A BIT of research about the chances of a second, and do-it-yourself, referendum on Scottish independence has persuaded me it cannot be carried out in a legal and constitutional manner.

If anybody would present me with an intelligent case to the contrary, I’d be happy to change my mind. But I don’t think there is such a case, and I am driven to the conclusion that all the current argument is so much hot air.

A prime thing to bear in mind is that a do-it-yourself indyref2 is not actually the policy of the Scottish Government. It has become easy to forget, yet both the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her go-between with London – Mike Russell, are asking instead for an exact rerun of the procedure in 2014: Section 30 order soon, referendum to follow, both sides to be bound by the result. This procedure requires the acquiescence of the UK Government, but that is not the same as Boris Johnson forbidding our Government to carry out a poll it has every right to hold. That would be the Catalan situation, while we are in the unique Scottish situation.

The National: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

In 2014 the two national leaders, Alex Salmond and David Cameron, signed an Edinburgh Agreement that was of special value because it is reusable.

While the Yes side failed in 2014, it has a good chance of victory in indyref2. Even if it loses once more, that is not the end of the matter. Having a legal and constitutional path before us, we can pursue it at any time in the future and do not need to restart the whole process from the beginning. We should remember this particularly through times, such as the present, when there is not an actual majority of Scottish voters in favour of independence, but only 45% of them.

This structure of constitutional principle seems to me a sound and watertight one. If we stick to it, nobody will be able to argue in future that the achievement of Scottish independence is somehow illegitimate. Anybody who doubts the value of that, please just take a look at Ireland. What is more, any alternative structure seems to me dangerously weak and flimsy. To mount it will be to risk a broken neck.

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Let’s start at the bottom. Elections or other types of vote in Scotland are not run directly by the Scottish Government, but are entrusted to returning officers – usually, though not always, the chief executive of the local authority. This is the man or woman who chooses the polling stations, distributes the ballot boxes, oversees the count, announces the result and so on.

It is a big job and they get paid extra for it, symbolising how, during an election, they are no longer merely local officials but represent the UK, or indeed the embryonic Scottish state, in its sovereignty: there is no higher power. Not least, they have made sure our elections are free of all corruption. It is a system we should treasure and keep.

There is no overall control in any of the 32 Scottish local authorities, and the SNP takes part, as a minority or in coalition, in running only 14 of them. Should an edict come down from Edinburgh commanding those 14 to organise indyref2, I’m sure they would obey.

But I’m equally sure the other 18 would not obey, out of a desire to thwart the ruling party and perhaps even in a conviction that the command was illegal. Would the returning officers flout this decision, knowing the next day they would need to go back to the everyday business of administering their bit of the UK? If not, indyref2 could simply not be held. Legal challenge would probably have interrupted this process anyway.

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I trust Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell to have thought it all through more thoroughly than many of those who take part in AUOB marches and rallies. That is why Nicola declines to take a personal part in the marches and rallies, less because she dislikes the fervour on display than for fear her presence might be taken as endorsing positions they do not hold, especially support for a do-it-yourself indyref2.

They also realise they must place things in a wider context than the immediate personal pangs inspired by saltires streaming and pipes playing. The prospects for independence in 2020 may appear a bit dim – yet who knows, in times of turmoil, where we will all be in a year’s time? So the Scottish Government has to prepare for possible responses to its actions not only on our own wet and grimy streets but also in London and in Brussels.

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If we were to try a do-it-yourself indyref2, does anybody really think Unionists would just sit back and let it happen? In Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in Scotland Secretary Alister Jack, in Holyrood sidekick Jackson Carlaw, we have three men to whom, respectively, webs of lies and stuttering self-contradiction and grovelling incompetence come naturally. Scotland is for them a dog to be kicked. I forecast these Unionists would call for a boycott of our referendum, especially a boycott by the one in four of Scots who still vote Tory. Labour and LibDems, with the same policy on the Union, might decide, all over again, they would be Better Together.

The National: Boris Johnson

The tactic has a successful precedent in Catalonia and the do-it-yourself referendum of 2017. This achieved a majority for independence of 92% but on a turnout of 43%. If I had been qualified, I would have voted Yes myself, yet I concede that the boycott robbed the result of moral authority. The Catalans are still locked into the Spanish state and their cause has, if anything, gone backwards, with their leaders in prison or on the run. This is a grim warning for Scotland.

Another reason for the Catalan failure was the hostility from Brussels. There, council president Donald Tusk made clear there would be no support by the other 27 governments for an attempt at secession out of the 28th member, Spain. We have since learned how Tusk put in a call to Madrid to protest at the brutality the police were showing towards people just for standing in queues at the polling stations. While the violence did in fact abate, this never altered the stance the EU took or got the voters what they wanted.

Of course, Catalonia’s secession from an existing member state was different from the prospective secession by Scotland from a UK that would by then have left the EU. And the new council president, Ursula von der Leyen, is different from Tusk – I would say less impressive. But in Brussels they tend to go by precedent, and he has set it. The crux would be the dubious legal and constitutional status of the move that go-it-alone Scotland had made.

Outrageous as it may be for Boris to deny that the result of the UK General Election makes any difference, there is, legally and constitutionally, no alternative to waiting till he changes his mind. So we will get no new referendum in 2020. We’ll just have to wait and see if outright SNP victory in the Holyrood election of 2021 causes a political rethink in Downing Street. Not only the Scottish government but also various respected independent commentators have been saying it would surely need to.

I doubt whether Boris yet shares their view.