24 August 2022

How bicycle number plates could break up the Union

By Ian Mitchell

The idea of number plates for bicycles is bad enough in itself – so bad, in fact, that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps dismissed it almost as quickly as he suggested it. But even hinting at such pointless, draconian measures could have consequences far more serious than forcing the government into an embarrassing u-turn – it could help destroy the United Kingdom.

Hear me out: this kind of legislation, which panders purely to the interests of Londoners and is completely unnecessary north of the border, is exactly why we have a Potemkin parliament in Edinburgh causing so much trouble. I know this from personal experience. My negative epiphany happened when I realised that the shape of windows in new houses to be built on the isle of Barra was controlled by legislation designed to stop ribbon development in the south of England after the Second World War. The idea that the Town and Country Planning Act (1947) should govern house design in the outer Hebrides in the 1990s seemed to me to be metropolitan autocracy run completely riot. I decided to do the only effective thing I could, and vote for the Scottish National Party.

Though a convinced Unionist, I was so enraged at the English presumption that their problems are everyone’s problems, and that we must all be repressed in the same way in order to preserve national legal uniformity, that I voted SNP for thirty years.

Likewise, I refuse to be subjected to rules like those proposed on cyclists. I refuse to be micro-managed by pale-fingered control freaks in airless offices. Londoners are welcome to destroy the freedom of physical movement in their city in any way they think beneficial. It is their manor. But this is my country.

Cyclists may or may not be a problem in the south-east of England – I do not know, not having visited for more than a decade. But they are certainly not here in seaward Argyll. Every day I cycle about 11 kms along the shore here for a breath of fresh air and some exercise. Almost the whole route is on single-track roads where everyone travels slowly. Though I am sure I break the speed limit on some of the downhill sections, I have never found myself in conflict with a driver, pedestrian or sheep. I don’t use protective gear; I don’t wear cycling clothes. When the mood takes me, I simply put on a rain jacket or a sun hat, depending on the season, and hop on my bike. Without that kind of freedom, cycling becomes another aspect of the national conspiracy to chain everyone to chairs and smartphones.Why should I be forced to cramp my lifestyle because of rude humans (allegedly) five hundred miles away? It can hardly be said too loudly: This is not London. No, ee have far more pressing matters to deal with, from Nicola Sturgeon through dud ferries, national bankruptcy and on to – er – Nicola Sturgeon.

So I give due warning – I will revert to voting for the SNP if this law is ever ‘touched by the sceptre’, as legislation used to be in the old Scottish parliament in order to come into effect. I make this point because I know that this is the mood in Scotland today. Thousands of people, especially in rural communities, will revert to voting for the Nationalists if there is much more of this sort of Anglocentric Sovietism.

I would rather deal with the screaming barbarian hordes that we saw on display outside the Tory hustings in Perth last week (which can also provide useful exercise) than with the po-faced British bureaucracy when it is in a mood to destroy the freedom of simple cycling in the fresh air in a beautiful country like Scotland. This is not London, as I have said. This will not be Britain either unless this sort of repression stops.

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Ian Mitchell is the author of The Justice Factory: Can the Rule of Law Survive in 21st Century Scotland? (2020) and is working on a parliamentary biography of Nicola Sturgeon.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.