WE are only a couple of days away from what is possibly the most important Holyrood election since the introduction of devolution. This is the election which will decide whether Scotland wants to revisit the question of independence or is content to accept Brexit and the unilateral unravelling of the devolution settlement which the Conservatives seek to impose on us.

It’s the election that will determine whether the United Kingdom really is a union of four nations founded upon consent, or nothing more than a unitary state which espouses a chauvinistic vision of a Greater England that it chooses to brand as a union, a union in name but not in substance.

Douglas Ross is the perfect illustration of the intellectual and moral vacuum at the heart of the Conservative Party. His performance on the Marr Show at the weekend, on the last Sunday before the election, was a case in point.

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Even before Andrew Marr had finished asking his question, you knew what Douglas’s answer was going to be. He told us that he can stop Nicola Sturgeon and he doesn’t want another referendum. What he either couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us, however, is what the democratic route to another referendum is, contenting himself with repeating his mantra that he doesn’t want another referendum. Ross seems to have forgotten that this election is not about what Douglas Ross and the Conservative Party want, it’s about what the people of Scotland want.

Ross was asked why despite the previous insistence of Boris Johnson that wild horses wouldn’t keep him from travelling to Scotland to campaign for the Tories in thus election, the wild horses seem to have won. Although we shouldn’t be too surprised that the Scottish Tory leader isn’t too exercised about the failure of the wildly unpopular Prime Minister to travel to Scotland given that Douglas’s issues with travellers have been well-publicised. Neither should it be a surprise that Ross’s answer to this question was likewise a variation on how he doesn’t want another independence referendum.

Equally it didn’t escape notice that on the BBC’s flagship politics programme just days before a crucial Scottish election in which the issue of another independence referendum is very much to the fore, the BBC didn’t feel the need to have a pro-independence Scottish politician as a guest.

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Ross is, of course, merely taking his cue from his masters in Westminster. According to reports, should the people of Scotland vote for a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, elected on an unconditional mandate for another independence referendum, the Conservative government is preparing to take legal action to prevent Holyrood from going ahead with a referendum without the express consent of Downing Street. This is a government which doesn’t believe in accountability, nor indeed in respecting the democratic right of the people of Scotland to choose the form of government best suited to their needs.

The Scottish Conservatives are desperate to bang on incessantly about their opposition to another referendum to the exclusion of all other issues. They hope this will fire up their core support, which is opposed to independence under any circumstances, and it provides a convenient distraction from the growing mountain of allegations of sleaze and corruption in which their party is mired. The latest allegation was that Johnson sought a political donor to pay his childcare costs. Meanwhile, the anger about his alleged remark that he’d rather let the bodies pile high in their thousands than agree to another lockdown has not gone away.

By pinning all their hopes on their opposition to another referendum, the Scottish Tories are playing a game which may well backfire on them. If, as polling suggests, there is a strong pro-independence majority in Holyrood after Thursday and the Scottish Conservatives have failed to gain any seats or have lost a few, the party is only making it much harder for itself to argue that Scotland doesn’t want a second independence referendum and to give itself a fig leaf of democratic accountability for any potential legal action to block a second independence referendum.

Scotland will then not only be seen to have elected a pro-independence parliament, but to have explicitly rejected the Scottish Conservatives’ “no to another referendum” message.

The big risk for the Conservatives, both in Scotland and at Westminster, is that their naked attempt to subvert the outcome of a Scottish election through the courts sparks off widespread public anger in Scotland which will only increase public support for independence in a country that is increasingly attracted to the idea of an independent Scotland that determines its own relationship with Europe and the rest of the world.

What this election definitely signifies, irrespective of who wins, is the end of traditional Scottish Unionism. That’s a political philosophy which is based upon an understanding of a Scotland which is a part of a consensual union with the rest of the UK.

The pro-independence parties seek to establish Scotland as an independent state, the Conservatives for their part seek to replace the concept of a union founded on consent with a British state bolstered by the force of law which does not offer Scotland a democratic and lawful route to ending or renegotiating the union.

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That leaves just the Labour Party and the LibDems holding out for some form of federalist UK. However, it is obvious there is as much chance of that happening as there is of Douglas Ross answering a question without telling us that he doesn’t want another independence referendum. There is no appetite for it in England where, despite the allegations of sleaze and corruption which assail the Conservatives still seems wedded to the Tory Party and its assertions of English exceptionalism.

If we value a Scotland which is able to make its own choices, we have to vote for a pro-independence party in this election. The devolution settlement has run out of road, all we have to look forward to in the UK is increasing centralisation and a corrupt and sleaze-ridden Westminster which Scotland is powerless to influence.

For my part, I believe the SNP offer the most plausible route to independence, and certainly here in the South of Scotland it’s vital to vote SNP one and two. Other independence supporters will have different views and different priorities, but whatever our differences, all routes to independence must cross the bridge of a strong pro-independence majority being elected on Thursday.