IN the last seven days, the Brexit crisis entered a qualitatively deeper stage, with Britain’s existing political parties and elites irrevocably split on how to proceed. In the next few weeks, Westminster will reject the Government’s Brexit legislation, creating a political and economic vacuum not seen since the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, when revolution was in the air. What is to be done?

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The issue is no longer Brexit per se but the internal stability of the UK itself. The Conservative Party is fractured beyond repair, opening up the possible dawn of a mass, populist and racist movement to its right – especially if Brexit is reversed. A centre bloc of existing Tory and Labour “moderates” could well impose a second EU referendum, but the social trauma of such a vote would most likely provoke the sort of street violence rarely seen in mainland Britain. The DUP’s opposition to the so-called backstop is merely a dog-whistle attempt to block Irish unification which Brexit has rendered inevitable.

In this political maelstrom, the SNP must take great care not to be driven by the agenda of the British establishment, unlikely as that might sound. Since the Leave vote in 2016, the SNP leadership at Holyrood and Westminster has positioned the party as the “best defender” of remaining in Europe. This is understandable given the large Scottish majority for Remain, which included – may I remind leftist Brexiteers – a majority of the Scottish working class. However, the SNP’s stance has potentially dangerous implications if it elevates supporting the English establishment’s drive to reverse Brexit over prioritising independence.

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The Yes movement is an alliance aimed at securing self-determination for Scotland. EU membership figures in this only because – in the Thatcher years – the Scots working class switched to being pro-European as a sign of opposition to Tory rule. Quite rightly, EU membership was interpreted by working Scots as an external bulwark against Thatcherite attacks on the post-war welfare consensus. This welfare consensus is baked into the EU treaties and structures, albeit because Europe’s Christian Democrat and right-wing Socialist parties offered it as a bribe to undermine (successfully) the mass Communist parties. True, the EU was created to restore and protect the interests of European capital, albeit in a bourgeois democratic form. But it is in nobody’s interest to destroy democratic institutions, even flawed ones, until you have something to put in their place.

That said, current SNP strategy threatens to subordinate independence to the fight to reverse Brexit – with possibly disastrous, if unintended, consequences. The justification for the party’s two-stage approach is that by uniting Scotland to defeat Brexit, the SNP can persuade former anti-independence voters that Westminster will never protect their interests. Plus the SNP’s obvious unity and clarity of message is a vote-winner given the serial incompetence of the other parties.

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However, in pursuing this line, the SNP leadership has effectively kicked indyref2 into the proverbial long grass. In recent weeks it has also led the SNP into joining a nascent political coalition – which includes Tony Blair – to engineer a second EU referendum. UK-wide polls suggest such a second vote could quash Brexit. But what then for Scotland if the British establishment restores order? And why help them?

With the UK in such utter political crisis surely now is the optimum time to press the escape button and call an independence referendum immediately. The only plausible reason not to do so is that the Scottish electorate feels the UK Brexit crisis is so horrendous that adding further uncertainty is problematic. For the record, I think this mood was partly responsible for the loss of SNP support (and hardening of Union sympathies) at the 2017 General Election. However, that was then and now is now: the popular mood is changing fast thanks to last week’s deadlock at Westminster.

Certainly, we should be circumspect. Polls still show the Yes vote stuck at 45%. But a political strategy of waiting for a Yes majority simply to “emerge” and then calling indyref2 is naive at best, or political cowardice at worst. On the contrary, the present febrile political landscape in the UK gives the Yes movement its best – perhaps best ever – chance to convince wavering voters to take back control of Scotland.

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There is ample evidence to show people are angry and frustrated with the UK political establishment. Recent polls indicate that fully three-quarters of voters disapprove of the way the May government is handling EU negotiations. Nearly half the UK thinks it will be worse off after Brexit. People desperately want leadership. Meantime, Jeremy Corbyn’s poll ratings are in free fall. Only 25% of voters think Corbyn is decisive, according to a survey last week, down six points since October. Conclusion: Labour are highly vulnerable in the present political crisis. Which is why the SNP needs to go for broke and offer the Scottish working-class, young people, small businesses and professional public sector employees a compelling vision that independence will change their lives for the better.

Unfortunately one gets no sense of urgency reading Derek Mackay’s draft Holyrood Budget. Derek deserves credit for not offering neo-liberal tax bribes and for protecting the universal entitlements that underpin a functioning social democracy. But it was still a steady-as-you-go Budget at a moment when political boldness is called for. This was not a budget designed to launch indyref2. Where was the promise of genuine local council reform? An inflation-busting wage rise for public workers? A serious assault on Universal Credit? Of course, there is a powerful argument that a second EU vote remains preferable to the economic quagmire of a hard Brexit and the victory of the ERG group of Little Englanders. But there is also reasonable concern that backing EUref2 could drive large numbers of misguided, working-class voters in the north of England into the camp of Farage and the populist right. The best way we in Scotland can help minimise that dangerous groundswell is if we break away immediately from the UK, offering the English working class a genuine progressive model north of the Border.

What if – as is likely – Westminster refuses to recognise Scotland’s right to call indyref2? If the SNP do join with others to secure a second EU vote, it must insist support for a second independence referendum is part of the package. Regardless, Scotland should be prepared to play hardball, disrupting the UK Parliament and using peaceful civil disobedience to force UK recognition of indyref2 – 5000 friendly Scots blocking the Tube would bring London to a halt at rush hour.

The immediate danger for the SNP is that their energies are being sucked wholly into Westminster manoeuvres for another EU vote when they should be launching indyref2 as the only genuine route out of the present British crisis. I am second to no-one in admiring our Westminster team and the job they are doing. But the impending demise of Theresa May’s Brexit deal has accelerated the political timetable for independence. Now’s the day, now’s the hour.