This is an interview I did with Gwen Sinclair, who is affiliated with Yes East Ayrshire, check out what she had to say about the store in Kilmarnock, the Yes East Ayrshire movement and the wider Independence movement.
First off, who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Gwen Sinclair and I’m a graphic designer, illustrator and I also work at one of the castles in the area in the visitors centre giving castle tours, I get to tell people about Robert the Bruce and dress up, it’s great!
What is the Yes East Ayrshire/Scottish Independence Movement, how did you get involved and what is your role in the organisation?
Okay in 2014 I was aware that we were going to be able to vote to get Independence, I wasn’t necessarily politically active at all, I had thoughts about it, and then I found out that if we get independence then we can get rid of nuclear weapons in Scotland because it’s not something the scottish MPs, MSPs and Scottish public actually want and I was absolutely overjoyed to discover that. That got me really enthusiastic and so I went out and found out how to join Yes East Ayrshire as it was called at the time. They had a shop in Kilmarnock and I went in, I started off delivering leaflets but within a few weeks I was canvassing peoples doors which I’d never done before. I was encouraging people to just sit down and work out their answer to that question of whether Scotland would want independence or not. I think this was potentially very early on, around March 2014, and from there we were involved in the campaigning and the street team stalls, practically every day towards the end.
I think Yes East Ayrshire was one of the biggest campaigns in Scotland, we got a lot of media coverage, a lot of people coming down. We got a 47% nearly 48% Yes vote which was extremely disappointing for us all but I think we decided, a big crowd of us including myself, Saffron and a few people still on our main team, that there was absolutely no way we should give up on this, I mean when you sit down and look at the possibilities Scotland could have without being subservient to another nation’s government which is what it really is, that includes storing nuclear weapons for them and putting ourselves in harm’s way, we felt as if we didn’t want to give up. The amount of money that Scotland would have as well would be phenomenal. And we were looking at another five years of Tories, and it’s been longer than that pretty much and they’re still gonna be in power for a while yet. So we just decided not to give up, and low and behold all across Scotland there were thousands of us all feeling the same. The independence movement became really big, we’ve been doing marches and rally’s and big events in George Square and stuff like that.
My role has been Treasurer for Yes East Ayrshire but I also do all of the social media and I’ve kept that going and I’ve been doing graphics as well for various things we’ve got including our logo and merchandise. I also help to organise events, including things like street stalls, and we were collecting food for the food bank. The people in this area were incredibly generous, the amount of food we collected was unbelievable which I felt was their response to this loss. People who wanted independence, it was something they could do to help.
What is the Yes East Ayrshire stores function in the larger Scottish Independence Movement and why should people visit the shop?
This is a shop that for a while had been an SNP shop but they decided not to keep it going so we thought here’s an opportunity for us to make it into an independence shop, so we got together and the idea was to ensure that people were still able to pop in and ask questions and also to make sure that people see it as a normal thing. it’s been here for over a year and a half and now people know that it’s a normal thing to see on the high street.
I think this is happening all over Scotland, there’s one recently opened up in Strathaven, there’s a few opening over in Fife and I think other places would love to have them. We’ve been very lucky and have been able to get a reasonable rent. Now this shop has been entirely funded by volunteers, people donate every month. We always have the concern of not having enough every month to meet our rent, but so far so good. We’ve managed to stay open, and our function is to give information to people, that is our primary aim, to be able to tell people why we want independence and to be able to answer those questions about currency, about whether Scotland can afford this or that, and to be able to come and get involved. We have merchandise as well, we have flags and lots of stuff to do with independence so if people are going to marches or rallies they can get things. We are also able to advertise events across Scotland and Europe, but the shop also serves as a place to have meetings and events so people can come along to our events. We have some good quality speakers coming in to talk about different subjects, we’ve also show the film about BBC bias and people who are visiting the area will pop in just to see us because they are big Yes supporters and they’ll enjoy being here as there’s a lot they can look at and they can chat to us about things and have a cup of tea. It’s quite a community spirited place I think.
What kind of things does the shop do to assist the community and support the Scottish Independence Movement?
Well we are very keen to assist in the community in terms of advertising events and things that are happening, particularly if it’s going to encourage people to feel better about their area. Kilmarnock has been kinda left behind a bit, as well as other areas in East Ayrshire which have been left behind. There’s been an industrial revolution which has brought an influx of people and then that kinda dissipated due to the Tories in the 1980s and the mining communities as well. We want to help with that, so we are happy to promote anything, we want to support anything that will bring that life back, because ideally we want people to start believing in themselves again, that’s what we feel is lacking in Scotland. As to how we support the movement, all of our members and supporters are all from this area and we can provide them with any information packs they want or any materials needed, they can just come in here and get those resources.
Does the shop need volunteers, if so how does one go about Volunteering?
Yes we do, we need volunteers. We need people to help out. We need people to physically be involved, especially when the independence, the indyref2 kicks off then it’s going to get really busy and we hope people will come out and help. We also need financial backing if people can help, even £1 a month would be wonderful. We have forms to fill in if you want to become a member of Yes East Ayrshire, we have a membership but that’s really just to help our funds. Although if people join us they get first dibs at tickets for events and things like that. So anyone who is interested is welcome to come join us and can feel free to contribute in any way they can. For example if they’ve got products, and it’s happening a lot recently, we have a lot of people who make arts and crafts and we are very keen to have more local artists bringing stuff in that we can sell for them, which is really nice for them and also for the community.
How do people working in the shop deal with enquiries into the Scottish Independence Movement, and the larger social, economic and cultural issues regarding Independence for Scotland?
Well we have a lot of information leaflets and postcards and we collect things specifically about certain subjects. And I suppose our staff are highly knowledgeable, in fact they probably know some things before it happens haha. We can also tell people about other things, for example a while ago a lady came in one day, she was really upset, her husband had recently died and she hadn’t got a pension. And was still paying council tax. We were able to break it down and say pensions are dealt with by MPs so go see them about to your pensions. Council tax is dealt with by your councillors so go see them about that. See people don’t know what’s local government, what’s Westminster government and what’s Scottish parliament we were able to help that and they were really grateful, so that can happen sometimes. Additionally, we have information on practically every query people could have in independence, we have the information here or would be able to source the information for them and so we feel the store is a fabulous resource for that type of thing.
Speaking of which, can you give me some reasons, in your opinion why people should vote for an Independent Scotland, if there were to be another referendum?
I think the most important reason to vote for independence is the simple matter of democracy, Scotland doesn’t have a proper democracy even though we’ve been given the vote, but what we are voting for is being constantly outnumbered, our MPs are 59 in a house of 650 so no matter what we vote for we never get the government we want. You also have to consider that Kilmarnock, where we are now, is on the same line of latitude as moscow, we are really high, really far north which means we have geographical needs in terms of our heating costs and things like that. It’s a far, far colder climate and we need more heating and the expenses we have to pay, which are higher, are in line with people who live 3 or 4 hundred miles south of here. I think our culture also needs to be invested in, we need to show that we have a difference in how we speak, what we think about, what we need and what we like and don’t like. The same way every country you go to have differences, yet us being part of the United Kingdom mean we end up lumped in with whatever is coming out of the south of England. Even the north of England has totally different needs, and I think that if Scotland got independence we’d be able to make decisions for ourselves that get rid of some of the policies like austerity and for me personally nuclear weapons, which put us in danger for something we don’t believe in and didn’t vote for. It would allow us to flourish as a nation and to put money into things, the worst part just now since we didn’t vote Yes in 2014 is that the Westminster government has cut Scotland’s budget year on year, its something like 22 billion has been cut, for no particular reason which means we need to cut money to local councils so then the people are complaining about roads, about libraries being closed which is fair enough but that’s because their money from Westminster has been cut and they simply cannot afford to do what they need to do.
Our country is pretty run down, it’s a bit like a person, if you aren’t eating well or not taking your vitamins, Scotland it a bit like that, it’s sitting on an edge but it could be an amazing wee nation, I mean we aren’t even that small, we have the same kinda sized population as Denmark and they are doing extremely well. And also we have as much oil if not more as Norway and look how well they are doing. It’s things like that which we really need to consider and I think that historically Scotland had a little bit of a fear of it but I think that’s because we don’t control our media and so therefore the media is pumping out stuff that suits the London agenda, it doesn’t suit our agenda at all. So I think that’s another wonderful thing we could have a media that’s telling stories about what’s Happening in Scotland.
*Also Yes East Ayrshire are currently selling ‘Indy Stamps’ which were designed by Gwen, and if you want to check those out then check on over to Wee Ginger Dug, to find out more.
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