To See Ourselves – film about the lead up to the Scottish Referendum in 2014
(To See Ourselves is screening at DCA Dundee, Tuesday 26 September, 2023)
In the run up to the referendum in 2014, Jane McAllister, filmmaker, New Licht Film, spent many hours following her dad, Fraser, around Musselburgh as he threw himself wholeheartedly into the campaign for Scottish Independence.
It was not Jane’s initial intention to make a film but to record her father and his exploits during the campaign. Fraser McAllister proved to be the most fantastic subject, utterly sincere, warmhearted, disinhibited and a bit eccentric. If it had been a feature film then he would have been perfectly cast for the main part.
At the time Fraser was a councillor in Musselburgh in East Lothian, where alongside S.N.P. activists, he campaigned for Scottish Independence. Full of enthusiasm and irrepressible optimism he was constantly on the hoof. Jane followed him with her camera, despite the fact that she had not long had her first child and was again pregnant.
It’s a very emotional film, not least of all because we know the result of the referendum, which was close run but not successful for Independence supporters, who lost by 45% against 55%. Nonetheless, from the outset we are caught up in Fraser’s efforts to built support for the cause – much to the chagrin of his wife Christine.
When Jane introduced her film at Glasgow Film Theatre, in September, 2023, she thanked her dad and expressed how lucky she was to have someone so unselfconscious to work with. Fraser is certainly that – open to everyone whilst employing a range of strategies in pushing forward the cause. The scene at the start of the movie, where he and his co-activists are attempting to hang a huge YES banner from the Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh, is hilarious and we share in their delight when they succeed.
Following Fraser on his mission creates the opportunity for Jane to show the concerns of both sides of the debate. Fraser is not one for operating in a bubble but recognises the importance of engaging with those on the other side. He is patient and polite when interacting with the most irate and vehement No supporters; he absolutely understands how Project Fear caused people to be scared on so many levels. Afraid of losing their pensions, the bizarre fear of having no currency and scared of having no N.H.S. His compassion towards one drunk woman, who is frightened that she will lose support for her son who has severe epilepsy, demonstrates his immense empathy and understanding of how fearful so many people were. ‘They’re scared’.
The whole approach of Better Together based on Project Fear was ultimately successful – supported by the media, the BBC, politicians and celebrities. Blair McDougall, who headed up the No Campaign, admitted that without the relentless negativity of Project Fear the referendum may well have been lost.
The film is a very important observation of this unique period of Scottish history. It captures the extent to which the electorate in Scotland became widely and rapidly politicised. The referendum was the topic on everyone’s lips and Jane shows this in her film – with housewives chatting on benches at the seafront and road workers arguing about the topic. The latter scene also points to the sectarianism that exists in Scotland, which had a role to play with those in the Orange Order so emotionally committed in their loyalty to the Union and the Royal Family.
There is a lot of humour in the film – it’s hilarious when we see Fraser, always short of time, having to climb into his car through the window as he is so tightly parked. There was something quite visually absurd when Fraser has a conversation about currency with the Better Together supporter from the Royal Archers who is so definite that Scotland could never use the pound. With each point he makes he dips his head – almost touching Fraser’s head with the huge feather in his hat. The task of editing the screeds of film must have been immense and Jane McAllister has done an excellent job.
Apart from her own filming she draws on other material to capture the mood of the nation on the eve of the referendum. Nothing could display the high spirits and huge expectation of a positive outcome for the YES campaign more than George Square in Glasgow the night before the vote. Jane includes comedy gold when large numbers of Labour Politicians arrived in Glasgow to support Better Together. They were greeted by ‘Darth Vader’s Theme – The Imperial March’ as Matt Lygate followed them up Buchanan Street on a rickshaw urging the crowd through his loudspeaker to ‘Bow Down To Your Imperial Masters’.
So there were lighthearted moments and also sweet family scenes in the film with Jane’s lovely wee girl, her dad and her grandparents enjoying normal family life. There was also sadness. We see Fraser so proud of the YES shop he has created which turns to despair when the is vandalised by No campaigners. He is, of course, desolate when the result comes through. I’m sure more than one member of the audience shed a tear when Fraser consoles the weeping Jane, who feels so let down as does he: ‘I feel tricked. I feel bullied, Lied to’. 45% was a good result but not good enough.
Fraser feels all his hard work has been for nothing and announces that it’s time for him to focus more on his family and let someone else take over and declares he is going to give up. And he does – for all of two days!!
It was a very challenging task capturing this unique period of Scottish history and Jane McAllister has done a wonderful job – creating a very informative, truthful and entertaining documentary. Her film deserves to be seen by a very wide audience.
After the screening at the GFT, Pat Kane was in conversation with Jane and Fraser McAllister and the audience. Clearly people enjoyed the film and found it very emotional.
Jane explained that she had almost given up on the idea of trekking round after her dad when she discovered that she was pregnant – thankfully she changed her mind. It was no small task editing the film. The first edit was 17 hours long.
The success of the Better Together campaign and Project Fear was discussed and there was a suggestion that the YES Campaign should perhaps adopt their own scare stories as this approach appeared to work so well. However, it was pointed out that support for Scottish Independence increased dramatically from around 20% to 45%.
The phenomenon whereby the electorate in Scotland became so completely engaged with politics was flagged up whereby the turnout to vote across Scotland was a remarkable 84.6%. This was despite the fact that fundamentally only the Better Togethet campaign and Project Fear was broadcast in the media and written about in the press. There appeared to be a consensus that the best approach was for supporters of Independence to take to the streets and engage and educate the No supporters and assuage their unfounded fears.
Fraser McAllister pointed to sources of information including Scottish Independence Podcasts, Prof John Robertson and to Tim Rideout, who discusses Modern Monetary Theory and how an Independent Scotland would become a currency issuing government, the same as UK Government. (See list of resources below)
Fraser also flagged up the Chain of Freedom event on 14 October.
Pat Byrne, September, 2023
This section: Book and Event Reviews, Cinema, Pat's Home Page Blog
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