TWENTY years on from devolution in Scotland and Ian Blackford says now is the time to complete the journey to independence.

To that end the SNP’s Westminster leader and Paisley and Renfrewshire South MP Mhairi Black have embarked on a series of roadshows taking the indy message to people all over Scotland.

READ MORE: SNP to take independence message on the road ahead of indyref2

Ahead of the first roadshow in Fort William, Blackford told The National the biggest threat facing Scotland was the continuing saga of Brexit, which could see us being dragged out of the European Union against the will of the majority of voters.

Despite a decade of Tory austerity policies, he said the Scottish Government had delivered for its people – the best-performing health service in the UK, better returns on R&D investment and rising export figures.

Here, he tells Greg Russell how the SNP will approach the next independence referendum, or Westminster election campaign, when polls do not show consistent pro-indy majorities.

IB: The fact is here we are in the summer of 2019, five years on from the 2014 referendum – tonight will be the first time that I have delivered a speech on independence in five years. The SNP’s not campaigned for independence for five years, the Yes movement has to some extent been on the sidelines.

What we’re now doing is re-igniting that desire for independence, re-lighting that flame and having that conversation with the people of Scotland about what kind of society they want.

We’ve had to be patient to allow the Brexit process run through its course over the last three years. We now know that we’re facing a disaster, we now know that Brexit changes everything, and I fundamentally believe that on the basis of where we are with an inward-looking UK in contrast to a Scotland that will be outward looking is really a very sharp contrast.

I believe that as we get out around Scotland and campaign – the fact is tonight we’ve been overwhelmed by the demand for people wanting to come to this meeting in Fort William. That’s been replicated in the demand we’ve seen to have public meetings in other parts of my own constituency and I know it will be the case throughout the rest of Scotland as well.

People in Scotland are ready to have this debate and I remain absolutely convinced that what will happen over the coming months is increasingly the people of Scotland will recognise that our destiny will be as an independent country and that support for independence will increase to the extent that independence will be deliverable. The people of Scotland will recognise that we need to have this debate and we need to have that vote on independence within the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament.

GR: How can you promote the independence case in Westminster given that SNP MPs have been completely ignored there?

IB: We need to make sure that we are doing the job the we were sent there to do and that is stand up for Scotland. And we need to make it clear that whilst we stand up for Scotland we are powerless to stop a Tory government that is acting against our best interests by driving us out of the EU.

We’ve just had the European elections and in Scotland, yet again, the SNP delivered an excellent result – 38% of those who voted in that election voted for the SNP, a clear demonstration that those in Scotland don’t wish to be dragged out of the EU and Westminster has to listen to us.

And if Westminster is determined, which seems to be the case, to act against our interests then the message to Westminster must be that they recognise the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future, to recognise that the Scottish National Party in winning that election in 2016, in securing a majority for independence in the Scottish Parliament, has that right to consult the Scottish people as to whether or not they wish to be an independent nation.

Westminster accepted the claim of right, accepted a motion that put down by the SNP last July that sovereignty rests with the people of Scotland, that’s the historic norm. So we are able to have these debates in Westminster, but they must become meaningful.

Westminster can’t adopt the approach that Sajid Javid did when last week he said that he would not allow Scotland to have an independence referendum. It’s not for Sajid Javid to tell us what the future of the people of Scotland will be it is up to the people of Scotland to determine their own future and Westminster cannot and will not stop us making that determination.

The National:

GR: What’s happened to the fire in the bellies of the SNP contingent in Westminster – the same ones that walked out of the Commons last year?

IB: The fire that I hope we’ll see tonight and in these meetings over the coming weeks and months, is absolutely there. It was right for us to stand up the way we did last year when we saw an attack on devolution, when we saw the Westminster government taking back control over the powers of the Scottish Parliament – powers that the people of Scotland voted for in a referendum in 1997.

I make it clear that of course we will act in a manner which is respectful, but we will not miss in doing our job and to make sure that working with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, we deliver on the desire of the Scottish people, deliver on that mandate for independence. And we will continue to show fire in our bellies, make sure that we hold Westminster to account and we will be saying to the Conservative MPs who were sent down to Westminster in that election in 2017, it is their responsibility to stand up for their constituents, not to be poodles going through the Westminster lobby, acting against Scotland’s interests – because that’s what they’ve been doing.

And the time will be coming when there will be a general election and these Conservative MPs, amongst others, will be held to account.

GR: Aren’t the SNP MPs getting a bit too comfortable in Westminster, haven’t they become part of the establishment they claimed they so abhorred?

IB: No – absolutely, definitively not. I’m minded of the words of my great friend Winnie Ewing, who famously won the Hamilton by-election in 1967, and uttered the phrase that “our job is not to come here to settle down, our job is to settle up for Scotland”, and every day I go into that Westminster Parliament I remember these words of Winnie Ewing.

And I’ve said to all of my colleagues, “yes, we go to Westminster and we accept the obligation that we have to do our jobs as parliamentarians, elected as parliamentarians to represent Scotland”.

But we combine that with our desire to be in our constituencies, getting out and talking to people and giving the necessary leadership we need to do together with our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, to make sure people understand that ultimately we have to take that choice to go for independence.

We want to get out of Westminster as soon as possible. None of us will ever go to Westminster to settle down.

GR: Will the forthcoming campaign embrace the wider Yes movement, because there has been criticism in the past that this vast body of people who support independence but are not necessarily SNP members or supporters, were being ignored?

IB: The last thing in the world I want to see is the wider Yes movement being ignored – they are our friends, our colleagues, we work with them. Of course we need to make sure that we engage with the wider movement, we need them working collectively together to deliver that result in a referendum when it comes.

I would simply say this though – that in order for us to prosecute that case then we need to make sure that the maximum number of SNP parliamentarians in the first case are elected to Westminster in any election that comes. We need to demonstrate that the people of Scotland see the SNP as the vanguard of creating the circumstances at Westminster to deliver that referendum. I’m asking colleagues across the Yes movement to work collectively together for that shared aim of making sure that we can deliver the thing we all want – the independence referendum – and the breadth of the Yes campaign will work with us to ensure we can inspire the people of Scotland to vote for us in overwhelming numbers to deliver on that promise of that referendum.

GR: You’re quite happy to embrace the wider Yes movement?

IB: Yes of course I am. I would encourage those in the Yes movement, all of us to work together and to demonstrate the appeal of the Scotland we seek to create. It’s about the ability of all of us to work together, perhaps with some differences in terms of how we would express different policy options, but a recognition that we’re only going to deliver on the aspirations of the Scottish people when we finally complete that journey to independence.

And there’s an absolute necessity that we show leadership, we show that collective wisdom of all of us working together.