lIt was one of the coldest nights of the year so far, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people gathering outside Holyrood this Wednesday night to protest the High Court’s ruling that Scotland could not legally hold a new independence referendum.
Scottish flags were worn like capes—little protection against a chilly Edinburgh evening—and yes signs with lights fluttered against the darkening sky. Anti-Tory signs appeared, some recycled from 2014, others with a fresh angle. “Our colonial status has been confirmed – and the law is an asshole!” read one.
Groups of bagpipers huddled together, warmed up their instruments, and stopped for a cigarette break. The Proclaimers were beamed onto the stage from a stereo funded by the Scottish Independence Foundation.
A small but lively counter-protest across the road shouted over a tanoy and called for the leaders of the independence campaign to be put in the dock for treason. “The union has been working for 400 years,” says Ronnie Kane, co-director of the pro-union campaign group A Force For Good. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The supporters of independence were equally cheerful. Jim Brack described the court’s ruling as a “win win” and said: “It revived the situation. We might have gotten a little complacent.”
Julia Stryl, 52, agreed that the result would give impetus to the independence movement. “[Westminster] hoped the Supreme Court would be neutral. Now it is Westminster that is clearly blocking the democratic right of the Scottish people to independence.”
The audience on the evening was diverse, with speakers from America, France, Catalonia and elsewhere. The fallout from Brexit was a strong consideration for many who voted pro-union in 2014 but have since changed their mind.
“I regret it,” said Elise Tallaron, who is French and has lived in the UK since 1996. “Even then I saw strong arguments for independence.” She is now treasurer of the Yes For EU movement.
It was clear that anti-Tory sentiment, always strong in Scotland, was gaining momentum amid Covid, Brexit and the cost of living crisis. A sign read: “Scotland cannot afford to be part of the UK.”
Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard, who took the train from London to attend, stated that Scotland no longer needed to be ‘enslaved’ to a ‘decaying, post-Brexit isolationist’ union.
David Spacey, 56, believed Westminster had played the wrong card in a new referendum. “After the ‘penal budget’ it gets grimmer. Right now, the chance of independence is 50/50. [The union] could win it. If they wait, and people get poorer and struggle to pay their bills, support for independence will only increase.”
The crowd cheered loudly when Nicola Sturgeon, the Prime Minister, made a surprise appearance.
“Today it has been clarified that the UK is not a voluntary partnership of nations,” she said, adding that the result would only create “temporary relief” for union members. “No establishment in Westminster or otherwise will silence the voice of the Scottish people.”
Sturgeon faced strong calls from those in attendance to make her proposal for an SNP convention next year a cross-party move.
Colin Fox, co-spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party, said: “Today could be a historic day if supporters of independence realize we need a better strategy to defeat the forces of the British state that stand in our way.”
In between the speakers, pipers provided short musical interludes. The unofficial national anthem, Flower of Scotland, was sung. One person fell ill and was taken away by ambulance. The counter-protest did not stop from across the road.
Lesley Riddoch, an independence campaigner and organizer of the rally, summed up the general sentiment when she told the crowd: “We may not have convinced people yet that independence is the answer, but surely Westminster and any belief in Westminster is gone and that is huge progress – and something we can build on.”