A STILL fondly-regarded former colleague issues a weekly sermon on Facebook in which he gently mocks all forms of religious observance. Most weeks he’s giving it tight to Christianity. He provides a necessary service because the absurdity of religion and its myriad hypocrisies require to be mocked and believers like me need to be challenged about what in the name of God we actually believe.

Under the Scottish Government’s proposed new Hate Crime Bill my friend’s elegant excoriation of faith runs the risk of being proscribed. Boris Johnson’s relaxation of lockdown rules has been condemned for its inconsistencies and absence of specifics. But it has nothing on this ill-considered attempt to turn Scotland into a fairy-tale colony dedicated to the power of group-think. Blasphemy would no longer be regarded as an offence but an entire suite of other philosophical positions on religion – if pungently expressed – could have the miscreant doing penance at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

The bill contains an entire canon of misdemeanours. So clumsily and open to subjective interpretation is it that now might be a good time to buy shares in Messrs Somers, Orr and Quinn, criminal defence specialists. Here, for instance, is “religion or perceived religious affiliation” and, a bit further down, communicating “in a threatening or abusive manner” based on said “perceived affiliation”. If the Crown believes “it is likely that hatred will be stirred up” by your observations then you’re looking at seven years in the pokey.

Perversely, the Bill is being promoted by a party that has failed to investigate complaints, made six months ago by its own MP Joanna Cherry and others, about abuse so vile and misogynistic that for a while the police were giving her round-the-clock protection. Quite obviously, the party doesn’t consider Ms Cherry to be the right sort of victim.

This Bill, introduced under cover of coronavirus, came not long after the Scottish Government encouraged a foolish attempt to suspend jury trials while the virus raged. Was it a coincidence that this move (quickly dropped) came after the jury in the Alex Salmond trial delivered what was for some in the Government the wrong kind of justice?

Since then, prominent and outspoken supporters of Mr Salmond (found innocent on all counts) have been charged: one for alleged contempt and the other for alleged threatening behaviour. Meanwhile, the Twitter account of the Rev Stuart Campbell, owner of Wings Over Scotland, still the most influential blog in the Yes movement, has been suspended for a second time.

Even to mention Wings Over Scotland is to invite opprobrium by those who purport to cherish freedom of expression. The problem, of course, is that some who seek to be the sentinels of free expression sometimes get choosy about applying it, depending on who’s doing the expressing. Wings Over Scotland, along with other popular political blogs, have successfully challenged the monopoly that newspapers and TV used to enjoy. Rather than work harder to see off their challenge some of my colleagues choose to denigrate them.

Supporters of independence have a reasonable case for their belief that the shambolic way the UK Government has conducted itself throughout the coronavirus lockdown can increase support for their cause. Where Boris Johnson has been slovenly and complacent about the pandemic Nicola Sturgeon has displayed grace under pressure. By her own admission she’s made her errors of judgment but she exudes authority and good leadership.

It’s entirely appropriate to be considering the future of the UK at this time in view of the lamentably high Covid-19 death toll resulting in part from the UK Government’s early complacency and confused messaging. Ms Sturgeon and her health minister, Jeane Freeman, seem to be on top of the coronavirus situation in Scotland, so that leaves plenty of scope for the other 106 MPs and MSPs to be building a strategy for independence.

Joanna Cherry is one who has been vociferous in recent weeks for the independence case to be pressed home. Yet, such sentiments seem to be considered dangerous by the SNP’s presidium and so the ubiquitous anonymous ‘party source’ was duly despatched not merely to contradict her but to ridicule her too. Such is the way with the party that preaches respect for women. Is it these views that have so upset the party hierarchy – they’re not exactly surprising – or is it her support for Mr Salmond and her perceived unease about the proposed Hate Crime Bill and the Government’s equally obnoxious proposed Gender Recognition reforms?

A more immediate concern now arises about what sort of country the Scottish Government wants to shape before and after independence. This is when the picture begins to darken considerably. There is something sinister being hatched here underneath our noses.

If the Scottish Government prevails Scotland will be a country that is seeking to reverse generations of progress in women’s rights by enabling men to access their 'safe spaces' merely be declaring overnight that they want to become women. In promulgating this biological fantasy it has indulged in a linguistic chimera which Joseph Stalin would have rejected as fanciful. By expressing reasonable opposition to this you are now deemed to be transphobic.

It’s becoming apparent to many in the wider Yes movement that the Scottish Government has been hollowed out by a group of fanatics who are influencing and making policies by stealth and subterfuge to suit their narrow agenda.

A wide-ranging poll conducted this week for Wings Over Scotland by Panelbase has already produced one astounding conclusion: that the number of SNP voters who’d be willing to sacrifice power for the sacred goal of independence has dropped from 82% to 59%. It bears out my worst fears for the future of the independence movement: that the party which alone is defined by this has now become so dazzled by the trinkets of high office that it’s fast losing the stomach for the fight.

Instead, it seems, party managers would rather Scotland be used as a pilot for an experiment in gender tyranny reinforced by an Orwellian surveillance programme. They have made independence subservient to a different agenda.

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