Tens of thousands of Scottish independence supporters are to march through Edinburgh on Saturday, as pressure builds on the Scottish National party leadership to decide on the timing of a second referendum.
Organisers have predicted that at least 30,000 people will take part in the march through the capital city, 24 hours before the SNP’s conference begins in Glasgow. The party’s deputy leader, Keith Brown, was expected to address a rally at the end of the march, but there are no independence-related debates scheduled for the party conference.
A row over the final rallying point for the march has led to the lodging of a formal complaint of bias with the Scottish government.
Historic Environment Scotland has refused to allow the marchers to congregate at Holyrood park, next to the Scottish parliament, saying it does not allow “political events of any nature” to take place on its properties. March organisers claimed on Friday that the ban had been overturned, but HES has insisted that it remains in force.
Martin Keatings, the convenor of Forward as One, which has lodged the complaint about HES, said the ban breached human rights and rights of access laws. He referred to a case in August, when an employment tribunal judge ruled that equality law protected support for Scottish independence because it was a “philosophical belief” similar to a religion.
The event marks the culmination of a summer of marches across the country, organised by the non-aligned grassroots group All Under One Banner (AUOB). The first march through Glasgow in May attracted about 40,000 independence supporters, who brandished saltires and “Still Yes” placards in the largest public demonstration in the city since the rally against the Iraq war in 2003.
AUOB organisers have called for a second vote to be held before 2021, which marks the end of the Brexit transition period and the next Holyrood elections.
Those involved with the wider independence movement report a growing frustration among grassroots activists about a perceived lack of leadership from the SNP, in particular the way its leader, Nicola Sturgeon, appears to have tied the fate of the next referendum to Brexit. The first minister has previously indicated she will update her party on her thoughts about a second vote once the terms of a Brexit deal are clear.
The director of the radical left thinktank Commonweal, Robin McAlpine, described “an accumulation of disillusion” among activists, adding: “There are so many fault lines, it is hard to know what direction it will go in. The SNP members will turn up and cheer in Glasgow, but the mood could turn on something as simple as whether Sturgeon turns up to the AUOB march the day before.”
This grassroots frustration was also raised by the former first minister, Alex Salmond, on his RT chat show on Thursday. Salmond, who has taken a less cautious approach to a second referendum than his successor, asked the former Holyrood presiding officer Tricia Marwick about the Edinburgh march, which she said was evidence of “a desire for the process to be moved forward by many people”.
Marwick went on: “They see [the march] as a way to put pressure on everybody involved, to say there is a case for this, we want it to move quicker.”