WATCHING matters unfold since the FM’s announcement on Tuesday has been hugely satisfying for most independence supporters. I hope I can be forgiven for finding it particularly sweet. Two reasons. First, it’s gratifying as well as a relief that the strategy for which I have long advocated is now part of the Scottish Government’s plan.

Not because litigation is any sort of magic bullet but because, done properly, testing the case for a Holyrood-backed indyref can only move the envelope forward. Played properly, whether or not the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) rules in favour of the Scottish Government, this is a win/win strategy or at least it should be.

By that I mean if the UKSC rules in our favour then we have a legal referendum which the Unionists will find hard to boycott and the result of which the UK Government and the international community will recognise.

Indeed, I would hope that respect for the court’s verdict might even bring the British Government to the negotiating table to agree a successor to the Edinburgh Agreement i.e. that both sides would respect and enact the result of the referendum.

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If we lose then the continued impasse can only increase support for Yes. When Newsnight reported from Inverness earlier this week there was clear evidence for this among No voters who told Lewis Goodall that they would change their mind if Westminster consistently denied Holyrood the right to determine its own destiny.

So, losing the case could actually increase support for a second independence referendum as well as independence itself. The series of policy papers due to be published in the coming weeks should also assist. I would also expect to see the Constitutional Convention which the FM promised back in January 2020 to be convened, perhaps this Autumn, to add to the momentum.

Meantime Boris Johnson’s government’s law-breaking and ineptitude in the face of the cost-of-living crisis should continue to push people towards yes. This brings me to the second reason why I found the announcement particularly sweet – it puts the kibosh on the nonsense that I or indeed any senior members of the SNP have ever advocated for an “illegal referendum” and in this respect it is a masterful wrongfooting of the Unionists.

The FM was right to contrast our strategy which seeks to establish at the outset a legal route to a referendum with the repeated law breaking of the Johnson government both in the personal and public sphere. The charge sheet started with the unlawful prorogation and stretches through the Internal Market Bill as originally published, partygate, the Bill of Rights which threatens to breach the ECHR and to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which breaches the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

As regards to the latter, the legal position published by the UK Government wouldn’t get a pass as an undergraduate public international law essay. I don’t fancy the English Attorney General Suella Braverman’s chances much if she ever goes head-to-head with our Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC.

That could well happen. The UK Government has two weeks to decide whether to be heard on the Lord Advocate’s reference and its likely they will. I understand the parties will then have 28 days to adjust their written legal cases. There could be preliminary issues including argument as to whether or not the court should wait until it sees the finished product of the bill passed by Holyrood before giving its opinion. If they agree to go ahead, the hearing is likely to be in the autumn with a decision before Christmas.

THIRD parties could seek permission to intervene and have their legal arguments heard if they can show this in the public interest. For example, someone might want to do that to run the arguments that were advanced in the Keatings case last year, but which failed as premature, hypothetical and academic in the absence of a bill. Exciting times lie ahead and not just for legal geeks like me.

Meantime I agree with the call for unity and an end to the infighting between SNP activists, including some parliamentarians and councillors, and Alba activists. However, unity can only be achieved if people behave respectfully towards one another and continue to do so in the face of differences of opinion about strategy or policy.

I must confess to experiencing a degree of schadenfreude as the FM made her announcement. I wondered how the small but noisy group of activists who so shamefully booed the colleagues advocating for the General Election fallback strategy at our October 2019 conference must feel now, not to mention the small but nasty band who have dedicated themselves to making my life difficult since I first suggested the litigation aspects of the strategy and dared to demur from the leadership on other issues.

This is perhaps a lesson for them that sometimes unfashionable or unpopular views will triumph over time.

That said, the biggest learning should be that there is really no place for this sort of childish bullying in Yes parties or the movement. The campaign we are about to mount must be a respectful one. Not only because that’s the right way to run a campaign but because it’s the only way to win over those not yet persuaded of the merits of independence. There can be absolutely no room for abusive or bullying behaviour in person or online. Full Stop.

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If the legal bid fails and we must rely on the FM’s fallback position, then it is imperative we maximise the vote in favour of independence at the next General Election. My Tory sources tell me this is unlikely now to be until 2024 although of course we must always be prepared for it to be sooner.

Some are already arguing for a Yes alliance to stand candidates rather than the SNP alone as some will argue it must be absolutely clear that each vote cast is a vote for Scotland to become an independent country.

This idea merits consideration. It could be a unifying move bringing together the SNP, Greens, disaffected former SNP activists including those who went to Alba or the other small pro-indy parties and the all-important wider Yes movement which includes such outstanding advocates as Lesley Riddoch and Andy Wightman.

I am not suggesting that they should be candidates, although some might like to be, but definitely spokespersons. There should also be a place in the wider campaign for Alex Salmond, his strategic knowhow is too good to be ignored. Above all, we should always remember that the cause is bigger than any one individual or ego. We need the best voices, voices of all ages and diverse voices.

Regardless of whether the SNP forms a Yes alliance or not, it will be essential that the public face and approach of the Westminster SNP Group undergoes a revamp. The issues have been plain for all to see, and they need to be addressed. The group needs to be united, free from distractions and fighting fit if it is to play the central role in the lead up to a General Election which leads to Independence. There’s all to play for and a lot to do – let’s go forward together.