THE image that best describes the ideal relationship between journalists and politicians is of a dog and a lamp-post. At times, though, it can be difficult to tell which is which. This is perhaps a little too vivid and simplistic but it’s meant to convey a general rule.

This is not to suggest journalists can’t have mutually respectful, even cordial, relationships with the richly-rewarded public servants they must scrutinise. However, in our trade, it’s unwise to get too close to those whom you might one day be required to call to account. Journalists should generally assume that politicians are either lying or otherwise concealing the truth and treat anything else as a bonus.

With a few exceptions, I’ve found that politicians who possess life experiences away from the incestuous and passive aggressive world of politics are the easiest to admire. Within the current SNP fold I’ve come to respect people such as Joanna Cherry, Jeane Freeman, Joan McAlpine, Philippa Whitford and Chris Stephens. In Scottish Labour, Neil Findlay and Monica Lennon have often displayed signs that their capacity for independent thought hasn’t been diminished by Keir Starmer’s vanilla police.

And I’ve just always liked Adam Tomkins because, well … he might be a Tory but he’s partial to the odd swalette; doesn’t take himself too seriously and resists the urge to mock me when I’ve attempted to engage him in discussions about economic theory.

In my limited experience, Tories are very pleasant company, a conviviality perhaps born of possessing sufficient funds and connections not to have to worry too much about what life might have in store for them.

READ MORE: George Kerevan: After 300 years of servility Scots have decided to get up off their knees

I can’t claim to know any politicians very well but after a few years you can come to discern between those who are moved by personal conviction and those who thrill to the manufactured virtues of the times.

The emergence in recent years of Chris McEleny, the councillor and former leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council, speaks well of what the SNP stands for. He first came to my attention when he was forced out of his job as an electrician at HM Naval Base Clyde for being deemed by his employers, the Ministry of Defence, to be a security risk. This seemed to be based on nothing more than his Irish heritage; the fact that “Donegal” appeared rather too often for comfort on his Facebook page and his fervent belief that Scotland should be an independent country.

Leaked emails showed that MoD officials were concerned about this unholy confection four years before they downgraded his security clearance. In a scene reminiscent of the political satire The Thick of It, he was quizzed by MoD investigators about his opinions on the 2012 liquidation of Rangers FC.

McEleny chose to challenge this arm of the British establishment at an employment tribunal and was rewarded when, in 2018, Judge Frances Eccles ruled that the pro-independence opinions held by McEleny constituted a philosophical belief and should be protected under the Equality Act 2010. “I did not find the claimant’s belief in political independence was unique to Scotland or people living in Scotland,” she said.

McEleny knows what it means to make personal sacrifices for his political beliefs. Others in the SNP and beyond are shown to have sacrificed their political beliefs for personal gain. I’ll refer you here to the Nato debate at the 2012 SNP conference.

READ MORE: Why exactly are we having issues with Section 30 order?

In the last few years, McEleny has spearheaded a campaign within the SNP to adopt a referendum Plan B. He believes that repeatedly asking Tory prime ministers to grant a Section 30 order for a referendum does not constitute a serious and well-constructed strategy. He is, of course, right. It would be extremely foolish for Boris Johnson to grant this in the knowledge that a run of 17 opinion polls indicates clear support for independence.

YET for challenging the complacency and control freakery at the heart of the SNP establishment, McEleny has faced more opprobrium from within his party than the British security forces could ever throw at him.

At least they didn’t discriminate against him because of his religion, unlike in the SNP where McEleny has found that his Catholicism is deemed by a significant number of activists to be unbearable. I’m ashamed to say that this opinion has also found favour among some journalists who otherwise take pride in Scotland being an enlightened and inclusive country.

At one party conference, McEleny suspected that the front row of the debating hall had been filled with party fluffers whose sole purpose was to abuse him verbally when he attempted to outline his case for a Plan B. Like others who have struggled to gain recognition in the party he’s found that his working-class background doesn’t quite fit with the dismal managerialist instincts of a party leadership who appear to have settled for the path of least resistance.

This week, McEleny published his most detailed proposal yet on how a Plan B might work. The key points in his Roadmap to Independence are entirely reasonable, detailed and well argued. At their heart is a simple and fair analysis. It proposes that the Scottish Government sets a deadline for the UK Government to agree to a Section 30 order, in advance of the Holyrood elections.

If Boris Johnson continues to reject this, then a pro-independence majority in May’s Scottish Parliament elections should act as a mandate for the Scottish Government to hold a referendum on independence with or without the support of the UK Government.

READ MORE: Section 30 isn’t going to happen – time to push for independence election

A familiar cast of leadership acolytes insist this is effectively UDI and would be reviled on the global stage. This, though, is disingenuous at best. A pro-independence majority in May, as the paper points out, would be the latest of several electoral mandates in all of the UK’s democratic jurisdictions. This is an electoral mandate that’s endured for an entire decade.

Perhaps it could reasonably be claimed that the failure to secure this in the one that mattered most of all, the 2014 referendum, negates the rest. Yet an even more reasonable counter-argument is that the two main pillars of the Unionist offering seven years ago, membership of the European Union and long-term economic stability, no longer exists thanks to Brexit and coronavirus.

There’s always been a suspicion that if this roadmap had been authored by someone more attractive to the Nicola Sturgeon/Peter Murrell axis, which is to say someone who always does what he’s telt, it might be given due consideration. I hope this suspicion proves groundless and that the leadership treats it with the respect lacking in its previous attitudes to McEleny.