WHEN Boris Johnson celebrated his first year in office last week it was comforting to remember that the biggest defeats he suffered during that year were made in Scotland by Scots. In the prorogation case the decision of Scotland’s Supreme Court, the Inner House of Court of Session, paved the way for a historic victory in the UK Supreme Court and it was the Scottish constitutional tradition that neither government nor monarch is above the law which won the day.

Johnson’s response to the slapdown he received from both courts’ unanimous decisions is to threaten to curb the right to judicial review of the actions of public authorities. His approach echoes the sort of populism we see at play in Hungary and Poland where the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law are also under attack. The fundamental purpose of the supervisory jurisdiction of Scotland’s Court of Session is to ensure that all acts of government are carried out within the rule of law. If Johnson attempts to curb that jurisdiction, he could find himself with quite a fight on his hands and facing some formidable adversaries. Interference with Scotland’s separate and independent legal system could bring arguments about the Treaty of Union into play, quite apart from the importance of preserving the devolved settlement.

Of course, Johnson also suffered another resounding Scottish defeat in the General Election when the SNP won the second biggest landslide in our Westminster election history. However, the sad reality is that because Johnson won big in England and has an 80-seat majority, the SNP group at Westminster have less power in this parliament with 48 seats than we had with 35 seats in the previous hung parliament. The opportunities for the sort of cross-party working that delivered numerous defeats of the UK Government under both Theresa May and Johnson are gone; just as the days of endless Brexit skirmishes are over because the direct result of Johnson’s General Election victory was that Brexit has finally been delivered.

Britain exited the EU on January 31 this year. For now, we are cushioned from the effects of that exit by the transition period, during which we continue to enjoy the benefits and obligations of membership of the single market and the customs union. But that, too, will end on December 31 this year. The chance of an extension being sought to that period is negligible, and even if it was it would only be postponing the inevitable.

Accordingly, it is important that we don’t expend energy fighting last year’s battles. Trying to “Stop Brexit” was the right thing for the SNP to do. It reflected the views of the majority of Scottish voters. It was in the interests of our economy and society to keep Scotland and the UK in the EU. But we lost the battle and Brexit is now an irreversible reality. We must avoid falling into the trap of being like the Japanese soldier who remained in the jungle on a pacific island for 30 years refusing to accept the war was over.

The SNP will not win future elections merely by fielding candidates who are anti-Brexit. Brexit is a done deal and the question now is what are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about the democratic deficit that has seen Scotland taken out of the EU against our will and will now see the powers of our parliament and possibly our courts attacked and curtailed? Politicians with the answer to those questions are what is required.

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The polling expert Mark Diffley has pointed out that the increase in support for independence seen across a range of polls started last year, not just since the pandemic as some people think, and was primarily driven by Brexit. His view chimes with my experiences campaigning in Edinburgh South West last November/December when people from the city centre tenements to leafy Balerno praised SNP parliamentarians for leading the battle against Brexit in parliament and in the courts. I have no doubt that this was the key factor which saw my own majority over the Tories increase from just over 1000 to nearly 12,000 votes.

So, we know that the legacy of our opposition to Brexit has been increased support for the SNP and for independence. What the SNP must do now is to nurture that goodwill to deliver an independent Scotland.

In order to do that we need to advance a fresh positive case for an independent Scotland which would be able to take its rightful place, just like any other European nation, at the top table in the EU. This means providing answers to the questions that in the full glare of an independence campaign will come into focus, particularly given the changed circumstances since 2014.

From my experience talking to voters these questions revolve around three issues: the economy and concern about what currency an independent Scotland will use, including whether we could be forced to join the euro; how the process of accession to the EU would actually work, and how to maintain cross-border trade with England.

These are all legitimate questions. The good news is that strong answers exist, but they need to be packaged and articulated to voters. A wealth of useful material is available thanks to the work of think tanks like the Common Weal, Business for Scotland and the Scottish Centre for European Relations. Further useful work was carried out for the Scottish Government’s paper Scotland’s Place In Europe and the Growth Commission but, particularly as regards the economic case, this work requires to be revisited and updated. Then we must package our case for presentation to voters in a clear and easily digestible fashion.

The SNP needs fresh arguments for a new independence campaign. There is no point in unthinkingly repeating past mantras or fighting past battles. We need to address the changed situation in which we find ourselves post Brexit. Internal debate and discussion should be encouraged. When the next independence campaign starts in earnest, the honed arguments which such internal debate will produce will be vital to ensuring victory.