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Taking the Wheel

Some years ago, a friend of mine was on a car journey along the motorway, with their brother driving. The night before there had been a storm and high winds. The bad weather had continued into the morning before easing, but the wind was still strong.

They were chatting in the car and as they continued to chat, my friend noticed that further along, a motorway stanchion that holds the lights had fallen across their path. It was blocking two of the three lanes, including the one that they were on. Despite that, they continued to chat as if it wasn’t there.

The obstacle drew nearer and nearer. Finally my friend said to his brother, “Aren’t you going to drive round that light?” His brother swerved and made it into the unblocked lane with feet to spare.

I asked my friend why they hadn’t swerved sooner. “Neither of us could believe it was there”, he said.

I’ve thought a lot about that incident in the past few months. There’s an air of disbelief about the direction in which the UK is headed. Nobody can quite believe what they’re seeing as we watch the Bullingdon Club steadily go about their business of smashing up the country.

There’s the pantomime villain characters, each with their own gimmicks; Boris with the mussed-up hair, Jacob Rees Mogg with the big stovepipe hat, Michael Gove with the repertoire of face-pulls (he was an actor, you know). There is something grotesque and laughable about it all. Except that it’s not funny. And just because they’re acting, doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Scotland is essential to the UK’s survival. The value of the oil and gas resources in Scotland allows Britain to borrow money and keep its AAA rating up. Without the £1.6 trillion collateral value of these assets, what is already a very grim picture would become even grimmer for the UK as it would struggle without this as backing. Then there’s fisheries, energy potential and the strategic importance of both Faslane and Scapa Flow, Europe’s back door into the Atlantic.

Scotland is one of the few big bargaining chips – perhaps the only one – that the UK has with Europe. So there is no way that they want to lose Scotland in a UK breakup.

It’s important to understand this, to understand why particular things have been put in place. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, the souping-up of the Scottish Office. This has been going on for two years, where the number of staff has been considerably increased.

Secondly, the promotion of Ruth Davidson to both the Privy Council and to the Lords. What her future role is going to be we can only guess, but at the tender age of 41 she is certainly not ready to retire yet.

Thirdly, the continuance, with the minimum of scrutiny and debate, of the Coronavirus Act. We suspect this might have started out in life as a draft for a Brexit bill and the contingencies that might arise from it. They cover much of the same ground – curfews, enhanced powers of arrest and detainment, ability to disperse assemblies and crowds, interruptions to food supply lines, etc This was waved through after 90 minutes’ debate at Westminster. It also includes powers to postpone elections.

Fourthly, the Internal Market bill. As has rightly and extensively been identified, it is a massive power grab on devolution.

Finally – and this may or may not be connected with future events – the enshrinement of the ability of the security services to ignore the law of the land. We hope it’s a total coincidence that this has happened as political discontent rises in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We fear it’s not.

Dear reader, Westminster has got its ducks in a row. It has set up the governmental structure to take control from Holyrood. It has put in place the contingency measures to deal with unrest/riots that might follow. It has removed the security services’ obligations to the law of the land, which will enable the said services to pursue political organisations that might organise opposition in any manner they please. They have toppled that motorway stanchion into the path of our escape from the UK and we are hurtling towards it at 100 miles per hour

Which brings us to those at the wheel, at least for the time being; the SNP and the Greens. In the face of this impending disaster, what avoiding action is being taken?


We don’t like to say it. For a long time we too, believed that they were going to turn the wheel at the last minute and go screeching round that obstacle. However, as Brexit came closer and nothing had happened, that was when we formed the ISP. We had to do something. And do you know what? Yes, we’re small. Yes, we’re unknowns. Yes, we are ordinary grassroots supporters. And maybe we weren’t the best people to do this. But somebody had to do something. Because the drivers aren’t listening.

Consider the powers that MSPs possess. They have access to the Civil Service who can help them draft bills. They could have raised a court action to establish once and for all the Scottish Parliament’s powers (or lack of) over a referendum, instead of obstructing Martin Keatings’ one. They could already have referendum legislation in place, ready to go at a moment’s notice. They could make the next Holyrood election a plebiscite. They could at least have a plan for when Boris Johnson says no again, or debate it at conference this month rather than planning a casual relaxed chat about it at some unspecified point in future.

The SNP have been in power for 13 years, including half a decade since the Brexit vote. They could certainly have got their ducks in a row by now, just as Boris has. But none of that has happened.

Over the past few months we’ve continually said the same thing. We’ll say it one more time. We are running out of time. (“We” being the independence movement.) We cannot afford to give the indy parties in power “one more chance”, effectively another five years in which to dither and delay and then plead for another last chance.

We have to shout in their ear and threaten to take the wheel if they don’t act. Because we’re about to crash right into the trap that Boris Johnson and others have spent the last two years setting up.

The ISP have taken lots of brickbats and questioning of our motives. We’ve been accused of being snake-oil salesmen and amateurs. We’re not overly concerned what people call us – sticks and stones and all that – but what we are concerned about is that there are those who still believe that that trap isn’t there, despite all the evidence in plain sight. Like that motorway stanchion, it can’t be there, because the driver continues to head towards it remorselessly.

But it is there. And we, the grassroots, the amateurs, the Yes groups, the bloggers, the marchers – somehow have to take control of that wheel before we crash.

Julie McAnulty is Deputy Leader of the Independence for Scotland Party.

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