WELL now, my last column seems to have touched a nerve for many.

Usually, I don’t get a lot of reaction to my musings on the topics de jour, but my suggestion last time that people who support independence should vote SNP at the coming election, and an observation that the cause will be set back if they don’t, seems to have caused more than a little excitement.

Not amongst my parliamentary colleagues and party members, it should be said, most of whom thought it was fair enough, but among opponents of independence of every hue.

The proposition was restated in similar terms by the First Minister when launching the party’s election campaign. He said that if Scottish Labour get their feet under the table, they will swiftly take independence off it. Keir Starmer will claim every vote as one for shutting down and shutting out those who believe Scotland would be better off as an independent state.

The BBC suggested that the FM got his inspiration for this from my column earlier in the week. Hardly. Humza has many better sources of inspiration than me. It’s not even a matter of great minds thinking alike. It is, frankly, just a statement of the blindingly obvious.

I like to think that my political arguments - although nurtured by an ideological credo - can be backed up by evidence. So here goes. I present exhibit A. Last Tuesday, the Alba MP Neale Hanvey introduced his Scotland (Self-Determination) Bill to the House of Commons which sought to change the law to allow the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a referendum on independence.

The National: Alba MP Neale Hanvey had proposed a bill to devolve powers over referendums to Holyrood

Much as I agree with the sentiment behind Neale’s case and I firmly believe in the principle of self-determination, I don’t think conferring a specific power on Holyrood is the best way to achieve it. I would have preferred changing the schedule of reserved powers to remove or qualify Westminster’s exclusive right to deal with constitutional matters, thereby creating a competence for the Scottish Parliament to act within the constraints of existing constitutional law.

But that’s not the point. The vote on Tuesday was not on whether people agreed with Neale’s proposal but whether he should be allowed to introduce the bill for debate. And of course, we should have. Which is why my SNP colleagues and I voted for it.

Not surprisingly in a chamber where Scotland’s interests are at best peripheral, the vote was 228 to 48 against discussing the matter further. But what’s instructive is to look at who voted in which way. Most of the Tories didn’t bother; two even voted for the bill. But every Labour and LibDem MP present was instructed to vote against. Strange behaviour, this. The nature of these private members’ bills is that very few are opposed as they are unlikely to get anywhere in the legislative machinery of the parliament anyway. On this occasion, however, Labour went out of their way to vote against it.

It was to make a point.

My suggestion that if the SNP lose the election then the debate on indy stalls was predictably seized upon by hardline Unionists. From Brian Wilson to Douglas Ross (below), they leapt on it with glee to suggest this was the way to deny and defeat the aspiration to control our own affairs.

The National: Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said the UK Government is ‘on the right side of history’ with its new oil and gas Bill (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

But not so fast, guys. I wasn’t suggesting this was going to happen, just warning of the dangers that it might, particularly if many indy supporters stay at home. It works the other way around. If we don’t lose the election, our ability to prosecute the case for independence is enhanced and energised. I trust Messrs Wilson and Ross will accept that.

I firmly believe we can win this election. Now, I know many people are getting mightily pissed off at the fact that voting for the SNP in the past hasn’t produced independence. That is principally because the Conservative government at Westminster has been determined to deny our mandate in the hope that it will go away.

Our determination must be to not let it go away. And that’s the thing about mandates - each one only lasts until the next. So that is why it matters. That is why anyone who supports independence - or even the right to have a choice on independence - should vote SNP.

I seemed to have provoked a reaction from some elsewhere in the Yes movement too; shot by both sides. Alba’s Ash Regan commented that “the independence movement is bigger than one person or one political party”. If she had actually read the article, she would have found me agreeing with her.

Of course, different parties and many voices must build our movement. But 2024 isn’t the final vote to declare our independence – it’s an election for members of the Westminster Parliament. There will be several steps yet to becoming independent, this is just the next one. Given the corrupt first-past-the-post system, only the SNP can win seats for the movement in this election. The movement should take advantage of the party to make that happen.

I even got taken to task by my old friend Iain Macwhirter. Iain is extremely vexed at some of the policies of the Scottish Government, and he writes these days for a different demographic. Nonetheless, he is guilty of several unforced errors of logic in his recent Times column.

He quotes me stating my central proposition and says: “If this is so, the great constitutional debate may be over because the latest opinion poll suggests the SNP are on to a loser.” Leaving aside the wisdom of basing a political argument on one opinion poll, he has just made a great leap from me suggesting an election defeat might halt progress towards indy to him implying the matter is closed. Woah!

The debate will only be over either when independence is achieved or when everyone stops wanting it. Every SNP MP elected – even if only one – will argue the case for Scotland’s independence. I’m only saying that if we don’t win a majority, we cannot claim a national mandate. If that happens, you can be assured, we won’t be shutting up and we will set about the task of getting that majority next time round.

The “SNP bad” brigade, including some influential commentators, repeatedly decontextualise the actions of the Scottish Government. Ignoring the good, highlighting the bad. Leaving no dysphemism unused, they believe the party needs to get a kicking and they’re happy to hold the coats.

And some of our hitherto supporters will even go so far as to explicitly endorse the principal party of the Union in Scotland. How else can we explain Iain’s statement: “It has long been accepted that the road to Number 10 runs through Scotland.” Does it? Does it really? Didn’t Tony Blair win three elections in a row, each one with a bigger majority than the total number of Scottish MPs?

The only thing voting Labour in Scotland will achieve is stacking up a bigger majority for the least radical, least ambitious opposition party in history, giving Starmer a blank cheque and setting the cause of independence back until the next time. I mean, do that if you want – it’s a free country – but don’t claim you’re supporting independence when you do.