IF you want to get something done in politics, you need to build alliances not just in your own party but across parties and beyond into civic society and grassroots organisations.

Despite the huge majority Boris Johnson won in England in the General Election last year, dealing with the coronavirus crisis cannot work without cross-party support. There has even been renewed talk of a “government of national unity’. For the first time for years, there has been cordial and respectful collaboration with the devolved governments, particularly in drawing up the bill currently passing through Westminster affording all four governments in these islands emergency powers.

And where the devolved governments led, Westminster followed. Michael Russell was the first government minister to raise legitimate concerns about civil liberties aspects of the Emergency Powers legislation when he made a statement about it at Holyrood last week. There was some predictable petty sneering from the likes of Conservatve MSP Jamie Greene, who seemed not to understand that parliamentarians from all parties rightly care about civil liberties and that even in a time of crisis, perhaps especially so, you need to make sure we don’t simply hand power to the Government of the day unfettered.

However, the grown-ups got on with the job and Westminster Tories David Davis and Andrew Mitchell joined forces with myself and Labour’s Harriet Harman to sponsor amendments designed to ensure better ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of the powers being afforded to all four governments, and in particular to limit the duration of the powers from two years to six months. The UK Government capitulated and now the powers will require parliamentary approval for renewal after six months.

Other cross-party initiatives have been less successful. It’s a bridge too far for the Tories to heed the call for a universal basic income, led by the SNP and long championed by my colleague Ronnie Cowan. However, the idea is now firmly in the public consciousness. Meantime, the SNP are leading the fight to win proper support for the self-employed during the lockdown.

Cross-party working is also taking place at a local level. In my constituency and across the city of Edinburgh, grassroots organisations are coming together with MPs, MSPs and councillors from all parties and joining forces with community councils to assist the elderly and vulnerable during the crisis.

The Scottish Parliament was designed to be less confrontational than Westminster and its voting system was supposed to ensure that no one party could have an outright majority. In the early years of the first SNP government at Holyrood, Alex Salmond had to work hard to build alliances but this did not prevent his government from innovating and passing policies that, a decade a later, are still listed as the most important achievements of the SNP in government. It is often forgotten that the current SNP government does not have an outright majority, and this is perhaps a tribute to the way Holyrood works.

Some of the best work that goes on at Westminster in terms of effective scrutiny of the Government takes place in the cross-party select committees which often succeed in producing reports that have been unanimously agreed.

The fight to stop a No-Deal Brexit and secure a People’s Vote is now a distant memory but the greatest victories that were scored over the May and Johnson governments came as a result of cross-party working which secured a meaningful vote on the deal; the victory at the European Court of Justice which established that Article 50 could be unilaterally revoked and made a second vote possible; and, of course, the UK Supreme Court victory which stopped the unlawful prorogation of Parliament. The court victories were made in Scotland by MPs from SNP, Labour, and the Greens with mass public support through crowdfunding.

The sea change in Scottish politics which followed the independence referendum was not just the work of the SNP. It was also down to alliances built with the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party, and, importantly, the work of hundreds of small grassroots organisations.

Robin McAlpine has pointed out that what connects the anti-Thatcher campaigns of the mid-1980s, the anti-poll tax campaign of the late 1980s, the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the 1997 devolution referendum and the 2014 independence referendum is that each of these campaigns was fought by coalitions. None was led by a single party leader.

When the current crisis is over, the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future will return to the top of the agenda. On January 31, the First Minister announced that a Constitutional Convention would be called. It is impossible for it to be convened now but as soon as this crisis is over, that should happen without further delay. I believe its membership should include civic society, particularly the trade unions and members of grassroots organisations.

When we gain independence, it will have been through reaching out to as broad a coalition of folk as possible. Perhaps the cross-party working and the alliances that will be built during the crisis will make this easier.