I am seeking election to the Scottish Parliament: here’s why

I hope the polls are wrong, but I suspect – this time – they may not be. They tell us that the SNP will win the May 2016 Holyrood election and will continue in office as the Scottish Government. Naturally, I want Ruth Davidson to be First Minister, not Nicola Sturgeon, but if the SNP leader pips Ruth to the post, the Scottish Conservatives are, at the least, extremely well placed to form the most robust, principled and effective Opposition that any SNP administration has yet faced.

This is why I am seeking election to the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP may be flying high – but they do not deserve to be. At its core their success has but one source. They have succeeded in making the key question of Scottish politics “who best represents Scotland”. That’s a nationalist’s question and it’s not surprising that Scotland’s nationalist party has managed to persuade many Scots – far too many – that “the SNP” is the answer to that question.

The SNP will be brought down not by unionists trying to out-nationalist the nationalists. That’s a mug’s game. Rather, they will be brought down by the opposition focusing relentlessly on the SNP’s record in office and by demonstrating to Scots that our solutions to Scotland’s problems are better than the SNP’s, even if we don’t tattoo the Saltire on every press release and policy announcement.

Failure to Govern

The SNP do as if they are a protest movement – the victims of, not those wielding, power. Yet they have been in government since 2007. If they win another five-year term in May that will give them an unbroken 14-year period in office. That’s longer than Mrs Thatcher was prime minister for, and it’s longer than New Labour’s ascendency lasted, too. The SNP thrive on the politics of grievance, but the truth is it is already the case that there is no-one to blame but the SNP for the ongoing failures of Scottish education, of the Scottish health service, and of policing and the criminal justice system in Scotland.

The SNP’s record in office is dismal. In large part this is because, in the interests of pursuing their constitutional obsession, they would rather bleat about the powers they don’t have than get on and use they powers they do have. Devolution, as I have written on these pages before, is avowedly a unionist invention. Designed to give Scots the home rule we crave without having to break up the state and start over, devolution’s popularity is a major reason why Scots voted No to independence last year. The SNP know this and, for this reason, they are deeply reluctant to make a success of devolution. Far better, for them, to do devolution down, as if it is not worth the paper it’s written on, as if we can really do nothing at all unless we have “all the powers that independence would bring”. This is why Scottish education is crumbling. This is why the Scottish health service is struggling. Because the SNP sits idly on its hands, declining to govern, waiting for independence.

While the SNP have been keen to be seen as competent ministers, Nicola Sturgeon’s administration is following resolutely in the footsteps of Alex Salmond’s in trying to do as little as possible with its devolved powers. The UK Supreme Court has accurately described the powers of the Scottish Parliament as “ample” and “generous”. Holyrood has complete control over the NHS in Scotland, as it does over the whole of Scottish education, from nurseries to schools and colleges. Yet in the eight long years in which the SNP have been in power, next to nothing has been done to reform the health service in Scotland, save that SNP ministers’ controls over Scotland’s fourteen health boards have been tightened. Has this led to improved service? Of course not: latest figures show waiting times rising alarmingly. When the SNP came to power Scotland spent a higher share of its budget on health than England but under the nationalists this has been reversed.

The same is true in education. Scottish schools and colleges are going from mediocre to worse, with plummeting numeracy scores, 140,000 college places cut, colleges merged and campuses closed down. These are calamitous policies to have pursued in an economy crying out for a more highly skilled and better trained workforce. The SNP’s famed ban on university tuition fees has resulted in a lower percentage of undergraduates from a poorer background attending university in Scotland than is the case in England and has been paid for in part by cutting government grants for poorer students.

Illiberal and Centralising

When the SNP does act to make reforms in Scotland, two tendencies in its policy-making are striking. The SNP’s illiberalism should not, perhaps, surprise us, nationalism in Europe all too often having sacrificed individual freedoms on the altar of national self-determination. The party’s centralising tendencies, however, are remarkable given the SNP’s vocal opposition to rule from London.

Under the SNP Scotland’s eight regional police constabularies were merged into a single force. At the same time as Theresa May was creating locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, increasing the accountability of the police to local voters, the Scottish Government was doing precisely the opposite. The Chief Constable of Police Scotland is accountable to a single police authority whose members are appointed by Scottish Ministers. The one force now polices both the UK’s third largest city and the UK’s most remote communities, notwithstanding the obvious and huge diversity of policing needs. Happily, recorded crime is falling in Scotland but, despite having fewer offences to investigate, Police Scotland are managing to clear up 50,000 fewer crimes each year than the eight constabularies managed a decade ago.

Policing is just one example of over-centralisation. Another is the reform of local government. Contrast Greater Manchester’s city deal with Glasgow’s and one can see in an instant that there is nothing in Scotland to compare with the northern powerhouse George Osborne is building in the north-west of England. One can see why: a Mayor of Greater Glasgow would be an instant rival to the First Minister’s power base. Or, again, in the university sector, the recently published Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill contains deeply worrying provisions seeking to extend Scottish Ministers’ control over the way Scotland’s universities are run. Given the fears about academic freedom voiced during the course of the independence referendum campaign, these moves deserve far more scrutiny than they have yet received.

Amongst the very worst of the SNP’s reforms is the “named persons” legislation. Under this new law it will be a requirement in Scotland that every child under the age of 18 has a “named person” (code for “State guardian”) who will have the power to discuss or raise a matter about that child with any “relevant authority”. Families may neither opt into nor out of this scheme. It is compulsory. There is no threshold condition, for example that such a draconian step is necessary in order to protect a vulnerable child from harm: it will apply to all. It is an indiscriminate measure of unprecedented interference with family life. It has been challenged in the courts but, thus far, without success. Opposition to the named person legislation has been led, of course, by the Scottish Conservatives.

The named person will, in the Scottish Government’s chilling words, “monitor what children and young people need”. No matter that parents, families, doctors and teachers do this already. The state must do it too. Badged under the acronym GIRFEC (getting it right for every child) the named person scheme does precisely the opposite. Of course governments must ensure that effective and swift interventions are made when children are at risk. But most never are. For most children the named person will be not only an unwelcome but also a wholly unnecessary intrusion because, for most children, parents and families and doctors and teachers already know and supply exactly what children need.

Not content with resting there the named person law goes further. It takes to the statute book to tell us what children need: they need “wellbeing”. And it tells us that a child’s wellbeing is to be “assessed” (yes, assessed) by reference to the extent to which the child is “safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included”. Thus, named persons will not be focusing only on harm, or risk, or even neglect, but on the entire human condition. So if my child is assessed to be under-achieving, inactive or somehow lacking in respect or responsibility, the named person can discuss this as he or she considers appropriate not only with the NHS, with a social worker, or with the police, but with a whole range of bodies including the Scottish Sports Council and something called Skills Development Scotland Co Ltd.

The illiberal and centralising control-freakery of this measure might have attracted more attention had it been unusual. But it is typical of the Scottish National Party in power. From policing to higher education, indeed across the whole spectrum of devolved responsibilities, the SNP are archetypes of the top-down, authoritarian, one-size-fits-all school of government. It has been a disaster for Scotland.

This is why I am seeking election as a Scottish Conservative.

I have not always been a Tory, but I have always been a unionist. I moved from England to Glasgow in 2003, and I have lived and worked in Glasgow ever since. I am a constitutional lawyer. Most of the law I teach, and most of the law I write about in my academic publications, is reserved to the UK (or, indeed, is European law, rather than Scots law). For this reason I did not pay a great deal of professional attention to devolved Scottish politics. Until, that is, the independence referendum came along. As soon as the SNP secured their majority in the 2011 Holyrood election it was clear to me that a referendum was coming and that we unionists had to get ready. I went to see Liberal Democrat ministers in David Cameron’s coalition government. I went to see the leaders of the UK and Scottish Labour party. And I went to see the newly elected leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson. In those days I was a member of no political party. I offered to work with – and for – them all. I worked for the Advocate General, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace. I worked for the Scottish Conservatives (with the party’s Strathclyde Commission, examining the operation and reform of devolution). But with Labour nothing happened – they kept asking me who I voted for, not what I could offer in Scotland’s constitutional moment of need. They are the most tribal politicians I have ever encountered.

The more I worked with the Conservatives, the more I came to realise that they really got it. They understood what the Union was for and both why, as well as how, it should be defended and celebrated. But they also got what devolution was for and why, as well as how, it should be deepened. At the same time, at the UK level, David Cameron’s government was doing outstanding things that had lain dormant under New Labour’s long neglect. Michael Gove’s education reforms, freeing schools from the shackles of outdated local authority control and empowering parents and the communities schools serve. Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, ensuring that work always pays and moving people from the immiseration of benefit dependency to the liberation and dignity that comes with work. The record job creation: more than two million jobs created in five years. Theresa May’s liberalising reforms to policing and her determination to outlaw modern slavery. The fact that under the Tories England was leading allegedly left-leaning social democratic Scotland on the big liberal issues of the day (marriage equality being the stand-out example).

This is the kind of Tory I am: liberal, modern, reformist. Committed to the Union, of course, but also to renewing and breathing fresh life into it through devolution and decentralisation, driving power down not hoarding it at the top. This is what I want to argue for in politics, and this is why I am announcing today that I am seeking election to the Scottish Parliament.

English Votes for English Laws

MPs return to Westminster in a couple of weeks. Among the constitutional matters competing for their attention will be “English votes for English laws”. This has been a contested and troublesome area of constitutional reform for the Government. Here are my thoughts on the way forward.

Background

The Government are right to recognise that the United Kingdom’s asymmetrical devolution arrangements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have opened up an English question which requires to be answered. Academic research such as the annual Future of England Surveys have amply illustrated this. These have found – over several years – that there is dissatisfaction with the way England is governed, that there is a perception in England that devolution in the UK has conferred advantages on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are unfair to England, and that people in England see a democratic deficit.

The Government are also right – as was the McKay Commission in 2013 – that the answer to the English question lies in making it more transparent that the Westminster Parliament is both England’s legislature and the legislature for the whole of the United Kingdom. Neither the creation of a new English Parliament nor the division of England into regions, each with a directly elected assembly, is an apt answer to the English question at the moment or for the foreseeable future. Devolution in the United Kingdom has been and should continue to be “on demand” rather than imposed “top down”. There is no widespread demand in England either for a new Parliament or for regional assemblies.

The Government’s proposals as to English votes for English laws (“EVEL”) are an attempt at doing what requires to be done: namely, making it more transparent that the Westminster Parliament is both England’s legislature and the legislature for the whole of the UK. This attempt should be welcomed.

The McKay Commission (an independent commission that examined these issues in 2012-13) identified the following as a constitutional principle on which its recommendations and options were based: “decisions at the United Kingdom level having a separate and distinct effect for a component part of the United Kingdom should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of the elected representatives for that part of the United Kingdom”. Building avowedly on the well-established Sewel convention, this principle makes for an excellent basis from which to proceed.

Applied to England-only laws made by the United Kingdom Parliament it would suggest that such a law should normally be passed only with the consent a majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in England.

This, I would submit, is the right constitutional principle on which proposals for EVEL are and should be based. The Government have tweaked the principle in their proposals – but they have done so in the interests of clarity. (The main clarification in the Government’s tweaking is that “separate and distinct effect” has been defined as “relating exclusively to England” and falling “within devolved legislative competence”.) It is clear that the Government’s proposals are based on this “McKay principle”. This, too, I welcome.

The Government’s Proposals

EVEL is not a mere tidying-up measure. It is, on the contrary, likely to have profound constitutional consequences. Whilst the Government’s proposals are confined to law-making, if the principle of EVEL takes root, it could in due course lead to a desire for other aspects of parliamentary business with a separate and distinct effect in England becoming subject to the need for explicit English consent. There are Departments of State, for example, whose business directly affects only or mainly England (or England and Wales) (the Departments of Education, Communities and Local Government, and Health are examples). Should the Secretary of State (and Ministers of State?) of these departments be required to represent English constituencies? Or, as a lesser measure, should their appointments be subject to the consent of a majority of MPs representing seats in England? Should the select committees that scrutinise these departments be composed only of MPs representing constituencies in England (or England and Wales)?

I am not advocating these reforms: I use them merely as illustrations of where the constitutional logic of EVEL may lead. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolution have each grown and developed since the Acts of 1998: there is no reason to think that the demand for aspects of English self-rule will necessarily and for the long term be satisfied by the Government’s current proposals.

More immediately, for EVEL to work effectively will require changes in the way legislation is drafted and changes in the way the House of Commons makes decisions. Legislation will have to be drafted not only with its territorial extent in mind (this already happens) but also with the question in mind of whether the legislation “relates exclusively” to England (or England and Wales) and whether it falls within “devolved competence” (as defined). The former test asks whether the legislation “applies only” to England (or England and Wales). Clearly, the application of legislation is not the same as its territorial extent (e.g. the territorial extent of the Wales Act 2014 is the whole of the United Kingdom, but its main effects will be felt in Wales only). Whether application and effects are the same as one another may be an open question.

In the devolution legislation the legislative competence of the devolved legislatures is limited by provisions that use the language of “relating to”. For example, section 29 of the Scotland Act 1998 provides that a provision of an Act of the Scottish Parliament is outside competence if it “relates to reserved matters”. Section 29(3) provides that this is to be determined “by reference to the purpose of the provision, having regard (among other things) to its effect in all the circumstances”. Similar language may be found in section 108 of the Government of Wales Act 2006.

As is entirely to be expected these tests have not always been easy to apply in practice. This is no error on the draftsman’s part: it is inevitable that there will be “border disputes” at the boundaries of legislative competence (as there are in any federal country). There is now a growing body of UK Supreme Court case law on the meaning and application of section 29 SA and section 108 GOWA. The case law is not always easy to follow, and the matter has divided the Supreme Court in at least two of the leading cases. The point here is this: determining what legislation “relates exclusively” to England may not always be straightforward and may on occasion be contested and open to different reasonable interpretations.

That “minor or consequential effects” are to be disregarded when considering whether a measure relates exclusively to England (or England and Wales) serves only to amplify the point. Adjudicating on these matters will require fine judgement and may on occasion be controversial.

The “consequences” of legislation may include consequences as to public spending, sometimes referred to as “Barnett consequentials”. The Barnett formula is, of course, the formula used to determine the size of the block grant from the Treasury to the devolved administrations. It pre-dates devolution and is regarded by very few independent commentators as fit for purpose. None the less, for political reasons we are stuck with it for the time being and, if EVEL is to work, it needs to be made to work in the light of, and taking into account the operation of, the Barnett formula.

In short, the Scottish block grant is calculated by reference to certain departmental spending in England. If such spending is cut in England, so too is the block grant. Now, legislation itself does not change departments’ budget provision. The House of Commons votes on this as part of the estimates process, not as part of the ordinary business of debates on legislation. This has been forcefully pointed out by Professor Jim Gallagher and was carefully explained by the Leader of the House on 15 July (HC Deb, 15 July 2015, col 942). The Leader of the House revised the Government’s EVEL proposals in July to make them explicit in providing that all Members of Parliament will continue to be able to vote on all aspects of the Supply process. This is welcome but, of itself, may not go far enough.

The Supply process is not well understood, attracts very little public attention, and is largely formal (rather than substantive). Its operation empowers neither Parliament nor the public, but the Treasury. As the Treasury explains in its document, Supply Estimates: A Guidance Manual (2011), “the Standing Orders of the House of Commons place limitations on the timing and extent of debate over the Estimates and provide for the proceedings on the related legislation to be progressed formally and without further debate”. Scrutiny of individual departmental Estimates is mainly undertaken by select committees rather than by the House as a whole, with the Liaison Committee normally selecting only one or two departments’ Estimates to be debated in the House. Further, when the Estimates are approved by resolution, Members of Parliament may table amendments to reduce supply but not to increase it.

Whether these procedures give MPs the means fully to scrutinise any “Barnett consequentials” of England-only (or England and Wales only) legislation may be doubted. If they prove to be inadequate, it may be that one (unintended?) consequence of EVEL will be to reform the House of Commons’ Supply process. From the perspective of parliamentary openness and effective parliamentary scrutiny, that would be no bad thing. The Treasury, however, may take a different view.

Conclusions

On one level the Government are right that their proposed Standing Orders are “a relatively modest step”, as the Leader of the House has put it. All MPs will continue to be able to vote on all Bills. All that is being done is to ensure that England-only measures (or England-and-Wales only measures) proceed only with the consent of a majority of MPs representing seats in England (or England and Wales). But even relatively modest steps can have profound consequences – the ripple effect of these proposed Standing Orders may be significant, and may not yet be fully understood.

Proceeding by means of changing the House’s Standing Orders (rather than by enacting primary legislation) is the correct route, constitutionally. It is ever more difficult for legislation effectively to exclude the possibility of judicial review. Even where statute evinces a clear parliamentary intention that judicial review should be excluded, the courts are apt to set this aside and to adjudicate regardless: the recent UK Supreme Court ruling (in R (Evans) v Attorney General [2015] UKSC 21) on section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a potent illustration of this.

I am less confident, however, that the certification process as provided for in the Government’s proposals is fit for purpose. It risks politicising the office of Speaker. It requires the Speaker to have very full legal advice about matters the like of which have repeatedly divided the Supreme Court (in its devolution case law). And, most worryingly of all perhaps, the Speaker will be prevented from giving reasons for his decisions. This is in marked contrast to the position under the devolution statutes, where sometimes very detailed reasons may be given both by ministers and, of course, by the courts in any subsequent case law, explaining their views as to why a measure is within or outwith devolved competence. The constitutional value of transparency and openness in decision-making is hardly enhanced if Parliament and the public are prevented from seeing and understanding the reasons for decisions.

Finally, it needs to be said that the process of constitutional change is often as important as its substance. Given that the Government have a majority of English (and English-and-Welsh) seats, as well as an overall majority in the House of Commons, EVEL is a matter in respect of which there is currently no need to rush. Perhaps the Government would be wise to follow the advice of the House of Lords Constitution Committee which, in its 2011 report on The Process of Constitutional Change recommended that constitutional change be accompanied by careful consideration of: the impact of the proposals on existing constitutional arrangements; the importance of seeking consensus; the importance of public engagement and consultation; the importance of robust, internal scrutiny through the Cabinet Committee system; whether a Green Paper should precede the setting of Government policy; and whether a White Paper should precede the enactment of constitutional change.

If the Government want their “relatively modest proposal” to stand the test of time, they would be well advised to proceed with less haste and more care. I welcome the idea of English votes for English laws. I would welcome it more enthusiastically if I thought that its consequences and constitutional importance had been fully thought through.

 

[This blog post is based on written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Procedure Committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into the Government’s EVEL proposals.]

One Year On (…. Nearly)

This time last year I was terrified that we were about to lose our country. We were a month away from the independence referendum and I could tell that something had changed in the period between the beginning of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games (in late July) and the beginning of the final run-in to the vote (mid August). In London this change was not apparent until much later – until the famous Sunday Times crossover poll (on 7 September) that put Yes in the lead. But by then I knew that things had stabilised, that we were going to be ok and that while it was going to be closer than the 60/40 victory we wanted, we were nonetheless going to win and to win decisively.

A year on from the worst fortnight of my political life, independence feels further away than ever.

How could I say this, when in the year since the referendum the SNP have enjoyed such extraordinary success, with a surge in their membership and their stupendous result in the May 2015 general election, winning 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in the House of Commons? Further, all the polls suggest that the party is on course to retain office next May and, indeed, to increase its majority in Holyrood. The SNP’s main rivals (for the time being), the Labour party, may fail to win any constituencies next May, with all their MSPs being elected via the regional lists. This, if it transpires, would be a result as remarkable (and as devastating for Labour) as the general election result was three months ago. The SNP look unstoppable. Surely it is just a matter of time – and not very much time – before their dream is realised?

Well, I don’t think so. Indeed, it is partly because of the rise and rise in the popularity of the SNP that independence is becoming a more distant prospect.

During the referendum campaign we often sought to reduce the broader Yes movement to the SNP. We knew that the SNP and, in particular, its then leader were less popular than the idea of Yes. But it wasn’t always true. Even if the formal links between the SNP and the official Yes Scotland campaign were closer than Yes Scotland wanted to admit, there was a broader campaign that was not so closely allied to the SNP leadership (Women for Independence, Bella Caledonia, National Collective, RIC, Common Weal, the Scottish Greens, etc). But, as part of the post-indyref surge, these groups have either withered, become marginalised, or been effectively folded into the SNP. National Collective is no more. RIC are completely irrelevant. Common weal, in the well-established tradition of the Trots, has fallen out with itself. The Scottish Greens had an entirely anonymous general election campaign. And the main leaders of Women for Indy have become SNP MPs (Natalie McGarry) or are seeking election to Holyrood as SNP MSPs (Jeane Freeman).

In other words, something has happened that the SNP tried for years to avoid happening: the fate of the party and the fate of the broader independence movement have become tied to one another. The problem, for Yessers, with this, is that all parties – even the SNP – fall. Eventually.

Unfashionable as it may be to say so, given their disastrous misreading of British public opinion in May, I think the polls are broadly right about next year’s Holyrood election. The SNP will retain office. Nicola Sturgeon (of whom more below) will not be ousted as First Minister. But this is peak SNP. With 56 MPs and perhaps as many as 70 MSPs, this is as good as it can ever get for them. And after you’ve reached your peak, the only way is down. And what will bring the SNP down is their record in government. By the time of the next-but-one Holyrood election (assuming it takes place in 2021) the SNP will have been in power, continuously, for 14 years. If Scotland’s schools haven’t improved by then it will be no-one but the SNP’s fault (and, so far, Scottish education has got worse, not better, under the SNP). If the Scottish health service is still in the mess in 2021 that it is in now, it will be no-one but the SNP’s fault. Moreover, well before 2021 the new tax and welfare powers agreed by the Smith Commission and currently being legislated for in the Scotland Bill will be fully in force. Mr Swinney made a complete hash of the first tax devolved to him (stamp duty) and, when he takes charge of income tax in Scotland, which he soon will, his job will get a whole lot harder. Especially when he has a Cabinet Secretary for Welfare urging him radically to increase spending on social security provision in Scotland.

All bubbles burst. All tides recede. Eventually. At the moment the SNP is, to many people, more of a cult than a political party. One poll found recently that 62% of Scots plan to vote for them next year despite only 35% of us thinking that they are doing a good job with the powers they have. But this too will pass, as Scots come to understand that the SNP is not just another anti-austerity protest movement but, you know, an actual government with, you know, actual powers and stuff. Reason can be blinded by the passions, but only for so long.

The SNP leadership knows all this. And, given that they know that the longer they remain in office the greater are the chances of their bubble bursting, why would they not be planning on cutting and running as soon as possible, calling indyref2 sooner rather than later? The answer to that is simple: if a second independence referendum were called today it would deliver the same result as the first one gave us last September. Lose twice, and the dream really does die. Nicola Sturgeon does not want that to be her legacy.

The SNP leadership knows why they lost in September. Many of the SNP’s members and supporters have not come to terms with the reasons for their defeat, at least if Twitter is any judge (zoomers gonna zoom and all that), but the leadership is a lot smarter than (much of) the flock.

This time last year, the Yes movement took Scotland to the edge. They should never have been allowed to get anywhere near this point, but that is another story. Scotland peered over the edge and Scotland thought about it. This time last year there was a period of about a fortnight when I genuinely didn’t know what would happen. Having looked over the edge, would Scots say, “fuck it, let’s jump”, or would we say, “oh shit, that’s a long way down”? Reason prevailed. Emotionally, we were ready to go. But doubts crept in. That nagging currency issue. That enduring sense that the Scottish Government had not done their homework, that the sums did not add up, that there was too much bluster not only on the economy, but on EU membership, on the costs of setting up the new state, and on whether independence really could be realised on the fast-track timetable the SNP insisted on. Doubts that this was a leap of faith, that there was turbulence ahead, and that the landing would be bumpy.

In the intervening year, all these doubts have turned out to be entirely justified — and then some. Scots know this, and the SNP leadership knows this too. Look at the oil price. Look at Greece. Look at the impossibility of running a currency union without surrendering fiscal sovereignty. George Osborne and the UK Treasury were right: the SNP’s half-baked plans for a currency union were a non-starter.

Independence won’t happen until reason as well as the passions dictate it. And the reasoned case is even harder to make now than it was in 2013-14. For one thing, no indyref2 is going to be called until and unless the SNP consider that a majority of Scots are ready to give up sterling and contemplate joining the euro.

Thus the fate of independence is trapped. Go for a second referendum too soon and all the SNP do is to hand the unionists another victory, but wait too long and peak SNP is in the past, not the future.

None of this means, however, that the Union is secure. If, emotionally, we were ready to jump into the abyss a year ago, we’re still ready now. But, equally, if passion alone was not enough to realise independence, reason alone will not be enough to save the Union in the longer term. The idea of Union has to find its way back into Scots’ hearts – and that’s going to be a long journey. And there are big risks to be overcome. The spectre of Europe continues to haunt English politics and Scotland could yet find itself caught on the wrong side of a very south British argument about EU membership. Likewise, the spectre of Corbyn haunts the Labour party. What loyalty to the old British state will a party led by a man such as Corbyn have? There is much mischief here for the nationalists to exploit.

So they will keep their options open. My guess is that the SNP will not rule out a second referendum, but neither will they plan on holding one any time soon, unless there is a “material change” in the constitutional landscape. The material change they really need, however, is the one most likely to elude them. Reason prevailed on 18 September 2014 and even in the cultish atmosphere of post-indyref Scottish politics, there is still, beneath the fog and the flag, ample room for reason.