SO, we’re off. July 4 it is. In democracies, elections are meant to be instruments of choice and change. A turning point in history when one set of ideas about how things should be run gives way to an alternative view, based on the popular will of those living there.

But what happens when the choice between the main alternatives is so slight as to be almost imperceptible? That is pretty much the case in this British General Election.

In the blue corner, the Tory government, looking dead on its feet and waiting for the electorate to put it out of its misery. A government that will leave office with average living standards worse now than when it came in.

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A government that has turbo-charged inequality, giving the UK the dubious distinction of the most unequal country in Europe. A government weaponising immigration to set communities against each other, whose defence secretary talks openly of planning for war. No wonder there is a longing to be rid of them.

But in the other corner stands Keir Starmer’s Labour Party – a hollowed-out shell of a once great social democratic party, bereft of principle and ambition. A would-be Labour chancellor who pledges to accept Tory spending plans lock, stock and barrel, including an estimated £20 billion of public service cuts already baked in.

A would-be Labour health secretary who openly talks of a new role for the private sector in our NHS. A would-be Labour foreign secretary who cannot bring himself to condemn serial war crimes committed by the Israeli government in Palestine.

It’s a grim choice. Little wonder that in many Labour heartlands, disillusion is rife. As this month’s English council results showed, Labour are failing to win in areas they ran a generation ago. No matter, say Labour strategists, they are winning in Tory areas, and that’s where it matters.

But Labour are winning Tory voters not by asking them to consider a different worldview but by pandering to their own prejudices and reassuring them that they can support the changed Labour Party and still be Tory-minded.

It might be a recipe for short-term success but it will have a bitter and dangerous legacy. You cannot get bets on Labour winning at the bookies now, so convinced are people that they have it in the bag. And in England they probably have.

But however wide the margin of Labour victory in the coming election, its depth will be shallow. The omens are not good for how this will work out. Disillusion and resentment will soon visit itself upon a Labour government unwilling and unable to change the social and economic ills it has interested.

And in England, waiting in the wings to take advantage of this situation, are the far-right, better organised and resourced than at any time since the 1980s. It’s a depressing scenario south of the Border. The good news is that in Scotland, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The SNP should refuse to get dragged into this grubby, uninspiring contest that the duopoly of despair in London is playing. Now is a time to look the people of Scotland in the eye, invite them to lift their gaze to the horizon and imagine the type of country this could be.

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A country where the envied and bountiful natural resources are truly used as a common treasury for all rather than being a means for the further enrichment of the global elite. A country where the scourge of poverty is banished forever by tackling its root causes. Where we establish a tax and reward system which encourages hard work and innovation but locates individual endeavour in a public interest framework which allows everyone to meet their social obligation.

A country which rises to the climate emergency, accelerating the dawn of a zero-carbon future in a way that takes the current workforce with it. A country celebrating its diversity, encouraging people to come and live with us. A country with the agency to be a force for good in the world as it punches above its weight in helping to confront the global challenges facing our species.

These are not the idealistic ramblings of an ageing lefty, but actual public policy in already existing similar European countries.

It is not difficult to build a broad consensus around taking Scotland in this direction. The argument comes in how to get there. Scottish reformers have debated strategy for more than a century, oscillating between two central approaches. Either we play our part in a much larger British polity and seek to use the power of that state to make the changes everywhere. Or we take the power for ourselves by creating a new independent Scottish state with the agency to make these changes.

I once believed in the British approach, but decades of bitter experience led me to change my mind. I became convinced that it was more likely that we could change society in a left social democratic direction if we did so first in Scotland where a majority of the population could be persuaded to the merits of that change, than to remain part of a much larger state where there are substantial forces implacably opposed to that change. Pretty much everything Keir Starmer says convinces me I made the right decision.

Where Labour governments have made changes in the past, they have been reversed within a few short years when the next Tory government comes in – and in Britain, most governments are Tory. Today, it’s even worse – Labour are now so wary that they don’t promise any significant change in the first place.

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The Union, even if governed by Labour, does not offer Scotland a route to a progressive future. This is not because there are bad people in the Labour Party, or because they don’t want to. It’s simply that the compromises required to achieve the tolerance of the rich and powerful in Britain are so great as to render change almost impossible.

So, that is why we must make this election about the vision of what an independent Scotland could be like. And we must illustrate by example. Yes, the Scottish Government has done what it can to mitigate and protect our public services with one hand tied behind its back. But independence would free it up to deliver what is needed.

Some of these things might happen without independence and we will certainly demand them from a new Labour government. Improved rights at work, scrapping benefit caps for the poorest, a real living wage for everyone, more money for our health service, not less, accelerating a just transition which protects jobs.

The SNP will aim to force Labour to be different, and for many people, that will be the most important choice. Do they give Keir Starmer a blank cheque, or do they elect a representative who will hold him to account?

But when Labour resist this pressure, as their leadership already say they will, the case for Scotland having these powers will be enhanced.

We will demand that decisions on whether, when and how to consult people on their constitutional future must be made in Scotland by its elected representatives. This election will be of crucial importance to the movement for Scottish autonomy.

If the SNP win, the journey to an independent future is boosted. If the SNP lose, it doesn’t. Every independence supporter should think long and hard about this choice.