AFTER the ruling by the Supreme Court, there is only one question facing the Scottish people … and it does not involve demanding to know the legal and democratic route to Scotland winning its independence. There isn’t one.

Wednesday’s legal insistence that the Scottish Parliament was not legally competent to hold an independence referendum was hardly a cause for celebrations, but it did at least deliver definitive answers to a lot of questions about our country’s future as part of the United Kingdom.

We know, for instance, that there is no solution acceptable to the Westminster government to the situation where Scotland is always outvoted by its more populated neighbour and will always be so. That will never change.

Politicians such as Gordon Brown have tantalisingly dangled the prospect of federalism – translated as a union in which each constituent part has equal power – but we know now that was a chimera, an imaginary construct designed to disguise the true nature of our relationship to the UK.

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Brown has been regularly wheeled out since 2012 to describe an imaginary world where Scotland is the UK’s moral compass with the ability to lead us to the promised land of fortitude and equality. He can never do so again without being laughed out of town.

We know the patronising and often insulting way those we elect are treated in the House of Commons is not just the “rough and tumble” of politics but an indication of its attitude to a country whose aspirations it forever ignores.

We know that David Cameron’s decision to recognise the SNP’s “almost impossible” majority in the 2011 Holyrood elections was not a sign that it accepted the will of the people but an aberration that has been quickly rectified to make sure hell will freeze over before we are “given” another chance to get out the Union.

We know that “not now” means “not ever”, that “the time is not right” means “the time will never be right”, and “we need to first deal with the important issues” means that Scotland’s desires will never be a priority because there will always be issues more important than our ambition to build a better, fairer and more equal country and no-one needs to explain why.

If we were even in any doubt about any of this, we now know it for certain. And there is now no need for any UK Government to deny it, or do anything to convince us otherwise. Everyone knows now that no matter how unhappy with the constitutional arrangement we become, we have no alternative but to stick with it.

So the question is not how undemocratic that is, not how unjustifiable it is, or how much like a prison the Union now feels. The question now is: how long are we prepared to put up with this?

Nicola Sturgeon’s alternative plan to use the next Westminster General Election as a “de facto” referendum is far from perfect. There are many hurdles to overcome. What would be considered an undeniable mandate for independence? The SNP already have more than three times the number of MPs than the other parties put together. In 2015, they won all but three Scottish seats at Westminster, just months after the first Scottish referendum supposedly, according to independence opponents, settled the constitutional question once and for all.

What more do Scottish voters have to do to show how they feel? Even if the SNP pull off the astounding feat of winning a majority of the vote in the next election – and who would bet against that outcome after a smart and powerful election campaign? – would even that be enough? And would the party withstand a determined media onslaught against election tactics which sought to push other issues to the sidelines in order to concentrate exclusively on independence?

The “de facto” referendum is not a legal and democratic route to independence, There is nothing to force Westminster to enact that. It is, however, the only way on the table to express our opinion.

EVEN the First Minister would rather not have to grapple with the issues around turning the General Election into a de facto election. She’s always argued that she would have preferred a referendum run along the same lines as indyref1 in 2014. Indeed she has pursued that possibility and gone down that path until she ran out of road.

We have seen her adopt similar tactics before. When Scotland was dragged out of Europe against its will, the Scottish Government preferred to argue for action to mitigate the effects of Brexit, for instance, by arguing Scotland should continue to have access to the single market in a similar way to Northern Ireland rather than stomp off in a huff.

There were elements of the independence movement who argued at the time for a more hardline approach, but by following the First Minister’s plan, the Government was able to say it had bent over backwards to reach an accommodation with Westminster. However, the Unionist parties’ unreasonable recalcitrance made that impossible. There are independence supporters today who would prefer the SNP to take immediate direct action to hold a vote despite the ruling but the First Minister’s approach, despite its flaws, has much to commend it.

First, it’s the only “legal” way to give Scottish voters a chance to express their opinion on the issue.

Secondly, as Nicola Sturgeon is only too aware, the eyes of the world are on us. As many people who have travelled to Europe recently will know, we have many supporters there who are appalled at the UK’s blatantly undemocratic approach and who wish us well. If the independence case wins the day at the election, we want global recognition that we took the only legal route open to us.

As for the much-discussed “difficulties” in campaigning in the next General Election on a single issue, these are exaggerated.

SNP candidates will not be rendered mute in debates on issues such as the economy because independence is crucial to allow us to tackle those issues in a just and humane way. The same is true of immigration, protecting the NHS from privatisation, tackling the cost of living, fighting poverty … the list goes on.

We will, of course, be told that Scottish votes are essential to ridding Westminster of a Tory government, an argument which is not backed up by history and which, in any case, puts on Scotland the responsibility for dealing with English voters’ habit of voting Conservative.

We have accepted that responsibility before, and the result is that today we are ruled by a Conservative Party whose values directly contradict those of the majority of Scots and those of democracy itself.

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The road ahead may have its problems, and the Yes movement has a huge role to play in surmounting them. We may not be where we wanted to be today but we are still somewhere we are not powerless.

So instead of mourning the referendum campaign we have been denied, let’s seize the campaign we must now win. The landscape is very different to 2014, but the case we are arguing is, thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s ruling, clearer and stronger.

We may not now have a vote on this issue in 2023, but we will have our chance by 2025 at the very latest. Let’s use that time to make the case, win the arguments, and change minds. Let’s get the opinion polls moving in the right direction. Let’s stop squabbling about tactics and concentrate on the substance. Let’s recreate the widening and deepening of political debate we saw in 2014 because knowledge is our friend rather than our enemy.

We do not need a traditional referendum to signal the start of our campaign. It has started. Westminster and the Supreme Court may think they can deny us a voice, but we will take whatever opportunities exist to speak. The power to win independence for Scotland still rests where it has always rested – with the people of Scotland. It is our job now to convince them that independence is a powerful, positive change to make our country and our lives better. When we have done that job, no one – not the Supreme Court and certainly not Westminster – can stand in the way of that momentum.