SOMETIMES the way the London commentariat and English politicians write about the UK and Scotland can be very revealing – often unwittingly. Witness former foreign secretary Jack Straw at the weekend blaming the entire collapse of Scottish Labour on former leader Ed Miliband for “cosying up to the SNP”.

One example in the aftermath of the indyref was of constitutional historian Peter Hennessy, a scholar who has been one of the main chroniclers of post-1945 Britain, its spirit, successes and failings. In the aftermath of 2014, he published a diary of the campaign and his post-vote reflections – The Kingdom to Come – articulating some of the deep fears and anxieties of the British establishment which came forth due to the Scottish debate.

Hennessy wrote in the heady days of 2014: “Why has it taken the rest of us so long to realise Scotland is a first-order question?” And on the day of decision: “Strange to think that by this time tomorrow my country could have a very different political, economic and emotional roof over all our heads.”

There was an element of comic quality with the main contacts Hennessy had in Scotland – arch-anti-devolutionist Tam Dalyell and his wife Kathleen, the former commenting: “I’m really in despair … Scotland will become a foreign country” in the event of independence.

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What this account shows is the deep anxieties affecting the British establishment and their concerns about the multiple pressure points and challenges to the fabric and continuation of the UK. This is a debate with a powerful undertow of emotions, history and memories.

Hennessy has just produced another overview of the state of the UK – A Duty of Care: Britain Before and After Covid. This slight book draws extensively from interviews and conversations over decades with senior British politicians but is also a telling testimony of how part of the elite sees the UK and its future.

Hennessy surveys the economic, social and human dislocation of the UK up to and accelerated by the pandemic and looks to identify ways to mend and reform the UK. The UK constitution and democracy are not in good health, he believes, and should be the subject of pan-UK reform and renewal.

But one issue above all needs addressing before that: the Scottish Question. He observes that “it is impossible to speculate about the configuration let alone the political nature of the kingdom that we will be inhabiting in 2045” without putting Scotland first. He continues: “The panoptic Royal Commission we need should wait until we see how the Scottish Question plays out.”

Hennessy thinks Scotland is on the cusp of going one way or another – which he sees as having dramatic consequences for the entire Union. In this short text, Hennessy allows himself to see over the ramparts of the present disunited kingdom and peer into the landscape of rUK with Scotland having left.

The world he sees in front of his eyes is not one that pleases him. It is a rUK atrophied, shrunken, bruised and shorn of much of its status. Hennessy may not like the prospect of Scottish independence and the consequences which he sees as flowing from it. Yet, it is illuminating, for at this watershed set of moments – a UK riven by multiple challenges and crises – he believes that UK elites need to wake up and see the reality before them and prepare for such an eventuality.

Hennessy writes of rUK post-independence: “A new, post-Scottish separation settlement would require an examination of Parliament” and much more as “national security too, would be a serious and tangible concern … defence infrastructure … the Trident submarines and their missile warheads. Perhaps even our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council would be up for review if the UK was reduced to England, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

TWO things stem from this. The first is the truism that people should never underestimate the British establishment. They might be facing numerous problems. The old institutions which once defined Britain and could call on a sense of deference and respect are no longer what they once were.

And the forces of liberal elite opinion of the likes of Hennessy don’t have the influence they once had, having been marginalised by Thatcher, Blair and the Tory bloviators of recent times.

But there is still an establishment, and even though the “new” element of this does not have the feel or interest in the UK that the more “traditional” parts of it do, there is still a residual intelligence and set of insights which see one of their main rationales as wanting to maintain the Union. And to do so by aiding reform – democratic, economic and social, and who recognise the importance of Scotland.

The second is that if there is the above foresight in places to look at the future of independence and start investigating its numerous implications, it is surely not beyond the wit of the forces of independence here to do the same?

Eight years after 2014, the SNP and independence have put next to no thought or preparation into the argument and substance of independence. That is inexplicable and inexcusable.

This has been a period of unprecedented political dominance for the SNP. And yet at the same time it has seen a neglect of the party’s main credo and calling. If this is not addressed soon history will prove a harsh judge on those who have presided over this – most obviously the SNP leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and other senior figures.

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We all know that the SNP stand for independence but over those eight years that demands to be more than as a principle and abstract.

Independence has to be about embracing the strategic choices it gives Scotland, understanding the heavy lifting needed post-independence, looking at the ways to win over the unconvinced, and understanding why it fell short in 2014.

If elements of the British establishment recognise the febrile, high-wire times we are living in and are prepared to peer into the future environment and look at the contours of an independent Scotland, then surely it is about time that the forces of independence mobilised themselves and did likewise?

Why would you want to leave the definition of future independence to the forces of the British establishment?