IMAGINE for a moment what might have happened on September 18, 2014, under today’s circumstances. A new Prime Minister in the shape of Boris Johnson, in charge of a Cabinet so far to the right that it prompts a senior Tory to admit that “we now have a government where Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt are too pinko to join it”.

The UK, three months away from plunging head-first out of the European Union into a shallow puddle of water – “at all costs” and “by any means necessary”, according to Johnson. A rampant UK Tory party so reactionary it has rendered Nigel Farage redundant and is 10 points clear in the polls. The Labour Party, battling it out with the LibDems for third place, and with almost half of its members across Britain now in favour of an independent Scotland, including 30% of its Scottish membership. And the SNP still command such an unassailable lead after 12 years in power that the other party leaders have all but thrown in the towel. Would the result of Scotland’s independence referendum have been 55-45% in favour of staying within a diseased and disoriented UK? Or would it more likely have turned into a landslide for the Yes movement?

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That’s where we are right now. It’s a far cry from the days when short-lived Labour leader Wendy Alexander confidently called on the SNP to “bring it on” or when the David Cameron calmly signed the Edinburgh Agreement and told the world’s media: “I always wanted to show respect to the people of Scotland. They voted for a party that wanted to have a referendum.”

Those were the days when Unionism felt secure. When the rulers of the United Kingdom believed in the future. When independence could still be ridiculed as a romantic fairy tale that would be blown away by the cold blast of a wide-ranging public debate. That world has been turned upside down and inside out. Unionism is now looking like an idea whose time has gone. And the swagger of its proponents has been replaced by spinelessness. They no longer have the guts to fight fair and square for the Union and have come to resemble 18th-century Tories clinging to power by denying ordinary people the right to vote in elections.

One thing puzzles me, however. Why is the Scottish liberal left commentariat lagging so far behind the march of history?

To give credit where its due, their predecessors, writing in newspapers such as The Scotsman and The Herald during the Thatcher years, boldly stood up for Scotland and its right to self-determination. When the Tory government of the day dug in its heels, most of the Scottish media stood four-square on the side of democracy.

In comparison, today’s generation of political journalists – aside from those who work on The National and a few veterans of the 1980s and 1990s – seem to be living in perpetual awe of the big boys and girls down in Westminster. Some of them even now seem to be clinging on to an incomprehensible belief that Ruth Davidson might rescue the Union by becoming First Minister of Scotland in 2021. On that day, expect havoc in our air traffic control rooms as pigs hurtle across the skies.

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Maybe that grovelling attitude will change as we get the full double-barrel blast from Boris and Brexit. Or perhaps we’ll just continue to be bombarded with advice to play safe and stick with the devil we know – even though the devil we thought we knew is turning uglier and scarier by the day.

Another group which played a proud role in standing up for Scotland during decades past was the broad labour movement, including a number of trade unions and a big swathe of Labour activists. We know from polls and private conversations that there are many who have had enough of Tory Britain. But when are they going to come out from behind the curtains? I suspect that in the current climate, it would take just few high-profile Labour and trade union figures to declare for independence to trigger an avalanche.

Don’t get me wrong. There are reasons why some people can’t always wear their political hearts on their sleeves – because of the job they do, for example, or maybe even just to avoid conflict with family, friends and colleagues. But things are now getting serious.

I’ve been asked before, in comments to this newspaper, and on social media: “Why waste time trying to persuade Labour members and activists to support independence?”

We should just lump them all together as die-hard Unionists, red Tories or whatever. I think that’s self-defeating and plays into the hands of men like Gordon Brown, who has made it his mission in life to keep Scotland subservient to Westminster. Suspend belief for a few moments and imagine the joy of the Just Say No brigade if it was discovered that almost one-third of SNP members were secretly in favour of staying in the UK. A far-fetched example? Yes – but that is the reality within Scottish Labour right now.

Even if just a substantial minority was to break ranks and turn against the United Kingdom, the cause of independence would be well-nigh unstoppable. The Tories are true-blue Unionists to the core. But much as it might disappoint some journalists, it wasn’t Ruth Davidson who won it in 2014 for the United Kingdom. It was Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Johann Lamont – and even Jim Murphy. Without Labour on board, the Ruth and David show would have bombed.

The best way to bring on board the hesitant and not-quite-convinced is, in my opinion, by boldness and decisiveness. Yes, there are times where caution is required. But times are changing fast. I’m not for instant UDI, but neither can we hang around and wait for Boris to give us permission to hold a referendum. If we do that, we’ll hang around for a long, long time – and by then the damage could be irreparable. And surely, even if people are not yet convinced of the case for independence, they will march for the right to decide?

So maybe it’s time to start ramping up the pressure. Instead of makeshift demonstrations organised by enthusiastic, already converted, volunteers, why not call a mass national march under the leadership of Scottish Government in support of its mandate for a referendum?

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Or a series of local marches in towns and cities across the land?

And why not hold that day of action on Saturday, November 2, straight after Boris delivers (or fails to deliver) his mandate to crash out of the EU on Halloween? I reckon we could get a quarter of a million people on the streets of Scotland if the call comes from the top. It would be the biggest political demonstration our country has ever seen. And that could be just the start.