OF all the memories and images that still resonate from the first independence referendum, the most profoundly moving occurred in Govan’s Pearce Institute in August 2014. It was here that a group of local working-class women gathered to chew over the issues most pertinent to them in the national debate on Scotland’s future.

All of them were dealing with serious challenges in their lives, most of which stemmed from reduced economic circumstances but which also included abusive relationships and the ripple effects of addiction in families.

Their discussion was passionate, emotional and well-informed and would have done justice to any of the more manicured events staged by the main media outlets. Put simply, they had become caught up in the national debate and had experienced in it something of a liberation.

I’d been invited to observe their discussion and was told afterwards that their attempts to solicit official representation from the Yes and No camps for the purposes of a hustings event hadn’t merited the courtesy of a reply from either. Far from being bitter or resentful about this they simply asked me if I might reach out on their behalf to contacts on either side and ask if something could be arranged.

Like many other such homespun groups they had first felt empowered by the independence campaign and then emboldened to talk about it. I watched as women who’d never spoken in public – and perhaps not even in small gatherings – visibly grew in confidence as they began gradually to warm to the sound of each other’s voices, realising in the process that they were as eloquent and reasonable as those who did it for a living. You felt privileged to be witnessing it and something else besides: that you were also witnessing some of those rarely captured moments when the genie is being released from the bottle.

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You also felt something else: that moments such as these absolutely scare the bejesus out of the political classes – media; politicians; analysts – these being the people who stand to lose the most when the rank and file find their voices and speak in a language unsoiled by contrived idioms and esoteric tropes.

Indeed, for most of the seven years that have elapsed since that day it seems that the political elites have spent much of their time trying to lasso the genie and send it back from whence it came and safely confined to its controlled environment.

Much of this has occupied the parties which represent the Unionist side of the constitutional debate. Many of the Yes voters who have been driven into the arms of Alba by the disdain they’ve encountered from the SNP leadership know this feeling too. In this election, though, it’s the main opposition parties who have specialised in the politics of exclusion and condescension.

In the absence of anything coherent each of them – Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – has opted for the path of least resistance. This has seen them join forces and synchronise their manifestos on identical messages: that there shall be no second referendum and that the task of effecting a “Covid recovery” must take priority over everything else.

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Willie Rennie (above), normally measured and reasonable in his Unionism, seems lately to have been afflicted by false memory syndrome. Listening to the Liberal Democrat leader describe the events of the first referendum, it seems remarkable that a UN peace-keeping force wasn’t despatched to restore order as “families and communities were ripped apart”.

Anas Sarwar, his Labour confrere, has expressed similar sentiments, if not clothed in Rennie’s apocalyptic terminology. The Scottish Tories have based their entire electoral strategy on this fiction.

There’s a reason why these elites get nervous at displays of passion and deeply held opinions and why they become visibly shaken when raw emotion comes tumbling forth.

When such forces are released that speak from the heart they are unpredictable. Thus, they are less likely to respond to the usual methods of control and the normal rules of engagement, most of which are commonly agreed by the professional politicians to prevent outbreaks of this sort of beastliness.

Sarwar, in ignoring the majority of Labour supporters in Scotland who favour a second referendum, talks ceaselessly about prioritising a “national recovery”. What, specifically, does he mean by this?

Most of the issues that will require to be addressed in our efforts to recover from Covid have been there for generations. The pandemic didn’t cause them. The UK Labour Party did little to reduce these or even to address them when it was in power, preferring under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to court the corporate world while refusing to undo the punitive anti-trade-union legislation that underpinned Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year assault on British workers.

The National: Former British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

And when Labour members did eventually choose a leader who seemed to mean business about governing for the many and not the few, Sarwar and other Labour politicians undermined him at every turn. In the process they did as much as the Tories to prevent a Labour Government in 2017.

As Jeremy Corbyn was causing a chill to run through the UK’s corrupt banking system, Sarwar and his associates were intimidating MSPs who had dared to support their UK leader.

Among the factors that will require to be addressed if we are to stage a Covid recovery will be our patterns of employment and how we treat employees in their places of work. Will we pay them a sustainable Living Wage that affords them the opportunity to put down roots, start families; buy houses? Will we give them decent contracts and access to trade union representation that will protect their workplace rights?

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This will be a serious issue for millions of workers as they begin to feel the backlash from firms and their senior executives who will seek to recoup Covid’s lost profits by laying waste to the shop floor; forcing down wages; withdrawing statutory benefits and stiffening disciplinary procedures. Trade union representation will be required more than ever in the next few years.

Yet Scottish Labour, assisted by some trade unions, went ahead and elected a multi-millionaire whose family business refused to recognise trade unions and failed to pay the real Living Wage to its lowest-paid employees. When Sarwar talks about focusing on recovery his words have a very hollow ring to them.

He and his Unionist travelling companions know that a second referendum will have no impact on our ability to stage an economic recovery from the pandemic. It provides a convenient cover story though, to conceal their own historic acquiescence in creating those class divisions that will deepen in the years ahead.