UNDER a twinkly sky beneath Arthur’s Seat it’s all kicking off at the Scottish Independence Rally.

The gathering in front of the Scottish Parliament, which will swell to around 2,000, has been organised to greet the UK Supreme Court’s verdict on Holyrood’s legitimacy to hold another referendum.

Across the road, beside the King’s Scottish residence a knot of perhaps 15 Unionists are brandishing the red, white and blue. The exchanges, in keeping with these august buildings in this doucest of douce cities, proceed in a genteel manner.

“This is a great day for the sovereignty of Scotland,” shouts the Unionist chap with the megaphone. “You’re wasting your time here; you’ve lost,” he adds. And then, in the tone of a Bearsden minister at the end of the Canadian barn dance, “Go home and get a nice cup of Horlicks.” Ooft, as they say on social media: that must have hurt.

But this isn’t any old independence rally; this is one being hosted by Lesley Riddoch, perhaps the Yes movement’s most formidable and high-profile campaigner. Ms Riddoch is a greatly-admired colleague and friend of many of us in this desiccated old trade, but this doesn’t spare you if you appear on a political show with her and haven’t done your homework. She’s been having this sort of fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the last 10 years. It helps too if you can speak quickly at volume. It’s not for everyone.

She steps up to the microphone on the little stage that’s been built for the occasion. “There’s not very many of them,” she tells the indy supporters, “so just keep the heid.” With Ms Riddoch, the microphones are just for show. Later she will greet her audience with “Ya dancers!”

Another of the Union Jack XV picks up the standard and tries to get all personal. “Is that the lady who wants to join Abba,” he shouts, presumably referring to Lesley’s well-known affection for Scandinavian politics.

Later I bump into her between snatched interviews with the broadcasters. “Lesley, that wee weapon over there says you’re like Agnetha out of Abba,” I tell her. “I’ll take that every day of the week,” she says.

No-one, it seems, is bowed down by the verdict of the Supreme Court. Instead there is a sense of the gang all getting back together and old acquaintances being re-made after the Covid and all of them buoyed by the prospect of another independence referendum. In those turbid 2014 days, lasting friendships were forged and the atmosphere down here in front of the Scottish Parliament crackled with the energy of that time.

No one seemed surprised by the verdict handed down by the Supreme Court, but even so, it was chafing for them to hear a UK law lord, the vertex of the British Establishment, relegate the Scottish Parliament to the status of a Canadian province in a summary, post-breakfast interlude. And you realised that this was probably the response most desired by Nicola Sturgeon when she made this gambit.

The inclusion of the word "colony" in a judgement made by a body such as this has had a startling effect on these people. It was a word carried on the wind on Wednesday night and you formed the impression that Lord Reed, in announcing the official subjugation of Holyrood’s authority, had also fired the starting gun on Indyref2.

His Lordship had said it was absurd to think of Scotland as an oppressed colony. He was right, of course, but in the fevered historical lexicon of this debate any mention of a word like "colony" – in any context – was probably unwise. It will come to feature heavily in a thousand gatherings like tonight over the next two years.

Alison Rollo certainly thinks so. She’s pitched up here with her wooden, triangular display cabinet of ornately-painted stones bearing various legends of the Yes movement. In 2014 these stones became part of the lore of those referendum days. “The Europeans couldn’t get enough of them,” she tells me. “We ended up selling more than 10,000 of them.

“That verdict this morning has been absolutely brilliant for our movement,” she says. “We all expected it but to hear your country described in such stark, colonial terms: that we can’t leave this so-called voluntary union until England says we can, was startling. I think Nicola might just have played a blinder here, and I’ve not been her biggest fan in recent years.”

Among this Yes throng there’s more than a light dusting of Alba supporters. Over there, jouking between the water features and a few flag-bearers perched perilously on the sides, Kenny MacAskill, formerly the Justice Secretary dwelling in the building behind us, is loping towards the stage.

He was the highest-profile defection to Alba, an act still not forgiven by his former SNP colleagues. Just a few weeks ago they all walked out of an important speech he was making at Westminster about inequality. It was an infantile stunt by the SNP’s Westminster contingent and betrayed the bitterness – outright hatred even – that some of them harbour for Alba.

Chris McEleny, another high-profile defector, is here too and he’s dismissive of what he regards as a massive strategic error by the First Minister and her party. “This was the wrong strategy. We didn’t need to send this question to the Supreme Court. Scotland elected a pro-independence majority and the First Minister should have appointed a Lord Advocate she knew would take a bill forward with the backing of Holyrood.

“This could then have been put to the Court of Session and if they’d endorsed the legitimacy of Holyrood then it would have been up to the UK Government to take this to the Supreme Court. They’d have been on the back foot.”

Yet, at this rally, there was a palpable shift in the gnarly dynamics of this relationship, evidence perhaps of a softening. Sharing a stage with Nicola Sturgeon was Alba’s Neale Hanvey, once humiliated, tarred and feathered by the SNP. It’s the First Minister’s intention now to make the next UK election a de facto vote on independence and she’ll need to reach across all the historic hurts and all the divisions to reach 50% plus one.

The First Minister now takes the stage after a characteristically rousing introduction by Lesley Riddoch. If Scotland does gain its independence the toil of Ms Riddoch ought to be given a permanent commemoration. She may just have succeeded in bringing a warring family back together.

Ms Sturgeon talks of Scotland’s voice being heard: “No Establishment, Westminster or otherwise, will ever silence the voice of the Scottish people. Our task as Scotland’s peaceful, civic, inclusive, internationalist independence movement is the same today as it was yesterday. It’s to build the case for Scotland becoming a normal equal independent member of the European family of nations.”

But what of those voices across the road, gathering under the colours of the Union and as proudly Scottish as any of those bearing Saltires? They still represent a majority of Scots – though much less vocal – who voted No in 2014. Eight years later the numbers have begun to indicate a wafer-thin Yes majority, but you wouldn’t bet on it.

Alistair McConnachie, the chap who was urging the Yessers to go and take a right good Horlicks to themselves, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. “Britain is governed by a collection of unions built up over time. We are sovereign Scots too, but part of that sovereignty rests with the Union. We won’t be treating the next election as an independence referendum. It’ll be a normal UK election. You can’t just wish that away.”

Across the road, Jean Hall from Pensioners for Independence, was taking the “best in show” award for her two-sided billboard. She kindly pauses to let me read both of them. “Scotland has voted for no Tory Government since 1955. Will our grandchildren still have to say this in another 67 years? TIME TO CHOOSE SELF-GOVERNMENT.”

She is polite, eloquent and quietly-spoken. Curiously, her presence here is representative of a generally more senior demographic at this rally. In 2014 the independence message didn’t really land with Scotland’s OAPs. She also thinks the Supreme Court decision and the language used to convey it will be good for the Yes movement. “The campaign starts now,” she says. “And we’ll be there every step of the way.”

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