IT was a surprising but welcome example of European solidarity with Scotland. On a recent trip to the continent, an official checking my passport smiled and asked with obvious optimism when we would next be able to vote to leave the UK.

He had clearly not considered for a moment the possibility that a country’s clearly stated desire to decide its future could be denied with impunity. And no wonder. The situation in which we find ourselves would be considered unacceptable by almost any other country.

Here in the UK, however, it seems to be regarded as normal. Both candidates in the current tussle – let’s not call it a race as if the participants are involved in something akin to a good-natured sporting event rather than the bitter, bloody battle it has become – to succeed Boris Johnson consider it a vote winner to stand firmly against indyref2 for years.

Tragically they might be right, given the audience’s almost hysterical applause for Liz Truss’s arrogant dismissal of Scotland’s First Minister as an “attention seeker” who deserves nothing more than to be ignored.

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Rishi Sunak is hardly more supportive of acknowledging democracy north of the Border.

Far from it. He wants to criminalise anyone who has the temerity to suggest that Great Britain isn’t really all that great.

Under his latest wheeze, those who argue that Scotland should exit the rotting carcass of the UK could be charged and possibly imprisoned. Sunak believes that anyone who vilifies Britain must by definition be an extremist and treated by the courts as such.

So Scotland now faces no choice but to watch helplessly as the fight for the keys to Number 10 can only end in the coronation of yet another right-wing Tory unable to grasp that the Union is over.

When Tony Blair’s Labour Party introduced devolution as the 20th century drew to a close, it firmly believed that giving Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland their own parliaments and some powers, however paltry, would secure the future of the United Kingdom.

After all, it argued, Westminster had met pleas for devolution with at least a nod towards self-rule.

Surely that would be enough to keep those antsy nationalists at bay by playing them at their own game?

It might have worked had the United Kingdom adopted even the pretence of a union of equals working together in common cause it might have had a chance of survival.

We shall never know. What we do know is that Westminster kept the lion’s share of important powers to itself, including control of the major levers of the economy. We know that it arrogantly continued to assert itself as the Union’s sovereign power, giving only the minimum it considered necessary to stop the “regions” moaning.

And worse than that, it regarded the new parliaments as little more than bumped up local councils, hardly worthy of even consulting on matters of national importance, far less equal players in the task of governing the UK.

The most dangerous result of this disdain wasn’t the continuing growth of pressure for more powers from those nations but the establishment of British nationalism encouraged by the Westminster government to consider itself the most powerful force within the Union.

That British nationalism led not only to Brexit but to the firm belief in many areas south of the Border that it was perfectly in the natural order that the decision to leave the EU should be taken without any regard to the very different views of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It was just a small step further to dismiss any suggestion that those countries should play any role in determining the shape of Brexit or that the Remain majority in Scotland demanded some dilution of the hard Brexit being masterminded by the Tories.

Liz Truss was not courting controversy south of the Border when she advocated ignoring democratic elections in Scotland and refusing to co-operate with the government put in place by those elections.

She wasn’t saying anything new or outlandish. She was simply articulating the rules of the Britain she recognised: Westminster rules the country without any responsibility to take the other nations into account. To her they were simply an irritation which would be better removed.

It’s a view shared by most of her party, including those elected to a Scottish Parliament they would prefer to see emasculated and then dismantled. That’s why they cannot grasp the democratic argument for indyref2. That’s why they seek to undermine the limited legislation Holyrood has established. That’s why Murdo Fraser urged visitors to ignore Scotland’s Covid restrictions.

They just don’t recognise Scotland as a country. Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said as much. To the Tories, the country they live in is Great Britain. Westminster makes the rules. Scotland follows them.

To be fair, the problem isn’t just the Tories. The entire frame of reference for the independence debate is screwed up. We’re expected to define the status quo as whoever is in power at Westminster and whatever rules they put in place.

That’s why the argument that the status quo has been destroyed by extreme Tory policies does not hit home. Many of us have regarded Westminster as the status quo for so long that we no longer even think about it.

We are encouraged in this delusion by the BBC. By that I don’t mean the BBC is biased per se – although there is enough evidence to build a strong case that is true. More pernicious is the Britain as portrayed by the BBC, a Britain where support for independence is considered the rather odd ambition of a minority.

In its reporting of the 2014 independence referendum the BBC’s understanding of ‘’balance’’ meant that even in coverage of independence marches, every street vox pop interview with an indy supporter had to be “balanced” by at least one supporter of the Union.

Panel discussions in political programmes could find space for representatives of Labour and the LibDems – even then almost politically irrelevant – but for only one indy activist.

In the later stages of the campaign big name presenters were flown up from London, reporting from an entirely different south-east perspective. Scottish staff with a better grasp of the main issues were often relegated to a background or supporting role.

We would be foolish to expect a different approach this time round, as the BBC have publicly admitted to not a single mistake in 2014, with several executives proudly stating they would do the same again.

Evidence that the BBC’s perspective has resisted pressures to change was hardly in short supply in its coverage of the fallout from the deeply disturbing comments by Truss. In BBC world, those who were infuriated by her flagrant disregard for democracy were ‘’independence’’ supporters.

IN the real world, opposition to Truss came even from Tories who despite everything have clung to some principles of democracy. Tories such as former MP Mary Scanlon, who said she would not now vote for Truss in the leadership contest. And Tony Blair’s former communications guru Alastair Campbell described Truss’s comments as “mind-blowingly stupid as well as deeply offensive”.

The decision to limit the outrage to “independence supporters” proves that the BBC, and indeed much of what passes for the “Scottish” media, places the debate on Scotland’s future in entirely the wrong context.

When the European passport official I met during my trip shared my enthusiasm for indyref2, it would never have entered his head that another parliament would have the moral or legal right to stop the Scottish parliament from even holding a vote.

Yet we are told that only independence supporters are much bothered and many of our own newspapers actively hope the Supreme Court rules against the vote.

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The truth is that everyone should be appalled that politicians voted into power in a democratic election – no matter their party or policies – can be ridiculed, derided and treated with such disdain. That is an insult not just to that politician but to us all.

I believe unequivocally that independence offers the best future for Scotland and its people. I look forward to campaigning for the future and working as hard as possible to convince as many as possible and winning a vote on that issue. That’s called democracy and you don’t have to share my views on independence to treasure our right to make our own decision.

Losing a second independence referendum would be a disaster but it would be even worse to see our democracy destroyed by the extreme right-wing government in Westminster.

If we’re not careful – if we don’t wake up from the slumber of complacency – that’s exactly what will happen. Which is why we all have a responsibility to show that the BBC and the right-wing media have it wrong. It’s not just independence supporters who are furious (although every one I know is), it’s every one of us who values democracy and is willing to do what it takes to protect it.