A crowd supporting “democratic rights” gathers at Holyrood with “yes” signs, bagpipes, and the Saltire on display
Yes signs with light strings were waved against the darkening sky while Scottish flags were worn like capes, offering little protection from the cool Edinburgh evening. There were anti-Tory signs, some from 2014 and some with new perspectives. One of them stated, “Our colonial status has been confirmed, and the law is an ass!”
Even though it was one of the coldest evenings of the year thus far, hundreds of people gathered outside Holyrood on Wednesday night to express ther disapproval of the supreme court’s decision that Scotland could not constitutionally have another independence referendum.
Bagpipers congregated in groups while they warmed up their instruments and took breaks to smoke.
The Scottish Independence Foundation-funded stereo on stage was blasting The Proclaimers.
The leaders of the independence movement should be tried for treason, screamed a small but loud counterprotest across the street.
“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.
“Today it has been clarified that the UK is not a voluntary partnership of nations,” she said, adding that the result would create only “temporary relief” for unionists. “No establishment Westminster 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 movement.
Colin Fox, co-spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist party, said: “Today could be a historic day if independence supporters realise we need a better strategy to beat the forces of British state that bar our way.”
Between speakers, pipers provided brief musical interludes. The unofficial national anthem, Flower of Scotland, was sung. One person was taken ill and removed by ambulance. The counter-protest did not let up from the other side of the road.
Lesley Riddoch, an independence campaigner and organiser of the rally, summed up the overall sentiment when she told the crowd: “We may not have yet convinced people that independence is the answer, but certainly Westminster and any belief in Westminster is gone and that is massive progress – and something for us to build on.”