OF all the meaningful phrases crafted by William Shakespeare, the one that keeps returning to my mind is the first line from Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

It is such a brilliantly simple idea, connecting a general mood of disappointment and disgruntlement to the seasons. It is a phrase that has reverberated across centuries, giving the title to John Steinbeck’s last novel and to the politically ferocious winter of 1978, which was characterised by widespread strikes, political discord, secondary picketing and bitterly cold weather.

It is now long forgotten but the Shakespeare quote was manipulated by Larry Lamb, the former editor of The Sun, who was hellbent on securing electoral success for Margaret Thatcher and free-market conservatism. Lamb’s description of those dark winter days as “The Winter of Discontent” forced the Labour Party out of office, wrenching them from power for the next 18 years. It was such a shock to the system that the Labour Party have been haunted by their left-wing origins ever since.

There is every reason to predict that we are facing another winter of discontent, one that will expose the failed rhetoric of Brexit and pull the weakening threads of the Union apart.

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Such is the importance of the forthcoming winter months that the Yes movement needs to navigate events with grace and conviction. There are many more recruits to be won in troubled times and they will come from all corners of Scottish society. We need them all on board.

Brexit is falling apart. Many of its most preposterous claims have been exposed as patriotic fantasy and the concerns that were so callously waved away are now becoming visible to the politically disinterested.

The popular press – once at the vanguard of the Brexit project – have gradually turned into sceptics. In the tabloid imagination, food shortages are too good to ignore, so too are patchy supermarket shelves, and stories of a rush to get hold of scarce items has become commonplace.

Two recent favourites have been the pressure on the supply of carbon dioxide which threatens production of that most Scottish signifier Irn-Bru, and the worry that Halloween pumpkins will be rationed.

Much of this is flatulent nonsense – but it conjures in the mind of consumers a cock-up somewhere along the line and the drip-feed realisation that Scotland has been bounced into a mess it didn’t vote for. This sense of feeling cheated will

intensify as food shortages and a fuel crisis become the next anxieties.

Boris Johnson’s visit to America has been a humiliating failure too. In trying to busk his way through a Channel 4 News interview on Wednesday, he struggled to shake off his previous boasts.

The now tattered belief that Britain’s special relationship with Washington would secure a substantial trade deal with America is lying unloved by the chlorinated chicken freezer in Walmart.

Joe Biden and his close advisers have persistently warned Johnson against anything that will threaten the Belfast Agreement and the fragile cross-border relations in Ireland. This is a fascinating psychodrama – Biden and many of his supporters see Ireland as a cause celebre while the ingrained prejudices of English conservatism have always viewed Ireland as either a nuisance or an expendable irrelevance.

Suddenly they have been brought face-to-face with reality. Ireland is not simply a Brexit inconvenience, it is a modern independent nation with many friends, some of them in very high places.

Much as Johnson tries to bluster his way out of difficult and sometimes irresolvable realities, he is regularly exposed as a lightweight leader. His attempt to make a joke about Kermit the Frog and the colour green at a UN summit was only his latest misjudgement.

Under Johnson’s stewardship, the idea of the Union as a respected and world-leading concept has been dealt a serious body blow. This diminution of status is surely not lost on those Unionist Scots who once believed that our international interests were best served by the Foreign Office and the lumbering arrogance of the British State.

Johnson’s premiership is driving a wedge through the once settled institutions of the Union and has driven many thousands of people who were reassured by the status quo into a mindset that has begun to contemplate change.

The forthcoming winter of discontent will be a crucial historic moment. While the lights may not go off this time, there is no doubt that energy costs will soar, and many will be forced into fuel poverty.

Nearly 1.5 million people across the UK have now been affected by energy firms collapsing under soaring gas prices. Avro Energy and Green have ceased trading and their customers face being switched to more expensive providers.

One of the big boasts of Brexit, that fuel prices would decline, is now exposed as a stark misrepresentation of the facts.

We are already in the first phase of an economic crisis. More than 300,000 people in Scotland are unable to pay their rent or mortgage and a cost-of-living crisis is crippling the future of numerous families.

The furlough support that came to the rescue of the business sector is already history, and bleak economic forecasts suggest there will be a huge rise in businesses defaulting on debt, shrinking back to basics or in many cases calling in the administrators.

Rising unemployment and a freeze on wages are already with us and it is almost inevitable that the winter of discontent will come with a backdrop of strikes, industrial disputes and acts of civil disobedience.

This raises both challenges and opportunities for the Yes campaign. In times of deep stress when people are losing jobs and having their lives torn apart, belligerence is never the right response. The independence movement has already taken great strength from the trade union movement and from sometime Labour supporters – it needs to bring even more over the divide.

As the Labour Party’s once-cherished platform “The British Road to Socialism” fades deeper into history and Keir Starmer think-tanks his way further to the right, there are more disenchanted recruits to be won from the Labour Party and the ranks of organised labour.

Like many Scots, I was raised in a trade union family where crossing a picket line was anathema and showing solidarity during disputes was common cause. I still feel a huge emotional attachment to striking workers, even when I suspect that their bureaucratised union leaders are manipulating the politics of devolution.

I felt a warmth for those railway workers that demonstrated outside Bute House. Although the various unions – RMT, Aslef, TSSA and Unite – may have had their differing motivations, at the core of the demonstration was cutbacks to Scottish rail services and a subsequent threat to jobs.

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Our rail services are far from perfect and there will be even tougher questions on the final stages of the journey. Once we arrive at independence there will be more tough questions, but none of them will be as daunting as the impotent status-quo where an unelected Tory party lays further siege to fairness and democracy.

The image of union members congregating on the First Minister’s doorstep was celebratory in a symbolic sense – it showed that for many ordinary people, Edinburgh is now the instinctive centre of our political life. Westminster seems ever more remote. We need more public dissent on our own doorstep, and of course, the powers to try to address that dissent.

A winter of discontent is coming, and it needs to be confronted with both anger and compassion. Many people’s lives will be placed under inordinate strain before we reach what Shakespeare described as the “glorious summer”.

It will not be a pleasant winter for many, so be kind, do what you can and most of all be very, very angry.