Nicola Sturgeon has warned guidance against large gatherings “applies across the board” amid anger over an independence rally set to take place in Dundee next week despite Remembrance services being scrapped.
The campaign group All Under One Banner (AUOB), who were behind some of Scotland’s biggest Yes marches before the coronavirus pandemic, will hold a “rally for independence” in Dundee on October 31.
The event is scheduled to go ahead despite many Armistice Day services across Scotland being wiped out for the first time in living memory because of fears large gatherings could spread Covid-19 in local communities.
AUOB insist their outdoor event will be not be a “mass gathering” and people have been asked to register their interest to take part in the hour-long “static rally” along with a pledge to follow hygiene and face-covering rules.
Dundee City Council confirmed “no application has been submitted for permission for such an event” and said any application would need to be considered by officials before a decision could be made on whether to let it take place.
But we have learned details of the rally were discussed during a private meeting of political group leaders on the council, and AUOB were still advertising registration for the rally on social media on Monday afternoon.
Speaking at her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon warned coronavirus would spread “regardless of the political affiliation” of any event, and said she could not be clearer that the rules on gatherings apply to everyone.
The SNP leader said: “Generally, everybody should be compliant with restrictions on gatherings right now because that’s in the interests of the health of all of us – so there are no exceptions, in my view, from that.
“There’s very good reasons why large crowds of people should not be coming together right now. I stand up here every day and say avoid crowded places and that applies.
“Unfortunately, that will mean that a lot of traditional remembrance services do not go ahead, not just in Dundee but across the UK, this year.
“Hopefully we will find other ways to commemorate those who have given so much for our collective safety down the years but big gatherings are not a good idea right now, and, of course, there are restrictions on them, and that applies across the board.”
Pressed on whether the AUOB event should go ahead, she replied: “I don’t know how to be any clearer. I don’t think big events should be going ahead no matter what for, and I’ve been clear about that all along.
“I don’t think anybody who has listened to me over the past six months now can be under any illusion that I don’t think big events should be going ahead right now because of the reasons we all know and understand.”
The public have been warned to stay away from the usual Remembrance Sunday parades and services in a move described as “heartbreaking” but the only “sensible option” by Royal British Legion officials.
Small wreath-laying ceremonies will still go ahead and anyone who wishes to leave their own tributes will be able to do so after Legion representatives have left.
North East MSP Bill Bowman called on Dundee City Council to make sure the rally for independence does not take place on October 31.
“The first minister could not have been any clearer – this event shouldn’t be taking place,” he said. “Responsibility now lies with the SNP-run Dundee City Council to take action, show backbone and act with leadership. There can’t be any exception.”
AUOB did not respond to questioning from us on whether it planned to go ahead with the rally despite not having permission from Dundee City Council.
A similar march held by the group in Aberdeen last year devolved into controversy after organisers were compelled to change the route at the 11th hour, with permission only being granted by Aberdeen City Council days before the event.
In a statement, AUOB said: “All Under One Banner is fleet of foot, flexible and always looks forward. Those are the necessary characteristics when campaigning for our freedom.
“Our first minister is doing a great job leading the fight against Covid in Scotland and we support her.”