WIDESPREAD protests by farmers in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain since the end of last year over prices, costs and incomes have shown how direct action can pay dividends.

Farmers have done more than merely protest by marching. They have blocked transport routes such as roads and ports, as well as blockading business districts and government quarters.

Tractors and trailers, and the dumping of produce and manure have been their weapons of choice. And they have won considerable concessions.

In Britain, any action by farmers north and south of the Border has been muted by comparison. There have been some small protests in Wales, around Dover and in London. Scotland has almost been exempt.

Indeed, the president of National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland said he could not envisage the same types of action being taken north of the Border. His comments were not so much a prediction as a deliberate dampener for any possible such action.

What explains the differences between Britain and the continental countries, and what is the relevance of this for the campaign for independence? Quite apart from the comments of the NFU Scotland president, the absence of similar protests in Britain can be explained by the differing class composition of farmers and different traditions of collective action.

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Farmers tend to be big or bigger in Britain and the NFU is not a trade union but actually an employers’ association. By contrast, and in proportionate terms, many more farmers on the Continent are small farmers which do have collective associations that are closer to being trade unions to represent them.

On top of this, the body politic in Britain has never much comprised extra-parliamentary action as it has done on the Continent. Farmers as well as workers, students and unemployed people in these countries have more keenly taken to the streets in mass numbers to make their voices heard.

Critically, they do not just protest by marching from A to B through any city centre – they also target the centres of economic and political activity in a way that creates leverage over their opponents. So, actions are held during the working week and static protests rather than marches are used to create this disruption.

This means there is much to be learnt for the independence movement in terms of knowing where and how to strike a blow at the central cogs of the economy and government in order to more forcefully raise demands and prosecute them.

While Palestine Action has shown how a very small group of dedicated activists can shut down a single company for a day or two, the farmers have illustrated how mass action works. What would this look like in the cause of independence?

One obvious example is that action must be taken in and to the heart of the beast – namely, Westminster, Whitehall and the City of London.

While actions in Edinburgh and Glasgow have a point in order to put pressure upon those in Holyrood, the Scottish Government and Scottish establishment to concede to more effective actions in the cause of independence, they cannot be the key target.

By way of illustration, demonstrations of millions in Barcelona in support of independence for Catalonia have not done too much to build pressure on the Spanish government in Madrid to concede independence. Far better to get those millions of demonstrators to outside the Cortes in Madrid, the Treasury and the AZCA financial district.

They can make much more of an impact there, clogging up the capital physically, and so also politically and economically. Some may set up camps there as the Indignados movement did in 2011 over austerity.

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Contemplating such disruptive tactics is going to become all the more possible and necessary as support for independence becomes less and less synonymous with support for the SNP.

In other words, as support for independence remains relatively high and steady but not physically or collectively mobilised outside of the odd traditional and infrequent demonstration, there is now the opportunity for the campaign for independence to be less tied to a thoroughly parliamentary party.

New SNP leader John Swinney has now confirmed that the SNP are still tied to its strategy of winning a majority of Westminster seats at the forthcoming General Election in order to gain another referendum.

Given that the SNP already has this mandate and arch-Unionist Keir Starmer is likely to have a clear Labour majority in Parliament, very little in the way of additional pressure for another referendum is likely to be brought to bear.

Independence campaigners could do a lot worse than start by raising the funds to block book the Caledonian Sleeper trains to London – or daringly ask the Scottish Government, which now owns this franchise, to put on free travel.

Gregor Gall is a visiting professor of industrial relations at the University of Leeds, and author of the biography Mick Lynch: The Making Of A Working-Class Hero (Manchester University Press, 2024)