MORE than 57,000 people have died across the UK as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Just as we all get our hopes up about the impending vaccination programme, news emerges that the big idea emanating from No 10 is to slap a Union flag on the life-saving drugs. Rather than spend all time and effort prioritising the vaccine roll-out, the new Whitehall unit formed to fight Scottish independence has asked the vaccine taskforce about branding Oxford injection kits.

In an exclusive HuffPost report, Rachel Wearmouth reported: “Downing Street has attempted to get doses of the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine labelled with Union Jacks. HuffPost UK understands No 10’s newly-formed ‘Union unit’, tasked with fighting calls for Scottish independence and other campaigns to break up the UK, wanted injection kits to bear the flag.”

Coming hot on the heels of the Prime Minister declaring devolution to be a “disaster”, quite why Downing Street thought that politically weaponising life-saving vaccines as a “Union jag” was a good idea is beyond me.

However, it follows the similar logic repeatedly heard from Tory circles that they want to slap Union Jacks on any project supported by UK Government, from the Climate Summit in Glasgow, to new potential infrastructure development delivered as a result of the Internal Market Bill power grab. In reaction to the request to brand Oxford injection kits, Peter Geoghegan who conducts investigations for openDemocracy, said it’s “hard to imagine a better example of the intellectual vacuum inside British central state Unionism than this remarkable line”.

In contrast, Nicola Sturgeon has been careful to stress her primary focus on combating the coronavirus pandemic. When asked about the timing of the expected forthcoming independence referendum, she said: “I think the referendum should, for a whole variety of reasons, be in the earlier part of the next parliament.” She went on to stress: “I intend to say more about this before the election in our manifesto, but we are still in a global pandemic that I feel a bit more hopeful about seeing the end of than I did even just a couple of months ago. There’s still a lot of uncertainty ahead. I’m a life-long believer and campaigner and advocate for independence, but right now I’m also the First Minister of Scotland. My responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of the country and trying to steer it through a pandemic and I’m very focused on that.”

Holyrood Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was quick out of the traps to accuse the FM of pushing for another indyref next year and ignored everything Nicola Sturgeon said about her priority to combat Covid. The outgoing Tory MSP for Edinburgh Central, whose priority is to take up a seat in the House of Lords, has forgotten her previous advice not to stand in the way of indyref2: “Constitutionally the UK Government shouldn’t block it, no,” and: “If the SNP puts in its manifesto that it has an intention to hold a second referendum, and if it wins an outright majority, I think it does have a mandate to hold one.”

Of course, Baroness Davidson and Douglas Ross will always think that it is the wrong time to hold an independence referendum in Scotland; they are democracy deniers. But it is not a sustainable position. Just as Donald Trump is having to confront the realities of having lost the presidential election, so too will the Tories. Just as the 45th president will have to vacate the White House for Joe Biden, so too will the UK Government have to accede to a Scottish referendum.

The consequences of blocking Scottish voters is that what has been about independence up until now becomes about democracy, which is wider and an altogether more dangerous prospect for the UK and its international standing.

This of course presupposes the result of the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, with a pro-independence majority, which is what repeated opinion polls have predicted. This is comforting and encouraging for the growing majority that supports Scottish independence, however, it still needs to be delivered. Coronavirus and public health restrictions have impacted on the democratic process, however electioneering has proceeded nonetheless, with recent SNP victories in the Perth North and Craigentinny/Duddingston by-elections.

There is plenty that must now be done in preparation for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, given that SNP candidates have been selected across the country. Following this weekend’s online SNP conference, we need to turn our attention outwards to supporters and open-minded and undecided voters.

There are less than 160 days until the next Holyrood elections. There is a majority to be won, but it will not happen by itself. Let’s focus our efforts on winning the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.