AS Nicola Sturgeon said at the weekend, last week was a watershed in the struggle for Scotland’s future. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, as the saying goes, but Lord Ashcroft’s bombshell poll was just the start of what felt like a transformational sequence of events. More important even than the poll lead for independence was the revelation that there is now a majority for a referendum within two years.

That changes everything. It delivers a shattering demolition of the only valid argument of those who have made it their life’s mission to oppose a new ballot. The “once-in-a generation” mantra was always preposterous. No-one in the independence movement ever pledged – or had the right to pledge – that Scotland would be denied the right to self-determination for the next quarter of a century. It was an opinion. In its full context, Alex Salmond said, in an-off-the cuff remark during a 2014 interview: “In my view this is a once in a generation – perhaps even a once in a lifetime – opportunity.” The three key words here are “in my view”. And an opportunity is not a promise never to have another one.

No-one, however, neither Alex Salmond nor anyone else, foresaw exactly what would happen after a No vote. Most people expected that a defeat for the Yes movement would be so demoralising that there would be no appetite for another battle for a long time to come. Few anticipated that support for independence would remain rock solid. Or that within nine months, the SNP would virtually sweep the board in a Westminster election. Or that in the space of years, the once unassailable Labour Party would be reduced to the fifth party in Scotland.

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And most people never imagined in their wildest nightmares that Boris Johnson would soon become the Prime Minister in charge of the most right-wing Westminster government for more an a century, and would be recklessly driving the UK out of the European Union without so much as a scribbled agreement on the back of a cigarette packet. That argument, which invoked nothing more significant than a casual throwaway comment, should have been ridiculed by journalists whenever it was raised. Instead, the words were elevated by the media to the status of a sacred pronouncement, a sworn covenant signed in blood then carved on granite.

A more serious argument, however, was that for a long time polls suggested only a minority wanted a referendum in the short-term. There was a range of differing motives behind these findings. Some hard-line Unionists will always oppose another referendum. Even if this was the year 2040, they would still be stamping their feet and insisting that’s it too soon. Others were apprehensive about piling another layer of turmoil on to the chaos of Brexit. Many independence supporters were concerned about jumping the gun and ending up with a second defeat, which really would postpone independence until way into the mists of the future.

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So, the Unionist contention that people didn’t want another “divisive referendum” had some validity. But no longer. The Ashcroft poll has rendered that position untenable. The UK Labour Party’s John McDonnell (above) – one of the sharpest political operators in English politics – wasted no time facing up to the new reality, while leaving his hapless Scottish comrades far behind. For the British Labour leadership, these northern remnants are an irrelevance. By Christmas, Scottish Labour could be left with no MPs, while the SNP become power brokers at Westminster. And John McDonnell knows it. Rather unconvincingly, McDonnell also ruled out any pact with the SNP, saying: “We are a socialist party and they are not. I don’t want to be derogatory in any form but let me try. In my own view, I think they’re Tories, it’s as simple as that and I always have thought that.”

None of that makes much sense. The SNP have never claimed to be a socialist party. But pre-2015, neither did Labour. John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn remained elected representatives of a party led by the likes of Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson and John Reid.

The idea they couldn’t do a deal of sorts with the SNP is totally implausible. And in Wales, McDonnell’s party is currently in a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats’s sole elected assembly member. As for describing the SNP as “Tories”, the Welsh Labour Party administration in Cardiff has slashed funding to local government by 19% in the austerity years since 2010 and reduced council workforces by 20% – on both counts more than double the scale of cuts in Scotland.

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That’s nothing to be particularly proud of, but at least the SNP-controlled Scottish Government has been twice as effective as the Labour-run Welsh government in protecting local services.

John McDonnell knows this, of course. His ritual criticism of the SNP is merely playing to the gallery as a prelude to engaging in realpolitik. In the meantime, Scottish Labour have been left standing in the dunce’s corner. When Jackie Baillie and her gaggle of Blairite Unionists foam at the mouth about being disrespected by their party bosses in London, they don’t even seem to get the irony. They want self-determination for themselves – but not for anyone else.

Perhaps the ultimate humiliation for Scottish Labour, however, was not the slap down by John McDonnell but the intervention of David Mundell, who said that if pro-independence parties form a majority after the 2021 Scottish Parliament, “then it’s harder to push back against the idea that there is a mandate”.

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So, while the man who was until recently secretary of state for Scotland in a Tory government tries to come to terms with changing reality, the political great-grandchildren of that scourge of the UK establishment, Keir Hardie, have no qualms about locking up Scotland in a far-right, British nationalist prison for another generation at least. It’s a funny old world, as a famous – or infamous – prime minister once said.