DEBATE is a good thing. So is democracy. So, I am looking forward to this weekend’s SNP Conference. My party has been dealt a strong hand and provided we play it well we should soon be commencing a second independence campaign.

You can tell things are going well for the independence movement when Gordon Brown is wheeled out. During his latest Broontervention he chose to echo the words of Theresa May, saying “now is not the time”.

The trouble is that for Scotland, British politicians telling us not now tends to mean not ever.

The British Government is pressing ahead with their constitutional priorities, Brexit, the undermining of the devolved settlement and attacks on the rule of law, regardless of the pandemic and its economic fallout.

So, whilst the First Minister and the Scottish Government have rightly had their primary focus on the Covid crisis, we cannot afford not to counter the British Government’s constitutional agenda.

To those who parrot the words of our former and current First Ministers during the first indyref campaign that this was a “once in a generation” vote, I say that was then, and this is now.

Besides what constitutes a generation in political terms?

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I’m a member of Generation X born between 1965 and 1980. The next generation was the Millennials born between 1981 and 1996. These are time spans of only 15 years.

With respect to devolution, 18 years passed between the 1979 and 1997 referendums. So, rather longer than a generation. But we should remember that until Labour won the 1997 general election Scotland’s renewed desire for devolution was ignored by the Tories for more than a decade. Something to bear in mind for those who say we don’t need a Plan B…

The events of the past six years have been considerably more tumultuous than we normally experience in a generation.

In the years since 2014 we have lived through a number of political generations. The days of Cameron and Clegg feel like ancient history.

Theresa May is now in the political wilderness together with a host of well-respected Tories who find themselves politically homeless. The LibDems who were part of government until 2015 are now reduced to a rump with their latest UK leader but one ousted at the last general election. The Corbyn era has come and gone. Britain has left the European Union. And Trump will soon leave the White House.

On the issue of sovereignty and Irish unity, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provides that the Northern Irish Secretary shall not allow a second border poll any earlier than seven years before the previous poll.

Even allowing for the very different context, if seven years between referendums to leave the UK is acceptable for Northern Ireland why not for Scotland?

If the party or parties who have a clear commitment to a second indyref in their manifestos win the Scottish election next year then it would be a Trumpian denial of democracy for such a referendum not to happen.

But, if ever any UK leader was capable of Trumpian behaviour then it’s Boris Johnson, so it makes sense for us to think about what we should do in the event that the PM refuses to reach agreement with the FM about the means by which a second indyref can be held, as David Cameron did with Alex Salmond in the Edinburgh Agreement 2012.

A recent poll suggested that two-thirds of voters want a fall-back strategy to secure a second independence vote if a Section 30 order is refused this time round.

But some in the SNP are reluctant to contemplate the options in such a scenario because they believe that to do so might detract from the pressure on the PM to do the right thing.

To them I say he’s not renowned for doing the right thing particularly when it comes to Scotland.

I understand the argument that his refusal to grant a Section 30 order is unsustainable. Whether that is right remains to be seen.

For now, it’s a comforting thought that his position is unsustainable but it’s a hope at best and it’s my belief that this hope should not prevent us from looking at what leverage we have in the meantime.

It should be remembered that the capitulation of David Cameron and the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement came after protracted discussions. It was secured as the result of pressure that was irresistible not just because of the mandate the SNP won in 2011 but also because of the robust leadership and statecraft of the Salmond government.

Some of the present reluctance to discuss alternative strategies comes from the absolutely correct view that the means by which independence is secured must be legitimate in order that the outcome is internationally recognised. I agree and would add that a democratic and legitimate process is also necessary to bring the British Government to the negotiating table after the vote is won.

BUT Scotland is not Catalonia. The UK is not Spain. There is nothing in the unwritten British constitution which prohibits Scotland from choosing independence.

Indeed, the British constitution has already shown it is flexible enough to permit an independence referendum for Scotland.

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So let’s look forward with optimism to the somewhat delayed discussion of alternative strategies, Plan B if you like, which will now take place at the SNP National Assembly in January.

In her Brexit day speech last January, the FM was canny enough not to rule out testing in court the legal question of whether the specific constitutional reservation in the Scotland Act puts any form of independence referendum outside the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Those of us not privy to the legal advice from the Lord Advocate are not in a position to fully understand the Scottish Government’s tactics in respect of the Keatings case. I certainly would have preferred a court case to take place in the context of what Kevin Pringle has described as a “carefully crafted bill”. But we are where we are and the full legal argument in Mr Keatings’s case will happen in January. Those in the SNP who are tasked with taking forward the product of the National Assembly’s discussions may well be assisted by the debate and decision in this case.

So let’s hope delegates to the SNP Conference will elect officer bearers, an NEC, organisation and policy convenors and a policy development committee who believe in the importance of good internal party governance, open debate and developing the right policies and strategies to win – and who will put independence front and centre. Because if not now, then when?