WHAT stage of grief are you at? Denial? Anger? Perhaps you’ve graduated onto bargaining? Are you toying with depression? Skirting acceptance? They should issue a Kübler-Ross guide to surviving a December general election to all non-Tory voters. It’s a bleak midwinter out there.

Our new MPs don’t have the luxury of switching off. Just to keep their spirits up, I suppose, there’s been a lot of hollow rhetoric in the House of Commons this week about forming a “robust opposition” to the Johnson administration. We’re told the shattered, haunted survivors of Labour Party will “hold this Prime Minister to account” and “take the fight to the Tories” – presumably once they’ve finished squabbling with one another.

The 11 headless horsemen of the LibDems promise all the political kick of a mouse in carpet slippers. Ian Blackford maintains the SNP will be the “real opposition” in Westminster – though most of this seems to consist of gesticulating wildly while the Conservative majority rams through whatever horrors have occurred to its Secretaries of State this week.

The 47 SNP MPs might as well try to punch an iceberg into lovely powdery snow. The essential fact is this: Scotland gets the government England votes for. There’s virtue and there’s courage in resisting an administration like Johnson’s. Fighting political fights, even on the back foot, is not a vain enterprise. But let’s not kid ourselves on: Scottish Labour had its “feeble 50” under Thatcher. In the face of a stonking Tory majority, Scotland’s anti-Tory delegation to the House of Commons in 2019 is a feeble 53.

I don’t mean this as any criticism of most of the men and women elected to Westminster last week. It isn’t want of zeal, or industry, or ideas which makes them feeble. It’s the logic of Britain’s electoral system – and it is for Unionists who support this position to explain to the Scottish people why it represents the best of all possible ways for us to be governed.

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The bitter reality is the English electorate has handed Boris Johnson an impregnable majority which stands every likelihood of withstanding the next half decade and beyond. Events can take a government out at the ankles. Public opinion can change. Skeletons can escape from their closets – though the palaeontologists must have nearly exhausted Boris Johnson’s supply.

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There’s always the scorpion of Brexit, and the sting we haven’t felt yet. The process isn’t over, despite all of the Tory announcements to the contrary. This UK Government may talk a good game for sympathetic tabloids – but the negotiations with our European counterparts may prove bumpier and more compromising than the UK Government hopes. European capitals can’t be trounced, bounced or marginalised like Her Majesty’s Loyally Useless Opposition.

You might try to take some cold comfort from all these possibilities. But the basic truth of UK politics is that the Tories have been empowered to do whatever the fuck they want with this battered country. With an 20-seat majority in hand, buoyed by victory, what Johnson wants, Johnson will get. Augustus Gloop has got his paws on the keys to the Chocolate Factory; all that’s left is to find out how much gorging and puking this really entails.

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“To understand a man, walk a mile in his shoes,” the old saying goes. You might not fancy a quarter yard in Dominic Cummings’s ripe old pair of Reeboks – or a furlong in the frabjous Mr Boris Johnson’s scuffed brogues – but as queasy as the perspective might make you, its worth contemplating what Downing Street must be contemplating at the moment.

We know a bit more about the values and principles of this administration than we did a few months ago. Shameless, mobile and willing to take risks, Johnson’s government is addicted to the gambit and the ploy. This week, Nicola Sturgeon published the democratic case for a second referendum, calling on the Prime Minister to permanently enshrine the principle of Scottish self-determination in UK law, and put beyond doubt that Holyrood does have the legal competence to order a second poll on the national question. Boris Johnson has said he’ll give this “careful consideration”. But what could his response look like? There are worse answers than “no”.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about Canada. The federal Parliament of Canada passed the Clarity Act almost 20 years ago. In the summer of the year 2000, four years on from the second referendum on Quebecois independence, the central government exerted its strength against the defeated pro-independence forces in the province. Having secured a narrow win for the federalist faction in 1995, with the vote coming down to a stalemate of 49.42% to 50.58% against Quebecer independence, the Liberal Canadian premier Jean Chrétien steered through legislation which remains in force to this day.

The 1995 referendum question in Quebec was a bit of a head-scratcher. Quebecers were asked whether they agreed the province “should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership?” Pithy, it wasn’t. It makes “should Scotland be an independent country?” sound like a model of clarity and simplicity.

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The Clarity Act was concerned with this. But that wasn’t the whole story. The Canadian legislation does two key things. Firstly, it provides that the government “shall not enter into negotiations on the terms on which a province might cease to be part of Canada” if the House of Commons decides the referendum question is not clear”. But beyond this, it says a provincial referendum on independence counts for nought unless a majority of MPs in the federal Parliament accept there’s “a clear expression of a will by a clear majority of the population of that province” to secede. The Clarity Act, helpfully, does not define the concept of a “clear majority”, but it is more than implied that we’re not talking about a bare majority of 50% of those who turnout +1.

AS little as he clearly cares about Scotland, I’d be astonished if Johnson’s people hadn’t been contemplating this international parallel with interest. Watching the Tory majority troop into the Commons, listening to the Queens Speech, I’ve found myself wondering if the Prime Minister might be tempted to use his majority to try something similar here.

Think like a dead-eyed cynic. There are options. One of the changes to the Scotland Act made by the UK Government in 2016 was the introduction of the idea of “protected subject matters”. Until then, a bare majority in Holyrood was enough to make or unmake any law within the parliament’s legislative competence. But when the UK Government devolved control over Holyrood’s franchise, its electoral system and constituencies and regions – Westminster added an important legal rider. If the Scottish Parliament wants to change any of these things, different rules apply.

If you want to dump the additional member system and embrace single transferable vote, at least two-thirds of MSPs must support the changes for the measures to pass. If support doesn’t reach this level, the Bill’s stuck in the legislative permafrost. In practice, this means, that you need 86 MSPs to get the business done. Why not add an independence referendum to the Scotland’s Act list of protected matters, within the parliament’s legislative competence but difficult to trigger?

For pro-independence political parties to win 86 seats in Holyrood looks like a very tall order. After the SNP landslide of 2011, the Greens and the Nats between them mustered just 71. You aren’t denying the right to self-determination – you’re just clamping it with a supermajority.

There are other ways of achieving similar ends. Scotland has its own unhappy history with turnout rules in referendums. In 1978, the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury – George Cummingham – famously tagged his wrecking amendment onto the Scotland Act. This provided that not only must a majority of Scots vote in favour of devolution for it to happen – 40% of registered electors would have to support it too, or Callaghan’s devolution Bill would self-destruct. Some 52% of Scottish voters supported the idea of new political institutions for Scotland – but with turnout hovering in the 65% range, only 33% of the whole voting roll voted Yes. Devolution foundered. Then Thatcher got in. The rest is history.

It’s humbug, of course. Of course its humbug. This kind of chicanery would fly in the face of the precedent of the 2014 poll. It micturates all over the smouldering bones of the Brexit referendum, which we’re all now told is the will of the plain people of Britain made manifest.

But you don’t need a power of imagination to ginger up arguments the UK Government could use to justify it. “This government recognises the right of Scots to decide their future. But to break up a country is no small thing. This is a union of nations. To leave the EU is one thing. To break up a union which has outlasted two World Wars is quite another.” Etcetera, etcetera.

Maybe they’ll hazard nothing of the sort. Theresa May’s rusty administration didn’t have the self-confidence or addiction to chancy politics to attempt anything of this kind. But with a risk-taking Tory majority in power, unencumbered by a lack of self-confidence, independence supporters would do well to expect the unexpected.