DIVIDE and conquer has been a strategy deployed for centuries by the British state to good effect. By refusing the Scottish Government’s request for a Section 30 Order for an independence referendum , the UK Government is deploying a tried and tested formula to maintain its hold on power.

By simply saying no, Westminster has attempted to divide our disciplined Yes movement despite the backdrop of rising electoral support for independence which, at present, stands at around 54%.

If we allow ourselves to be manipulated in this way, we will be playing straight into the hands of Westminster. Ironically, this attempt to put strain on the movement has arisen at a time when the case for independence has never been clearer, or more urgent. We have a UK Government riven with multiple crises, demonstrating a level of incompetence and weakness we could never have envisaged, and yet it is still prepared to ride roughshod over our constitutional and sovereign rights.

The risks we face by staying part of this Union are greater now than ever before.

The truth is, the incumbents in Number 10 have no mechanism to deny our sovereignty – a fact they are well aware of. They may view the current wrangling within the independence movement as evidence that their strategy is succeeding but the reality is different. Instead of becoming a less potent force, our support has the elasticity and determination to take the strain of process debates to agree a strategy that will deliver independence.

We urgently need to have an open, reasoned discussion about where we are constitutionally in order to counter these divisive tactics. It is something we should all embrace, so we can agree in principle on how to proceed, enabling us to work cohesively and with purpose.

As a party, as a movement and as a government, we have consistently taken a measured and reasonable approach to deciding our constitutional future. By working with the UK Government, delivering good governance under the debilitating constraints of devolution, participating in the Smith Commission and winning mandate after mandate to hold a second independence referendum, Scots have demonstrated our absolute commitment to the democratic process.

So why have we allowed ourselves to sleepwalk into a position of believing we need permission from a UK Government we have rejected in election after election, to decide our constitutional future?

Accepting devolution has enabled a demonstration of good governance, something I think was needed, and we also have to accept that power devolved is power retained. But the Scottish people have never relinquished sovereignty. The sovereign rights of the people of Scotland have been ours since before the Declaration of Arbroath.

Some might argue that the 1998 Scotland Act overrides our sovereign rights but the Cameron government conceded the position in 2012 when they recognised that the SNP “… entered the May 2011 election with a manifesto pledge for a referendum on independence.

He added: “They have campaigned consistently for independence, and while the UK Government does not believe this is in the interests of Scotland or the rest of the United Kingdom, we will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence: the future of Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom is for people in Scotland to vote on”.

There has never been a plebiscite in which sovereignty was mentioned or discussed and that ancient right remains absolutely with the Scottish people. Accepting the limits of devolution and working with it, however, has further demonstrated the need for independence.

SO how do we break the log jam? I refer to my proposal on June 12 in this paper, where my aim was to assist unity and deliver a route map to progress towards an independent Scotland.

We need to be nimble and equipped to optimise our chances of success and that is where I believe there is a fundamental difficulty in sticking rigidly to any specific tactic such as those described in various plans mooted so far.

It’s fair to say one of the most crucial points is that we, the people of Scotland, should have the right to choose whether we remain in the Union or become an independent nation. That choice should NOT be predicated on the outcome of an election. Elections should be about how we run the day-to-day issues of health, education, environment and so on. The constitution is a separate matter and needs to be kept that way.

However, it is now imperative that, if we want to be an independent country, we must act like an independent country. It’s not good enough to simply keep asking for permission to decide our future. We must reassert our sovereignty.

By returning responsibility for constitutional affairs to Holyrood, the SNP – and any other independence party who wished to include it in their manifesto – would be guaranteeing the people of Scotland a referendum on Scottish independence at a time of our choosing. The difference is we won’t be asking permission for the right to ask the question. The ruling government after the May 2021 election would have the mandate for my proposal which is as follows:

“The SNP, and other independence-supporting parties, put in their manifestos for the upcoming Scottish Parliament election, that if there is a majority of pro-independence parties returned to Holyrood, the Scottish Government will assume responsibility for constitutional affairs as directed by the sovereign will of the people of Scotland.

“When our Parliament has powers over constitutional affairs, the Government will have the ability to initiate a referendum and to carry out the expressed wishes of the people of Scotland which no individual, government or agency can usurp. The UN Charter states that countries have the right to self-determination. That is a globally recognised, acknowledged and respected fact.

“We would be putting the issue of constitutional affairs in the manifesto to secure a majority, re-assert our rights as a sovereign nation and exhaust all democratic and legitimate means. By giving an independence-supporting Scottish Government our absolute support, it would assume the responsibility for our constitutional affairs, thereby explicitly act on the express will of the people of Scotland.

“There can be no more legitimate means than by our choosing to hold our rights over our constitutional future. Nothing else is required. We will then be free to decide when and where our future as a country lies.”