BEING Scottish within the UK is the experience of being had, of being taken for granted, taken as a fool. Despite being assured in 2014 that the only way Scotland could remain a part of the European Union was to vote against independence, those same Conservatives who made the assurances are now dragging Scotland out of the EU.

They’re dragging Scotland out despite the fact that in 2016 Scotland voted to remain in the EU by a considerably larger margin than it voted to remain in the UK. That’s all bad enough, but now it transpires that the Electoral Commission has ruled that the Vote Leave campaign systematically broke electoral law. Scotland is not just being hauled out of the EU against its will, this is happening on the basis of cheating, lying, and a sham of democracy.

During the EU referendum, the Vote Leave campaign fronted by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson broke electoral law by channelling large sums of money to third parties in order to circumvent campaign spending limits.

Campaign spending limits exist in law for a reason, they are meant to ensure a level playing field and to prevent one side using larger resources or wealth in order to flood the public with its information and propaganda, and drowning out the other side. The Vote Leave campaign treated that law as though it were a serving suggestion on the side of a packet of cereal.

If there were any justice, or indeed democratic responsibility, in the UK, the Westminster Government and Parliament would now be pressing for a re-run of the EU referendum. That’s not going to happen. Instead the Vote Leave campaign will be slapped on the wrist with a fine which represents a mere small percentage of the amount of money that it spent illegally, and those at the head of the campaign will continue in their jobs protesting that they’ve done nothing wrong. Anyway, they will argue, whatever oversights or errors that took place didn’t affect the result.

In any other field of life, when people cheat they are deprived of whatever it was that they won through cheating. Olympic athletes caught taking performance enhancing drugs are stripped of any medals that they won. It’s perfectly possible that they would have won those medals even without taking the drugs, but that’s not the point. They cheated, and cheaters shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their deception.

What Vote Leave did during the EU referendum was an exact electoral analogue of an athlete taking performance enhancing drugs. The campaign secretly and covertly employed extra funding that it should not have used in order to boost its performance. It did so in order to gain an unfair advantage over its competitor. Yes of course it’s possible that the Vote Leave campaign might have won anyway, we don’t know. We will never know, that will forever remain in the realms of the hypothetical. But that’s not the point. What we do know is that in the real world, the Vote Leave campaign cheated and its winning result was based upon a contempt for the rules. If the result of a cheat is allowed to stand, then the entire campaign is a lie.

The consequences of Vote Leave’s cheating are immense. Thousands of jobs are at risk. The economy looks likely to take a major hit. The lives of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will be disrupted. The Irish peace process is threatened. The international reputation of the UK has suffered a serious blow. This is all considerably more serious than being allowed to keep a sporting medal, and yet the result will be allowed to stand.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s careers will continue unimpeded in their self-serving smug paths and they will continue to assert that they did nothing wrong and knew nothing about the machinations of a campaign that they fronted.

The revelation that the Vote Leave campaign cheated comes on top of the news that the Scottish Conservatives have been funding themselves with dark money. Our democracy is drowning in a pigswill of dodgy donations and contempt for the rules of fair play which underpin any fair and open society. The Westminster parliament which feeds at the trough of dark money and illegal donations will do nothing to clean itself up, and nothing to ensure that democracy is respected.

There has been a lot of discussion within the independence movement about the best time for a referendum. The recent revelations demonstrate that we shouldn’t be talking about the best time, we should instead be talking about the necessity of another referendum.

Westminster doesn’t want a popular vote on the dodgy dealings of British political parties and organisation, but that’s all the more reason why it’s imperative that Scotland has one. This next independence referendum will be a vote on the very fundamentals of democracy itself. Does Scotland want to be a country where democratic rules and laws are respected, a country where there are consequences for breaking them, or are we content to allow decisions to be made for us by cheats and liars that Scotland cannot hold to account.