‘The law is an ass!’: Street protests after decision in Scotland’s independence case |  Scottish independence

‘The law is an ass!’: Street protests after decision in Scotland’s independence case | Scottish independence

IIt was one of the coldest nights of the year so far, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from gathering outside Holyrood this Wednesday night to protest the High Court ruling that Scotland could not legally hold another independence referendum.

Scottish flags were worn like capes – little protection against a chilly Edinburgh night – and illuminated Yes signs were waved against the darkening sky. Anti-Tory posters appeared, some recycled from 2014, others with a fresh angle. “Our colonial status is confirmed – and the law is an ass!” read one.

Groups of bagpipers huddled together, warming up their instruments and stopping for a cigarette break. The Proclaimers were blasted from a stereo system on stage, funded by the Scottish Independence Foundation.

A small but lively counter-protest across the road shouted over a tannoy, calling for the leaders of the independence campaign to be tried for treason. “The union has been working for 400 years,” said Ronnie Kane, co-director of the pro-union campaign group A Force For Good. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

British union supporters outside Parliament in Edinburgh on Wednesday night
British union supporters outside Parliament in Edinburgh on Wednesday night. Photo: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

The supporters of independence were equally vigorous. Describing the court decision as a “win win”, Jim Brack said: “It has revitalized the situation. We maybe got a little complacent.”

Julia Stryl, 52, agreed that the result would give a boost to the independence movement. “[Westminster] hoped that the Supreme Court would be neutral. Now it is Westminster that is clearly blocking the democratic right to independence for the Scottish people.”

The evening’s audience was diverse, with speakers from America, France, Catalonia and elsewhere. The fallout from Brexit was a strong assessment for many who had voted pro-union in 2014 but have since changed their minds.

“I regret it,” said Elise Tallaron, who is French and has lived in Britain since 1996. “Even then I could see strong arguments for independence.” She is now the treasurer of the Yes For EU movement.

It was clear that anti-Tory sentiment, always strong in Scotland, had gathered during Covid, Brexit and the cost of living crisis. One poster read: “Scotland cannot afford to be part of the UK.”

Scottish National Party MP Tommy Sheppard, who took the train from London to attend, declared that Scotland no longer needed to be “enslaved” to a “decaying, post-Brexit isolationist union”.

David Spacey, 56, believed that Westminster had played the wrong cards in a new referendum. “After the ‘penalty budget’, things get bleak. Currently, the chance of independence is 50/50. [The union] could win it. If they wait, and people get poorer and struggle to pay the bills, support for independence will only increase.”

The crowd cheered loudly when Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, made a surprise appearance.

“Today it has been clarified that Britain is not a voluntary partnership of nations,” she said, adding that the result would only bring “temporary relief” to union members. “No Westminster establishment or otherwise will silence the voice of the Scottish people.”

Sturgeon faced strong calls from those present to make her proposal for an SNP convention next year a cross-party motion.

Colin Fox, co-spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party, said: “Today could be a historic day if independence supporters realize that we need a better strategy to defeat the forces of the British state that are blocking our way.”

Between the speakers, pipers provided short musical interludes. The unofficial national anthem, Flower of Scotland, was sung. One person was reported sick and removed by ambulance. The counter-protest did not let up from the other side of the road.

Lesley Riddoch, an independence campaigner and organizer of the rally, summed up the general feeling when she told the crowd: “We may not yet have convinced people that independence is the answer, but definitely Westminster and any belief in Westminster is gone and there is massive progress – and something for us to build on.”

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