‘The law is an ass!’: street protests after ruling in Scotland independence case
It was one of the coldest nights of the year so far, but that did not stop hundreds of people from gathering outside Holyrood this Wednesday evening to protest at the supreme court’s ruling that Scotland could not legally hold another independence referendum.
Scottish flags were worn like capes – little protection against a chilly Edinburgh evening – and Yes signs strung with lights were waved against the darkening sky. Anti-Tory placards made an appearance, some recycled from 2014, others with a fresh angle. “Our colonial status has been 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 on the stage, funded by the Scottish Independence Foundation.
A small but lively counterprotest across the road shouted over a tannoy, calling for the independence campaign leaders to be put in the dock for treason. “The union has worked 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.”
The pro-independence supporters were equally buoyant. Jim Brack described the court ruling as a “win win”, saying: “It has revitalised the situation. We were perhaps getting a bit complacent.”
Julia Stryl, 52, agreed that the result would provide a boost to the independence movement. “[Westminster] hoped the supreme court would be neutral. Now, it’s Westminster that’s clearly blocking the democratic right to independence for the Scottish people.”
The crowd on the evening was diverse, with speakers from America, France, Catalonia and elsewhere. The fallout from Brexit was a strong consideration for many who had voted pro-union in 2014 but since changed their mind.
“I regret it,” said Elise Tallaron, who is French and has lived in the UK since 1996. “Even then, I could see strong arguments for independence.” She is now treasurer for the Yes For EU movement.
It was clear that anti-Tory sentiment, always strong in Scotland, had been gathering force amid Covid, Brexit and the cost of living crisis. One placard read: “Scotland can’t afford to be part of the UK.”
The Scottish National party MP Tommy Sheppard, who took the train from London to attend, declared that Scotland did not need to be “enslaved” to a “decaying, post-Brexit isolationist” union any longer.
David Spacey, 56, believed that Westminster had played the wrong card on a new referendum. “After the ‘punishment budget’ things are getting grim. At the moment 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 first minister, made a surprise appearance.
RELATED: Scotland’s future remains in the balance
For years politicians and the public have pronounced on Scotland’s future, a topic where passions run high.
Now the judges have had their say in the calm and careful language of the law.
The issue at hand in the Supreme Court was relatively narrow. It was not whether Scotland should be independent or even whether there should be a referendum but specifically whether Holyrood could hold a poll without the consent of Westminster.
The answer was not a surprise but it leaves two big questions hanging in the air for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Is the UK a voluntary union of nations? Is there a credible path to independence?
In 2016 voters in Scotland said no to Brexit by a big margin and were forced to leave the EU anyway; they have rejected Conservative rule for decades; and last year they again elected a majority of MSPs to the Scottish Parliament on manifesto commitments to hold another referendum.
That is the core of the case for another referendum.
The case against focuses on stability, security and the fact that Scottish voters have already had a chance to choose a different path which, in 2014, they rejected by 55% to 45%.
Research suggests the Better Together campaign for the union won because enough voters, particularly pensioners and the middle classes, thought they would be better off in the UK.
In my travels around Scotland these days I hear two contradictory views about the economics of independence: the first, that things are now so bad that Scotland may as well jump in the lifeboat; the second that these tough times would be the worst possible moment to set sail as an independent nation.
Either way the polls aren’t shifting much. The nation appears to remain more or less evenly divided.
RELATED: Scotland blocked from holding independence vote by UK’s Supreme Court
Britain’s Supreme Court has ruled that Scotland’s government cannot unilaterally hold a second referendum on whether to secede from the United Kingdom, in a blow to independence campaigners that will be welcomed by Westminster’s pro-union establishment.
The court unanimously rejected an attempt by the Scottish National Party (SNP) to force a vote next October, as it did not have the approval of Britain’s parliament.
But the decision is unlikely to stem the heated debate over independence that has loomed over British politics for a decade.
Scotland last held a vote on the issue, with Westminster’s approval, in 2014, when voters rejected the prospect of independence by 55% to 45%.
The pro-independence SNP has nonetheless dominated politics north of the border in the intervening years, at the expense of the traditional, pro-union groups. Successive SNP leaders have pledged to give Scottish voters another chance to vote, particularly since the UK voted to leave the European Union in 2016.
The latest push by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon involved holding an advisory referendum late next year, similar to the 2016 poll that resulted in Brexit. But the country’s top court agreed that even a non-legally binding vote would require oversight from Westminster, given its practical implications.
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter