SUCH has been the drama of Brexit that I have found no time to comment on the milestone speech by the First Minister at the SNP conference in Aberdeen last week – a good place to start the campaign for indyref2, as she said.

Regular readers will know I am no devotee of Nicola Sturgeon’s policies, especially her economic policies, my view being confirmed through their lack of success. By contrast, the political case she set out in Aberdeen, meant to fire up members’ morale for indyref2 for the end of 2020, seemed to me to strike the right note. It did so all the more commendably because the message to be conveyed to the adoring masses inside the conference centre was, in fact, a slightly sobering one.

Clearly, there can be no absolute guarantee that a referendum will happen. Or that it will be won. While the speech had enough punchlines to spark repeated standing ovations, the messages conveyed by the level-headed passages in-between were not there for cheers or laughs. They pointed to some serious lessons. That must be learned if next year is to be the year of Scotland’s freedom.

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The first serious lesson is that the months of campaigning to come must remain within strictly constitutional lines. I don’t exclude the occasional eggs flying through the air, or scuffles in the streets likely when political passions run high, as they did even amid such a good-natured and well-ordered campaign, as the one in 2014. I am referring to principles rather than practice: in other words, Yes campaigners must accept from the outset that they are not engaged in some sort of peaceful popular insurrection careless of law and consent. On the contrary, we should stick to the procedure which, rather surprisingly, the British constitution offers us, of a referendum held under Article 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 and therefore, by definition, with the consent of the UK Government.

This avoids two dangers. One is that Unionists might boycott the poll, and so, in effect, render the result null and void, as happened with the Catalan referendum in 2017. The second danger is that a result like that would fail to win international recognition, again as in Catalonia, with the dire personal and public consequences we see unfolding in the Spanish courts. Even beforehand there is the snag that the UK Government’s consent could be hard to extract, indeed impossible to extract while Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. But what’s chance do you give him of still occupying Number 10 a year from now? Anyway, I agree with Nicola that the constitutional, not the insurrectionary route offers the best chance of victory in indyref2.

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There was a second serious lesson to be drawn from her speech in Aberdeen. He argued that the independence movement had to make its appeal to the widest possible spectrum of the Scots people. This must include not just the SNP faithful, but all those who might believe in any non-partisan way that Scotland will be a better place with greater freedom to choose for itself, who seek more respect for the values held dear north of the Border, who want policies more attuned to local conditions, and so on.

The extra element now is that this movement must offer a refuge to all Scots who, with Brexit, feel horrified at how Westminster has fallen under the dominance of the most unsavoury and bigoted kind of MPs, who show besides a bottomless contempt for Scotland. The Brexit process has not yet given them full control. But full control under Boris with a majority is the prize they see within their grasp today. Who wants to hang around to find out what it will be like? There is a good chance this extra element will push Scotland’s Yes vote over 50%, as already heralded in opinion polls.

In Scotland, various groups may now find themselves stranded by the ebb tide of the sort of decent politics that, till only about 10 years ago, used to make for moderation and stability in the UK. The biggest group are the Tories who, off and on, can still command about a quarter of the national vote. We should regard them as the biggest untapped reservoir of possible support for a political relaunch and realignment where the horror of Brexit and escape from the UK go together.

The National: Former Tory Ruth DavidsonFormer Tory Ruth Davidson

These Scots Tories were always slightly bloodless examples of the type. Uninterested in ideology, moved by unthinking allegiance to the monarchy and a range of other historic institutions, many felt fairly horrified by Thatcherism. So large numbers turned elsewhere in those years and the rest having settled for an even more passive Tory loyalty, survived 1999 as the last remnant. With their party flatlining in the first decade of the 21st century, they finally found Ruth Davidson as leader of a revival that proved fleeting, to say the least. How do they view the situation today, support for Boris in Scotland is minimal. I think these homeless Tories might be tempted to lend their support to an indyref2 project that offers a way forward and out of Brexit. I know, because I am myself one of them, except that in my own political journey I was (as always) a bit ahead of the pack.

In the perspective of the west of Scotland that rules in the SNP, it is easy to see politics in terms of a stark division between the Tories and the rest, or the toffs and the workers. But elsewhere in the country, it is more complicated than that. Alex Salmond’s old constituency of Gordon, for example, was a traditional battleground of liberals and Conservatives until he intervened there in 2007 to make the Scottish Parliamentary constituency a three-way marginal, then a very safe seat, before transferring to the Westminster level and, after one further triumph, losing it in 2016. I would have thought that with such a history the allegiances of its electorate could only be regarded as fluid at best, rather than Tory in the image of its present reactionary MP.

Gordon is typical of the north-east of Scotland, a region which formed the heartland of the SNP for a third of a century. I doubt if it has really switched over to being ultra-Unionist. Surely a more likely explanation is that these voters, like many others, are seldom rigidly fixed in the electoral choices they make. This is especially true in rural seats where economic contrast is not so stark as in industrial areas. The SNP majorities in rather conservative places like Gordon and its neighbour seats would have been made up of some core nationalists, some home-rule liberals, some rural radicals, even some Tory Scottish patriots who don’t mind raising a tartan marker of their multiple allegiances. The achievement of Salmond and his political neighbours lay not in making pseudo-nationalists out of non-nationalists, but in assembling local coalitions of enough disparate elements to win the seat.

These coalitions crumble from 2014 round the north-east of Scotland. Previous majorities have been shaken up and re-assembled, now in favour of the Tories rather than the SNP. The constituencies have not themselves undergone any sudden transformation. Their voters have just taken stock of an evolving political situation and come to a fresh view of how to pursue their personal interests. Which is what you are entitled to do in democratic elections. One obvious reason, since these are small conservative parts of the country is that the SNP has moved to the left and so become less congenial to people in the centre or on the right. It is time to put the shift into reverse, not totally, but enough. It is certainly no good preaching socialism – if you really want independence, that is to say.