from conviction. From the belief that Scotland, like many similar small nations, has the natural resources to survive and thrive.
"From the belief that taking control of our own finances and budgeting is not only the essential building block of a modern nation, but that it will finally kill off the persistent charges of whingeing jocks and subsidy junkies which cause unnecessary tensions between ourselves and our friends in the south."
"However, the over-riding reason why I will come out loud and proud today is because I truly believe this to be a historic opportunity to shape the kind of nation we want our children and grandchildren to inherit and grow up in."
Over the summer, SNP members – who have distributed Yes Declaration leaflets and postcards, and been involved in Yes Scotland street stalls the length and breadth of the country – have collected over 100,000 signatures for the Declaration. This is a major milestone and contribution towards the Yes Scotland campaign's objective of signing up one million supporters in Scotland for the Yes Declaration by the time of the referendum in autumn 2014.
Speaking at the rally, Scottish National Party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond announced that the SNP have already gathered over 100,000 signatures for the Yes Declaration, which was published when the Yes Scotland campaign was launched in May.
Mr Salmond said:
"We know that the most popular option for Scotland's future is for the Scottish Parliament to make all the decisions, instead of leaving vital powers over the economy, social welfare and pensions in the hands of the Tories at Westminster – where they are presiding over economic stagnation, and making some of the most vulnerable members of society pay the price with cruel cuts.
"The challenge and the opportunity is clear – to translate this desire for democratic control in Scotland into a majority vote for independence in the autumn 2014 referendum.
"The momentum lies with the cause of independence and equality for Scotland. Already, the SNP have signed up over a hundred thousand supporters for the Yes Declaration, as the Yes campaign builds towards a million people by the time of the referendum.
"In devolved areas such as health and education, Scotland already has the powers to decide an independent policy from Westminster
"As a result, Scotland has led the way in the UK by introducing the smoking ban, we passed world-leading climate change legislation, we reintroduced free higher education in Scotland and have a record number of Scottish students at Scottish universities for the coming year, we have delivered 1,000 additional police officers, and our National Health Service is being protected and promoted.
"In all these areas, Scotland is governed incomparably better compared to the position south of the Border. The record of the last 13 years is that self-government is good for Scotland – and the lesson is clear.
"The only way to ensure that Scotland is governed well in all areas is by completing our home rule journey and voting Yes to independence in autumn 2014."
Lothian and Borders police have confirmed that two arrests were made prior to the march after a scuffle between pro-independence supporters and a small group of members of an extreme far-right organisation who were reportedly waving a Union flag and swearing at marchers.
The Yes Declaration launched on 25 May is as follows:
"I believe it is fundamentally better for us all, if decisions about Scotland's future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is, by the people of Scotland.
"Being independent means Scotland's future will be in Scotland's hands.
"There is no doubt that Scotland has great potential. We are blessed with talent, resources and creativity. We have the opportunity to make our nation a better place to live, for this and future generations. We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today.
"I want a Scotland that speaks with her own voice and makes her own unique contribution to the world: a Scotland that stands alongside the other nations on these isles, as an independent nation."
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