IN 2017, I was an Oxford Farming Conference panellist at The Royal Highland Show with former LibDem MEP and fellow farmer George Lyon. The topic was the future of farming following the Brexit vote.

Before the discussion, I asked George for his thoughts, and he confidently asserted that farming would benefit from Brexit. I told him my guess was the opposite, and that I greatly feared what would happen to powers over agriculture, labelling and food standards post-Brexit. I suspected the UK Government was planning a power grab and that that would be very bad news for farmers and consumers alike.

Without a hint of irony, when I mentioned this from the rostrum, George attacked me for politicising the issue and accused me of “stoking nationalism”. What I simply don’t understand is why some people consider being called a nationalist – and wanting to prioritise Scotland’s needs – is an insult.

Fast forward to 2020, and it’s quite clear the fears I expressed were justified. Add abandoning our Protected Geographical Indicators – which are so essential to underpinning produce provenance – and impending trade deals with the biggest agricultural producers in the world, a No-Deal Brexit and lowering of food and animal welfare standards, and I think it’s fair to say those of us who predicted trouble ahead have been completely vindicated.

We are not soothsayers, we’ve just lived with Westminster long enough to recognise patterns of behaviour. And, as concerning as that is, it’s nothing compared to the consequences of failing to take control of, and declaring, our sovereign will.

I have written two articles recently about our constitutional future.

I recognise the SNP and Scottish Government’s position of seeking co-operation from Westminster.

I understand the desire to exhaust all avenues and to reach an unequivocal legal decision that will be recognised internationally. At the same time, I fear that Westminster will continue to illegitimately stall progress by exploiting a flaw in the Scotland Act of 1998, which contradicts the sovereignty of the Scottish people and reserved powers over constitutional affairs to Westminster. It is clear the UK Government, in agreeing to devolution, clearly considered it as a means to stop independence rather than advance its progress. It is now using the contradiction of “giving devolved powers to Scotland” as a means of neutering our control over our future.

Devolution really is coming of age.

A sovereign people do not require permission from any outside authority to decide their constitutional future, and we must make sure that message is heard loud and clear, not only in Westminster, but, just as importantly, here in Scotland.

Even those in the Yes movement do not fully appreciate the real value and power we have as a sovereign people. That’s hardly surprising, given that Unionists have doggedly perpetrated the myth that Westminster is the sovereign body. We already have the powers we need. We’ve had them all along.

Westminster may well have control over the laws of the land by virtue of the Act of Union, but it certainly doesn’t have unilateral control when it comes to the Treaty of The Union, and it is on the Treaty that we must focus our attention.

Despite warning of the divide-and-conquer technique which has so often been used to undermine our movement, my proposed discussion about the strength of our sovereignty and how we exercise it, has been seemingly dismissed. That, along with other ideas mooted by the wider independence movement, have even been described as “grandstanding chaff”.

These reactions are neither helpful nor constructive and smack of a reluctance, or flat-out refusal, to expose any new proposal to robust debate and scrutiny. Historically, the SNP have never shied away from such deliberations. Indeed, it is the high quality of debate that has kept the membership engaged and has delivered clearly-thought-out positions on policy.

The Scottish people’s sovereign rights are long established, rooted in history and law – from the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, the 1689 Claim of Right, the 1989 Claim of Right right up to the Half Day Motion Brought by the SNP at Westminster.

Ian Blackford opened the debate on July 4, 2018, on the motion: “That this House endorses the principles of the Claim of Right for Scotland, agreed by the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989 and by the Scottish Parliament in 2012, and therefore acknowledges the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.”

He said: “The principle of unlimited sovereignty of parliament is a distinctly English principle and has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law – those words are not mine. They are the words of the Lord President of the Court of Session in 1953 during the case of MacCormick v the Lord Advocate.”

Blackford went on: “The Claim of Right is not simply a historical document but a fundamental principle that underpins the democracy and constitutional framework of Scotland.”

It was striking that most MPs in that debate, including devout Unionists, agreed with this but refused to recognise the hypocrisy of backing the UK Government position of refusing to co-operate with a Section 30 order request.

Sovereignty is not just some archaic tradition we read about, misty-eyed, in our history books, dreaming of ancient glories or mystical times. It’s real. It’s ours. It’s powerful and it matters. Allan MacInnes, Professor Emeritus of History at Strathclyde University, who is an authority on the constitution, has articulated to me the fundamental difference between the Act of Union and the Treaty of Union. While devolution can be established via the Act of Union and cannot be altered by Holyrood, the Treaty of Union is entirely within the Scottish Parliament’s remit.

Fundamentally, as the vehicle for the people of Scotland’s democratic voice, the democratically elected Scottish Government can revisit, revise or alter the Treaty of Union at any time, if they are acting on the sovereign will of the people.

But how do we demonstrate the sovereign will of the people when the quite wrongly termed “legal“ route is blocked by an intransigent Westminster, blatantly trying to usurp our sovereign rights?

I propose the SNP and others wishing to achieve independence must have in their manifestos for Holyrood 2021 a commitment, at the behest of the sovereign people of Scotland, to resume responsibility for constitutional affairs, which was misappropriated by Westminster in the 1998 Scotland Act. Should Westminster refuse to co-operate or try to place any conditionality on any agreements, then, by direct instruction from the people of Scotland, the Parliament will revisit the terms of the Treaty of Union.

By our sovereign will of voting for parties who agree to assume constitutional affairs at our instruction, we are demonstrating that we, the people, have exercised our sovereign right to choose. It will then be for the people of Scotland to decide whether to continue with, alter or leave the Union at a time of our choosing. This is entirely within the scope of Holyrood as the sovereign voice of the people, because we are revisiting the Treaty of Union, not the Act of Union.

Clearly, the leadership of the SNP are doing right now what we expect them to do, and that is manage the crisis brought about by a global pandemic. The fact Nicola Sturgeon is being cited as having managed this crisis with a degree of competence that Boris Johnson can only watch and envy, is in no way a political stunt on the Scottish Government’s part, despite how the increasingly desperate Tories’ attempt to portray it as such. But it certainly has illustrated our effective, competent governance and demonstrated to doubters that Scotland is eminently capable of managing its own affairs.

It’s critical that the party leadership stay focused on that job, but it doesn’t mean that other SNP figures cannot be exploring our strategy to deliver on the very founding principles of our party – independence.

There has never been a more opportune or critical moment for us to exercise our sovereign rights.

Let’s grasp it with both hands, assure the leadership we are primed and ready to go, and that we want them to lead us into the next stage of our journey in returning the power to where it belongs – with us, the sovereign people of Scotland.