THE die is cast and the (likely) 2024 General Election will decide the fate of Scottish independence. The FM and the SNP leadership have made securing a majority at this election the test for securing a popular mandate to negotiate leaving the UK.

OK, there remains ambiguity over this “de facto” referendum. Are we talking about winning a majority of seats or a majority of the popular vote? Given the SNP has held a majority of Westminster seats since 2015 to no avail, political pragmatism suggests it will have to be an outright majority of the votes.

Then there is the glaring contradiction between making the casus belli for this de facto referendum the lack of a legal route out of the Union, while continuing to chain independence negotiations to British constitutional conventions, ie securing a General Election mandate within Westminster rules then followed by Conservative or Labour Cabinet acquiescence to hold talks. And if there is a democratic deficit (which there is) then what is to stop a Tory or Labour government simply ignoring another pro-indy mandate?

But let’s set these debating points aside. The only game in town is now the 2024 General Election campaign. Is it possible to secure an absolute, unambiguous majority of the vote for independence – especially given the multiple economic and international issues that will crowd into the media debate and public mind?

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The electoral hurdle at first seems high indeed. The best share of the vote ever achieved by the SNP was in 2015, with a frustrating 49.97% of the total turnout. Certainly, if you add in the 1.35% achieved by the Scottish Greens, we had a popular majority for the pro-indy parties. At minimum, we have to achieve that again, or better. But consider what that means. The Greens will have to incorporate into their campaign materials exactly the same wording as used by the SNP, or Westminster will cry foul. Some formal SNP-Green pact seems obligatory.

To secure this could involve a formal electoral alliance, with the SNP agreeing to step down in some seats in favour of the Greens. This arrangement would certainly dramatise and polarise the election, making it a genuine “de facto” referendum. However, there are multiple problems involved with this strategy.

First, Green activists might be reluctant to have their message submerged in a joint campaign. Second, and more damning, Green voters will not necessarily vote for SNP candidates, and vice versa. It could be that standing simultaneous SNP and Green candidates in every constituency is the way of maximising the independence vote.

On another point, the Scottish Greens fielded a creditable 32 candidates in 2015 but that still left 25 seats with no Green to vote for.

If we assume there are Green, pro-indy voters who might balk at putting a cross beside the SNP symbol – for whatever reason – then logic suggests that Greens need to stand in every Scottish constituency to max the independence vote.

We are not done. Merely securing 51 or 52% of the vote for independence is unlikely to force the hand of whoever forms the next Westminster government to negotiate the break-up of the British state. Even if it was tried, backbench English MPs would revolt. To be frank, unless there is a clear and unambiguous majority – say in the 55-60% range – Westminster will ignore the result, or at least play for time.

The National: The Yes movement must unite if it's to win any de facto referendumThe Yes movement must unite if it's to win any de facto referendum

In that situation, expect a Royal Commission on the constitution, or the disinterment of the rotting corpse of British federalism. Which raises the spectre of Labour’s much-touted Constitutional Review, being spearheaded by our old friend Gordon Brown.

The past few months have seen a series of inspired leaks regarding what might be in the Brown plan. We know, for instance, that once again Labour is toying with replacing the appointed House of Lords with a second chamber representing “the regions”. I remember Harold Wilson promising to abolish the Lords back in 1964, and nothing transpired, so don’t hold your breath.

AS it happens, one of the early leaks suggested more tax-raising powers will be devolved to big English local authorities. But that notion has since been publicly quashed by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, suggesting (naturally) that Labour talk of more devolution is merely pre-election window dressing.

However, the Brown Commission could prove a useful foil for Keir Starmer if Labour wins the 2024 election. Talk of a “chamber for the British regions” and more tax powers for Holyrood will be used as a method of deflecting demands from SNP MPs for independence negotiations.

Already we have seen David Martin – the former Labour MEP and one of the party’s more thoughtful and least sectarian voices – call for all policy areas to be devolved to Holyrood except defence and foreign affairs. In other words, the old ILP Home Rule position. Therein lurks a new and present political danger. If only a modest majority is recorded for independence at the coming election, and if confronted by Labour intransigence and duplicity, it will be very tempting for SNP MPs to accept something like the David Martin proposition. Especially as the de facto failure of any “de facto” referendum will leave the independence movement with nowhere to go.

At that point, especially if Nicola Sturgeon heads into the political sunset, SNP leaders will be desperate to salvage something from the wreck. In those circumstances, Home Rule might look like a welcome option. An exhausted mass movement might even see this as a partial victory. But it would demobilise the indy campaign for a generation.

None of this makes me happy. But there is an alternative prognosis. Not calls for more activism per se. Leafleting and marching are necessary but the danger lies in marching for marching sake without a clear political direction.

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Today, we find ourselves with the indy movement divided between a parliamentary wing in hock to British constitutional dictates, and a street movement which – while brave and energetic – largely leaves political direction to elected MPs and MSPs. This duality between politics and action is unsatisfactory. We need instead to give the mass movement an injection of politics, rather simply calling for more activity.

For starters, let us have a National Assembly of activists and organisations (Believe in Scotland, Common Weal, All Under One banner, Now Scotland, etc) to meet next year to debate how a de facto referendum campaign should be fought at the grassroots. The SNP are holding a special conference of their own, but we need the movement to be mobilised and energised.

Such a gathering should not be restricted to discussing organisation. We need the movement to veto in advance any prospect of accepting some watered-down Home Rule project. Above all, we need to discuss how to frame the election debate in the context of the attack on living standards of ordinary Scots.

The 2014 referendum was nearly won only because hundreds of thousands of the poorest Scots – folk who don’t normally vote – saw indy as the way to end austerity. Any hope of winning a pro-independence majority in the coming election depends solely on remobilising those lost voters. We need a gathering of the base to discuss how.