Bound together as one by a powerful idea

Despite all, some ideas are still powerful enough to bring an entire nation – in all its complexity – together as one. Labour politicians take note, says DAN HEAP.  


When you have a job like I do, one which sprawls mercilessly across the week, respecting neither the sanctity of weekends, evenings and – when it gets really tough – the wee hours of the morning, you start to lose a sense of the quality of time. Mondays feel the same as Fridays; weekends the same as weekdays; holidays the same as term-time. Certain moments in the year, however, still feel special, are still more than just another moment built on top of all the ones that proceeded it , and for me one does above all others: it’s not Christmas Day, nor the last day of exams or the first day of the holidays, but a short moment on the morning of the 11th November.

Despite being fully aware it was about to happen, there was something awe-inspiring about seeing – as I did in the National Library of Scotland café on Friday morning – a whole room full of people (and on the TV screens, a whole nation) fall from gentle hubbub into total silence and rise to its feet, all completely unprompted.

It is remarkable, I think, that in a society so atomised and so individualised, each of us with our own never-ending list of things to do and troubles excising us, that a single idea is powerful enough to bring us together as one, albeit for a brief moment. In any of the other two minuteses at any other time of the year, 65 million people would be doing 65 million things, but the weight of history hanging over that moment – the enormity of the sacrifice that millions have made so we might live a better life – forces us to all do the same thing.

In a world where so much is happening and at such a seemingly unstoppable pace, the fact that almost all of us (except for those who have forgotten what day and time it is – shame on them – or those who are just plain ignorant – even more shame on them) will put everything aside and pause in respect for a few minutes is very heartening indeed.

I didn’t set out to make a political point, but one has nevertheless occurred to me, so here it goes:

There appears to be a general acceptance of the fact that the past couple of decades have seen put paid to the possibility that people can be bound together by some common sense of purpose or a common feeling, that the ties that bound us together in the past have been eroded by changes economic and technological and that we’re all doomed to scuttle along in our individual rat races, driven along not by grand ideas but by the need to get on and get ahead in life.

Moments like Friday show that to be an exaggeration. There are still times in which millions of people – however individualised, however split off from one another by the nature of modern life – can be brought together by a powerful idea. The ties that bind, then, are perhaps not eroded, but just latent. Those in politics who believe in the power of ideas to change the world – and particularly those belonging to a party which recognises that we achieve more together than we do alone – would do well to think about this.

Dan Heap is a PhD student in Social Policy at Edinburgh University and a member of Edinburgh North & Leith CLP. He blogs at and tweets as @commentdan.

This post was originally published on

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7 thoughts on “Bound together as one by a powerful idea

  1. “Don’t pity us, give us work”, Discharged Soldiers and Sailors’ Federation 1919.

    Nearly 100 hundred years on and ex-soldiers are still being left homeless, jobless, and facing mental anguish.

    Once again organised state control of grief is overshadowing the magnitude the harm being done to those who are fighting their private war each and every day.

    The poppy is no longer a symbol of rememberance it is a brand.

    Sixty seconds of expressed individual concern for those facing war and the survivors of wars would be far more redeeming than a minute of politically correct silence to honour the dead.

    The Great War has not taught us not one thing.

  2. “bring an entire nation,in all its complexity, together as one”
    Is that the Scottish nation ? I often think about all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for democracy and freedom.Not just on Armistice Day but throughout the year.And at a time when the London Government is considering riding roughshod over Scotlands democratically elected government by forcing its own referendum on the Scottish people,we should be remembering the fallen and thanking them.And pledging we will continue too strive for what they fought for.

  3. Dan, Did the name Iraq not cross your mind last week in the National Library?
    It should have.
    A nation destroyed, 600 to 900 thousand civilian deaths. A Labour leader takes the UK to war against the advise of all the nations of the world except one, and against the wishes of the majority of the counrty and his party.
    To be able to stand for a minutes silence and ignore the Iraq war and then have the gall to write about the pride you felt in a nations’ bonds can only be explained as either the ramblings of a naive young man or sentiments of a rogue capable of self denial reminiscient of a certain 88S2ex Prime Minister.

  4. GMcM

    Will we be finding Iraqs weapons of mass destruction any time soon?

    Until we find them that says everything anyone needs to know about the invasion of Iraq.

    1. If only things were as simple as that. And even that fact has little relevance on the piece about remembering those who have died on our behalf – regardless of your views on the war in Iraq – they deserve better than that.

  5. If you REALLY cared about the ex-servicemen you’d fire off a wee donation to Erskine instead of proudly wearing a poppy and falling for the Tory claptrap.
    You know and I know what would make a real difference. Instead you join in the glorification of a very inglorious imperialist past. And the real work at Erskine has to scrape by on a shoe-string.

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