It is quite possible that the SNP will be the biggest party in Holyrood after the May elections, and no doubt they will have in their manifesto that that will give them a mandate to call another referendum. Boris Johnson is their best recruiting sergeant, but the SNP has two major problems.

Firstly, although Brexit greatly increases the scope for anti-English rhetoric (“we didnae vote for it”, but actually 38% did vote for it), Brexit makes Scottish “independence” a lot harder to realise. If geography throws the UK into Europe, it throws together the various parts of this small, compact archipelago of islands rather more forcefully. Brexit is greatly to be deplored, but it will be difficult to argue that a further separation is the remedy. There can be no certainty at the time of a referendum that a separated Scotland would join the EU, or on what terms (eg economic alignment, currency, etc – huge issues). If it were to join the EU, there would be an external EU border between Carlisle and Berwick. How well did (and does) the border in the island of Ireland work?

Secondly, the SNP can’t afford to lose a referendum, and neither can they afford to win it. The Brexit imbroglio amply demonstrates that our (flawed) voting procedures are for electing named individuals, who become accountable, for a fixed term, and that they do nothing to resolve abstract ideas. Having signed a blank cheque at a referendum, the electorate loses control and even influence over separation negotiations, and the party in power comes back to tell us that whatever they have achieved is what we voted for.

If the SNP really had confidence in its case for “independence” it would say in its manifesto that it intends to make a unilateral declaration of independence from Holyrood. This would produce a fine clash between the electoral mandate and constitutional law, to be openly sorted out in the established institutions of the parliaments and courts. It would give us the welcome sight of politicians arguing their case sustainably during a process and making themselves responsible. That’s democracy in action producing a secure outcome, and not manipulated by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook for a cheap win on a day. 

As 2021 opens, I’m looking for some maturity and responsibility in the SNP and I’m not seeing it. Gordon Brown’s Constitutional Convention is the way to go.