IT was more than many expected. When Nicola Sturgeon stood in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday she delivered not just the strategy for fulfilling her manifesto commitment to hold indyref2 in 2023, but also an unexpected referral to the Supreme Court, the wording of the question, the date of the vote and a fully thought out plan on what to do if/when Westminster refuses her request for a Section 30 orders to ‘authorise’ the referendum.

However, once the First Minister sat down that was the end of the surprises. What followed was the pro-union parties’ response to her “road map” to indyref2 – and what a pile of entirely predictable and uninspired nonsense that response proved to be.

However, that does not mean we should entirely ignore the comments from Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar (although the response from LibDem Scottish leader Alexander Cole-Hamilton need not detain us long). Neither the Scottish Tory or Scottish Labour leader distinguished themselves with their eloquence or original thinking – but the tired arguments and empty rhetoric revealed a lot about what we can expect from the unionist side as the march to October 19, 2023 gets into its stride.

So let’s try to decipher what the opposition’s arguments actually boil down to.

What They Say: “Another referendum is the wrong priority for Scotland.”

What They Mean: “Rather than tackle the fundamental problems which are holding Scotland back from reaching its full potential we should simply stick to tinkering round the edges. After all, we don’t want Scotland to actually restructure its economic system to work for the benefit of the majority of its citizens. What sort of example would that set?’’

Supposing an independent Scotland shows what it is possible to achieve when cut loose from the UK? Supposing that example encouraged Wales and Northern Ireland to follow suit? Wouldn’t Wales want independence too? Wouldn’t the prospect of a united Ireland loom large?

Perhaps there would be a real challenge to a status quo which has created a record-breaking gap between the rich and the poor.

Maybe the country Scottish independence could deliver would show that it is in fact not an end in itself but the only realistic way of tackling those priorities which continue to scar so many lives and which the opposition parties have no intention of challenging. Ever.

When the Conservative and Labour parties argue that indyref2 is the wrong priority for Scotland, what they really mean is Scotland should continue to subsidise the UK, we should continue to be a renewable energy powerhouse while paying through the nose for the privilege and we should leave our ‘’betters’ to worry about how to run our country. And no, we don’t deserve to express an opinion on that.

What They Say: “You don’t have a mandate.’’

What They Mean: “Of course you have a mandate but will continue to change the terms of engagement to argue that you have not.’’

Labour and the Conservatives first insisted there was no support for a second independence referendum, which in any case they said should not take place for “a generation’’/2027/25 years/until hell freezes over.

When the SNP rather shot down that argument by going on to win eight elections a row they then insisted instead that the party needed to win a majority in the last Holyrood election before it could claim a mandate. But when the SNP put together a power sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens to create a government with a clear pro-independence majority they changed their argument again.

This time they claimed that a parliamentary majority was not enough. The current argument demands that a majority of voters have to show support for a referendum before they deign to grant it, which misunderstands the principles of parliamentary democracy by which the country is governed.

Let’s make this abundantly clear.

Yes, a referendum is a binary choice. Yes or No. But the referendum is delivered through parliamentary democracy through which decisions are made by the party or government which secures the majority of votes.

The truth is that the UK government believes itself to be the only institution which can grant a legal independence referendum and therefore has the right to arbitrarily change the criteria for “allowing” such a vote at any time of its choosing.

Scotland has spent more than 300 years believing the union was a voluntary partnership but Westminster has never shared that view. It takes for granted the power to overrule its so-called “partners’’ on a whim and brooks no challenges to the supremacy it believe is its right.

What They Say: “Now is not the time’’.

What They Mean: “Shut up right now. And keep it shut until we allow you to speak. We will tell you when the time is right. There will never be a right time.’’

What They Say: “The Scottish Government is obsessed with independence’’.

What They Mean: “We are obsessed with removing Scotland’s right to voice its opinion on independence’’.

The truth is that the Scottish government has bent over backwards to delay a second independence referendum while other priorities took precedence. In doing so it frustrated and angered many independence supporters, who grew ever more impatient.

Even when Westminster dragged us out of Europe against our wishes, the Scottish government did not seize they moment for indyref2 but instead put what it considered to be the best interest of the country first. It tried time and time again to mitigate the worst effects of Brexit by arguing for continued access to the single market. It was either rebuffed or ignored, then humiliated. The result of Westminster’s arrogance was a predictably disastrous Brexit.

When Covid struck, Nicola Sturgeon again put indyref2 on the back burner so she could deal with the worst health crisis in living memory.

If we are waiting for the pro-union side to acknowledge the Scottish government’s responsible attitude in putting crisis after crisis temporarily above the very real need for independence we will be waiting forever. In their eyes there will always be something which puts independence off the table.

We have waited for the right time. that time is now.

What They Say: “We won’t take part in a pretend poll’’.

What They Mean: “We’ll try and stay out of it for as long as we can get away with it in the hope it just goes away ... just like we did in 2014, until it became apparent that the Yes movement might actually win the thing. And in any case it’s a consultative referendum so it doesn’t actually mean anything.”

There is, of course, no logic in Douglas Ross trying everything in his power to stop a referendum while at the same time arguing the referendum result can be ignored.

The truth, which he knows only too well, is that it cannot be ignored. The 2014 independence referendum was a consultative referendum. Voters turned out in their millions because they believed the result would not be ignored. The EU referendum in 2016 was a consultative referendum and led directly to Brexit.

I know how ridiculous it sounds mentioning the word moral and Boris Johnson in the same sentence but the UK Prime Minister would surely have a moral responsibility to pay attention to the result of a legally constituted referendum. Any suggestion that he could refuse to do so and still claim to be the leader of a democracy would surely be rejected by international opinion.

Which brings us to:

What They Say: “This would be an illegal wildcat referendum’’.

What They Mean: “A referendum needs a section 30 order to be considered legal. Only Westminster can grant such an order and it will never do so. Therefore any independence referendum will by definition be illegal. Suck it up [copyright Alister Jack].’’

The main problem with such arrogance is that it shows Unionist politicians didn’t actually listen to Sturgeon’s speech.

The whole point of the Scottish government taking the issue to the Supreme Court is to establish in advance that the referendum would be legal – if the Supreme Court rules it would not be legal then a referendum will not take place. Instead Scotland will have a chance to express its opinion on independence at the next general election.

All Unionist responses betray a lack of ambition for Scotland and a determination to concentrate on the process of staging a referendum rather than the issue of independence itself.

So let’s move on to the real matter at hand: what offers a better chance of success, hope, equality and justice than independence?

After this week’s woeful performance from the Unionist side, we need to force them to answer the big questions in this debate – why would a union which has has never delivered on its promises to Scotland do so now? How can Scotland ever have its wishes respected if it remains in the UK? What is a democratic route to independence that Westminster would accept?

Why not Scotland?

Surely these matter more than a litany of reasons why we could not cope with independence and why it would be a disaster to allow us even the ability to express an opinion. Surely that can’t be acceptable to any country which dares to hope for a better future?