On Saturday, I was an eye-witness to Manny Singh, organiser of the huge pro-Independence demonstration through Glasgow, co-operating efficiently and respectfully with the police in keeping order and protecting public safety, and in making sure the event was a joyous family occasion, successful and enjoyed by everyone. That included Manny liaising regularly with the most senior police officers in charge of the march. Before I made my speech, I asked him how it was all going and Manny volunteered unasked that the Police had been brilliant. From what I witnessed, the respect was mutual.
It is then extremely perturbing that, two days after the march, Police Scotland arrested Manny for organising an illegal procession, a charge that carries a maximum three months imprisonment. Plainly the orders for this radical change of attitude have come from very high. The defence of this draconian measure by SNP Glasgow councillor and ex-BBC intern Rhiannon Spear gives a clue as to where this is coming from.
Still more of a clue is the astonishing four page attack on Yes supporters that took up the the front and four pages of the Herald the day after the demonstration, in which the SNP’s NATO and monarchy enthusiast Angus Robertson and extreme Cold War Russophobe Stewart McDonald vented their spleen at Independence supporters who dare to take a more radical line. It was very thinly disguised as an attack on online abuse – of which in four full pages not one single example was given by them, let alone any qualitative or quantitative analysis.
McDonald in a lengthy rant in the article makes plain that what he really cannot stand is rather people do not accept his Establishment view, who criticise the BBC, and embrace “conspiracy theories.”
This is the essential background to the arrest of Manny. Now the SNP has a highly ambivalent attitude to Manny’s organisation, AUOB. AUOB is the main vehicle for public pressure for early Independence, while Nicola Sturgeon has embraced a strategy of kicking a new Independence referendum ever further into the long grass, while a national consultation is held, or Brexit plays out, or a citizens’ assembly discusses federal solutions, or whatever else excuse comes to hand.
In terms of electoral success for the SNP, Sturgeon’s strategy is undoubtedly brilliant. The SNP stands unchallenged in the polls at 46%, with the Tories in second place trailing woefully behind on 22%. The SNP is an incredibly successful political machine, and one which can keep the highheidyins in a very comfortable living indeed for life. To say that the SNP hierarchy are very comfortable on the UK gravy train would be a massive understatement. They are in no hurry at all to make a bid for Independence that may put their careers and livelihoods at risk.
The only problem is the wider Yes campaign and the wider SNP membership, who had been under the impression that they were putting their hands in their pockets and donating, and were out there in the cold delivering leaflets, because the SNP was the vehicle for Independence, not just to support Scotland’s very own highly paid ruling political class. These people continually applied inconvenient pressure, both online where their criticisms of the BBC and other establishment pillars were an embarrassment to the comfortably ensconced, and by continual street activity as through AUOB.
Nicola has had to make repeated SNP conference speeches and every time been forced to pretend she is interested in pursuing Independence at a future date. Surely, SNP HQ thinking runs, it would be better to take some of the pressure off her by hobbling support for the pesky online Independence supporters and those noisy marchers?
AUOB had applied to Glasgow City Council in September for permission to hold the recent march. As it was a repeat of the entirely peaceful and successful one last year, there was no reason to suppose any problem might arise. Then just ten days before the march, Glasgow City Council called the organisers to a meeting and demanded the start time be moved forward from 1.30pm to 11am because of “potential disruption” and “public order concerns”.
The proposed change was quite openly an attempt to reduce the numbers on the march for “ahem” reasons of public order. The organisers made plain that it was not possible at that late stage to make the change. The march had been widely advertised, coaches had been booked, and people were quite literally traveling from all over Scotland – which of course is what Glasgow City Council were precisely trying to prevent.
A committee of two SNP and one Green councillor, completely ignoring the entirely trouble free experience of the previous year, ruled that the march must kick off at 11am. Manny simply responded that in the interests of free speech, he would ignore the council’s ruling, and he did so, with great success.
The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating. The Council was simply wrong – there were in fact zero public order or safety problems involved in the march, and their pretended concern stands revealed for what it was, a pathetic attempt to hamper free speech and hobble the demonstration of massive public support for Independence. Even the SNP Deputy Leader Keith Brown turned up, though he said pretty well nothing about Independence while introducing the SNP candidates for the Euro elections.
In view that their pretended concerns proved – as everybody always knew – completely unfounded, the councillors involved stand exposed as despicable abusers of the power they were granted by the very people who were marching.
It appears from Ms Spear’s tweet that it is SNP run Glasgow Council – and I would bet after consultation with SNP HQ – who have now doubled down on their stupidity and arbitrary repression by ordering police to effect Manny’s arrest. Well, there are 100,000 of us at least who would happily stand beside him in the dock.
The man who has organised the most successful pro-Indy campaigning since 2014 has been arrested, just for doing precisely that. Yet so far there has been not a single gesture of support for Manny, public or private, from any of the SNP hierarchy. Why do you think that is?
The attempt to hobble and limit the AUOB march, and the extraordinary four page entirely unprovoked attack the next day on “cybernats”, form part of a coordinated effort by the SNP leadership to control the wider Yes movement and subdue the demand for early Independence. They failed with AUOB due to Manny’s courage and integrity – hence the vindictive order for his arrest.
I wrote this before seeing this excellent article from Paul Kavanagh, which makes precisely the same arguments. Paul commands much broader respect than I do across the Independence movement, peculiarly enough because it took him two years longer to spot, or at least speak out about, the problem with Sturgeon and Murrell than it took me. But if you read the comments on his article, you will see that there is massive agreement on this from numerous long term SNP members.
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