IN certain quarters of the independence movement these days, there seems to be considerably more faith in the Conservatives’ ability to keep saying no to another independence referendum than the Conservatives appear to possess themselves.

The counsels of despair within the Yes movement argue Boris Johnson will never agree to a Section 30 order under any circumstances, and instead of making the case for independence to undecided voters and soft No voters, focus their ire on the SNP.

I’ve always been in favour of a Plan B, and of Plans C, D, E through to Z. There are many democratic and peaceful ways in which we can attain independence. However, this does not mean we need to give up on Plan A. Indeed, the knowledge there are other routes to independence merely helps to ensure the success of Plan A.

There is mounting evidence that the Conservatives do not believe they can indefinitely resist Scottish calls for another independence referendum. There is likewise a growing awareness in parts of the Conservative Party that if the party keep refusing to listen to legitimate Scottish demands, it will only make Scottish independence more likely.

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There have been reports in the Conservative press that Michael Gove is in a panic about rising support for independence. There have even been reports that there is a growing private assumption among at least some senior figures in the party that Scotland will eventually have another independence referendum.

Meanwhile, the British Government has embarked upon its ludicrous and patronising plan to plaster Scotland with Union Flags in an attempt to sell Britishness to an increasingly dubious Scottish public.

Then there has been the desperate defenestration of Jackson Carlaw and his replacement with a Davidson-Ross tag team whose early weeks in the leadership have been marked by mis-steps, errors, and embarrassments. It is clear now that Ruth Davidson was instrumental in orchestrating the overthrow of her erstwhile replacement, and in so doing overturned the result of a democratic ballot within her own party.

In her first outing as stand-in leader at FMQs, Ruth Davidson was humiliated by Nicola Sturgeon. She reminded the Tory darling, who is set to go to the Lords, that she is in no position to lecture anyone about loyalty to colleagues or political accountability.

The National: Ruth Davidson

None of these are the actions of a party which is supremely confident it can keep saying no to another Scottish independence referendum without any significant consequences. At the weekend, there was a further sign that at least some influential Conservatives are very much aware of the seriousness of the danger a continued refusal of another referendum would bring for them.

Peter Duncan, the former MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and one-time chair of the Scottish Conservatives has warned that his party’s “carping negativity looks likely to end in failure”.

He argued that a “no, never approach will only fan the flames for independence”, and urged Boris Johnson not to deny any clear mandate for an independence referendum that may exist after next May’s Scottish Holyrood election. Should the SNP be returned as a majority government with an explicit mandate for another referendum, the exact same political circumstances will exist in Scotland as existed after the election of 2011. As we all know, that resulted in a referendum.

HOWEVER, if the Conservatives were to refuse a Section 30 order following the election of a majority SNP government with increased seats and increased vote share, the risk they face is that the nature of the debate on independence fundamentally changes. It changes on to grounds which the Conservatives will be unable to contest. It becomes a debate about democracy.

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In 2014, the Better Together campaign sought, successfully, to fight the campaign on economic grounds. The economy is an area where is it easy to blind the average voter with a barrage of statistics.

It’s not difficult to create fear and doubt, all the more so because you can always find an economist who is prepared to make the argument that you seek. As George Bernard Shaw once quipped: “If all the economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.”

However, if the Conservatives continued to block Scottish demands for another referendum, even following the election of a majority SNP government, the dominant theme of the debate on Scottish independence is no longer an economic one.

It becomes an argument about the fundamentals of democracy itself. This will ensure that the majority view amongst the people of Scotland is to draw a direct equivalence between independence and democracy itself. That’s not an argument the Conservatives can win. The Conservatives know this too. That’s why Michael Gove is panicking.

A refusal to co-operate with a Section 30 order will mean that the independence movement will be able to argue Scotland is no longer a voluntary partner in a Union.

The debate about independence would no longer be about currency or deficits, it would be framed around the fundamentals of democratic legitimacy.

The outcome would be the same as the Conservative refusal to agree to devolution throughout the 1980s and 90s. All that Thatcher’s intransigence did was to turn a Scotland which was equivocal on the idea of a Scottish Parliament into a Scotland where support for devolution was a foregone conclusion by the time of the 1997 referendum. The Tories are currently making the same mistake now as they did then.

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Naturally, the Conservatives will continue to deny that they will agree to another referendum, right up until the second that they do. They need to shore up their own, dwindling, support base in Scotland.

More importantly they seek to create confusion and doubt within the Yes camp. They want us to believe we will never get another referendum, because the more they can undermine our resolve the easier it is for them to resist it.

However, the Conservatives themselves know, even if they cannot admit it in public, that ultimately their only hope of preventing independence will be to defeat the Yes movement in another referendum.

They can’t do that if they deprive themselves of the only arguments that they’ve got, which is precisely what they’ll do by refusing a clear and inarguable mandate from a majority SNP government.