JIM Sillars, according to Chris McCall in Scotland on Sunday, thinks the Yes movement cannae march and think at the same time. Fortunately he’s wrong. We can even chew gum as well.

Sillars’s reason, it’s reported, is that it is “madness to demand a referendum this year, [because] we have hardly moved the numbers in favour of independence”. Well, no, of course; he’s right that we’ve hardly moved the numbers – for the simple and obvious reason that, outside of referendum campaigns, most voters don’t waste time thinking about things they can’t change. Before the last independence referendum campaign, we’d hardly moved the numbers for some years, either, and they stood at 29%. Over the course of that campaign, as everyone will remember, we shifted the polling by 16%. From today’s base of 46%, that would give us a victory of 62%, which, by sheer coincidence, is exactly how we voted in the EU referendum.

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Sillars also thinks that support for independence is contingent on the deal which Boris Johnson wrings out of the European Union. This isn’t true, either; for two reasons. Firstly, given the strength of the cards in the respective hands, when the bell tolls on the December 31 this year, it will be Johnson who is wrung out; and secondly, were Johnson as good a negotiator as he believes himself to be an orator, no deal which could conceivably be obtained could be as beneficial as the membership of the EU to which an independent Scotland could aspire.

The National: Boris Johnson

So a referendum is winnable, now. The question is not how to win a referendum, but how to hold one; and that’s where the serious thinking must be done.

Nicola Sturgeon is still claiming that she plans to hold a referendum this year, in which case it, I believe, can be at latest in October. That’s nine months away. And yet she has not so far announced either a budget or a date. Nor has she any obvious means of obtaining either Westminster’s agreement to abide by the result, or a commitment from the Unionist parties not to organise a boycott. Consequently, many commentators doubt her good faith.

Let’s deal with those objections in reverse order.

Whatever happens, even given a revival of 2012’s Edinburgh Agreement and Section 30 order, the Unionists could organise a boycott. It is, frankly, their best possible move, and consequently it’s extremely likely that they will take it. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t win. It does mean that in order to clearly win, we need to have more than 50% of the total electorate vote Yes. That’s a high hill, but we can climb it. The 2014 referendum had a turnout of 84.6%. Suppose – as I do – that after a campaign, 62% of the Scottish electorate would vote Yes, but that only 84.6% of those 62% turn out, that’s still 52.5% of the entire electorate – so we will have won, even if no No voters turn out at all.

The risk of a boycott cannot be avoided, but it is not sufficient to stop us winning.

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The risk of Westminster refusing to accept the result? Well, that’s potentially more interesting, but I think I may see Sturgeon’s line of reasoning.

The National: MPs in the House of Commons

On July 4, 2018 – perhaps in itself an auspicious date – the House of Commons at Westminster passed a motion which acknowledged “the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs”. The doctrine of the UK constitution is that nothing but Parliament can bind the Government; but Parliament does bind Government. Thus, I think, the Scottish Government could argue – in the UK Supreme Court if necessary – that the UK Government is bound to respect the outcome of such a referendum.

Of course, the Commons only passed the motion on the Claim of Right because the Unionist parties chose not to force a division. In effect, they boycotted it. This is, in itself, evidence that a boycott does not necessarily frustrate us.

STURGEON is by training a lawyer. She has a perhaps exaggerated respect for the law. I think that she feels that the Commons’ endorsement of the Claim of Right – even though only because of a botched boycott – gives her the power to force Boris Johnson to the negotiating table. Of course it does not. Johnson has a commanding majority in both houses at Westminster; he can easily force something through over-ruling the Commons’ previous decision. The Westminster Parliament, under the UK constitution, cannot bind itself.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

But actually, the UK Supreme Court is not the court that matters in this instance, because in the end, the question of whether Scotland is an independent country is not a legal one, but a political one. The Claim of Right is an expression of rights guaranteed by Chapter One, Article One of the Charter of the United Nations, to which every member nation of the UN is a signatory. Of course, that does not actually force any country to acknowledge the Claim of Right, but it’s a damned good argument.

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Where that argument matters is in the inner councils of the European Union; and they may well find that argument suits their purposes. Bear with me, here. I’m about to indulge in a brief digression. It’s not irrelevant –it matters.

Scotland’s independence is important to us, of course, but it’s important for us to understand that it isn’t an event that happens in isolation. On the contrary, it has a historical context, and that context now includes Brexit. But Brexit is not the whole of the context. Rather, the core of the context may well be the collapse of the United Kingdom. Scotland is the biggest shoe, but it may not be the first to drop. A Northern Ireland border poll could well happen before or in parallel with an independence referendum, and it’s likely that progress on either will increase interest in the other.

And behind Ireland and Scotland there is Wales. Will Wales, too, choose to leave? Wales, like Scotland and Northern Ireland, has chosen to reject the Withdrawal Bill. As the United Kingdom falls apart, and especially if the Johnson Government’s programme of trade deals does not go well, pressure in Wales to follow Scotland back into the European family is likely to grow.

So will the trade deals fail?

Australia has already refused to discuss a trade deal with the Johnson Government following Priti Patel’s insistence on freedom of movement being included.

To the European Union, the United Kingdom is a hostile agent, a nation which has chosen to leave, and with which, throughout this year, the EU will be engaged in a probably-fractious trade negotiation. That negotiation has been given, by Johnson, an arbitrary deadline, one which it will be very difficult to meet.

At the same time, the Johnson Government has taken two initiatives which seem calculated to annoy the already volatile president of the United States of America. Johnson has refused to back the USA’s bellicose policy in the Gulf; and he’s threatening to impose a “digital tax” on the large US-owned internet corporations.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson issues a statement to the House of Commons

THERE’S tension between these two potential trade deals, of course. Both the EU and the US will seek to bind the UK into their own orbits, by strengthening our committments to their standards and eroding our conformance with the standards of the other. Both can simultaneously fail – that’s certain. But it’s not obvious that, with the very best of luck, both could simultaneously succeed. The politics of this are highly complex. It isn’t normally good negotiating tactics to antagonise the other party. Neither with the US nor with the EU is any strategy behind Jonhnson’s needless provocations and insults apparent.

So it’s not looking good for Global Britain. What does this mean for Scotland, specifically?

Acknowledgement by the EU of Scotland’s independence cannot but strengthen the hand of the EU in the negotiation. And, given Scotland’s abundant energy resources, highly educated workforce and general friendly attitude towards Europe, there are other motivations for the EU to recognise Scotland and to woo us as a potential member. The EU is not, of course, a monolithic bloc; there are 27 countries with many perspectives both within and among them. They come together in EU institutions where they have representatives with different roles, power and views. That gives Scotland’s nascent diplomatic service something of a challenge, but one which can be taken piecemeal, and also one where many of our interlocutors will already be kindly disposed toward us.

Of course, no matter how poor the deals that Napoleon Johnson negotiates, however negative their consequences, the sheep of the Tory press will obediently bleat “EU bad, Tories better” at the bidding of Squealer Cummings. That worries me not at all. I doubt that their bleating will find much resonance here in Scotland.

Independence is winnable this year. There are obstacles in the path, but they are not insurmountable; the tide is flowing in our direction. If you are still saying, after May, that “now is not the time”, then I feel that it is time that you should ask yourself whether your commitment to the cause is sincere.