The National:

IT'S not often I agree with Dan Hodges, but I enjoyed seeing him make a strong case today for the UK Government to agree to a referendum on Scottish independence. He highlighted the democratic imperative underpinning calls for a second referendum very well, arguing “the fact is the constitutional settlement the people of Scotland voted for in 2014 no longer exists".

This is really the core point. Arguing that the independence referendum was a once-in-a-generation event takes no account of all that has happened since 2014. The years that have passed have delivered more political shocks than have been experienced by many previous generations. They have also delivered the precise set of circumstances that were specified as the criteria for demanding a second referendum in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto.

READ MORE: Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges urges Boris Johnson to agree to indyref2

Two conditions were clearly set out, either one of which would lead to a renewed demand for a vote on independence if they were met. Firstly, evidence that independence had become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people or, secondly, a material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.

Both of those conditions have now been met. I don’t think many people would have bet on that outcome in 2016 - and refusing to respond to this extraordinary turn of events is not sustainable in the long term. The question is how sustainable it is in the shorter term.

It’s clear that Conservative tactics, going into the May election, consist of throwing as much mud as possible at the SNP in the hope that enough of it sticks to prevent a parliamentary majority. They are also attempting to pre-emptively de-legitimise a referendum authorised by Holyrood, should that come to pass, by describing it as “illegal” or “wildcat” and even suggesting that it should be boycotted. These are not the tactics of a confident party. Rather, they suggest desperation.

I strongly support the independence strategy set out by Michael Russell to the SNP’s National Assembly, which includes publishing a draft bill for an independence referendum before the Holyrood election in May, with a commitment to enact it included in our 2021 manifesto, along with a renewed demand for a Section 30 order. But I think it’s vitally important to continue to make the democratic case for the UK Government to agree to a second independence referendum. This argument reaches well beyond the Yes movement.

For me, the precedent set by the Edinburgh Agreement in 2012 is crucial. By signing up to it, the UK Government was recognising the right of the Scottish people to decide our own future. I don’t think we should concede that they have a right to refuse to agree to a second referendum in the face of changed circumstances and a clear democratic mandate. But that is what we would be doing if we dropped our demand for a Section 30 order. In my view, this would be a grave political error when majority opinion has lined up behind us. And, given we know that an agreed process will be essential to obtain international recognition for independence, we must consider how to achieve that.

But for all the debate on process, it’s vital to remember the overriding importance of ‘why’ as well as ‘how’. ‘Why’ is what wins votes. ‘How’ is still mainly of interest to activists. There is a danger of the Yes movement spending too much time talking to each other and not enough time talking – and, more importantly, listening - to voters.

READ MORE: Henry McLeish says Boris Johnson has 'lost the plot' over the Union

Strengthening and extending majority support for our right to choose our own future – and to choose independence - is the most important work that lies ahead of us, not arguing about process. I find it frustrating that, every time a Tory grandee loftily pronounces that the UK Government will never agree to a referendum, a chorus of Yes-supporting voices pipes up to agree. I totally understand how exasperating the situation is but, in my view, this is just bad politics. We should be calling out Tory bigwigs who want to deny democracy, not simply accepting that they can do that.

It’s interesting to see how this democratic argument is currently playing out in the Labour leadership contest. While Anas Sarwar takes the standard party line that now is not the time, Monica Lennon has said that “Scotland’s future should be decided in Scotland, by the people.” This illustrates the way in which the debate about a second referendum is reaching all parts of the political spectrum and the country. The Tory position, which would deny us our right to choose, cannot hold. When people like Dan Hodges and Monica Lennon can see that, we know we are winning the argument.