THE First Minister’s announcement on Tuesday was not only exciting, it also outlined something hugely significant – the route by which Scotland as a member of the voluntary union that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can choose to leave that union if the people of our country so wish.

The fact that it required Scotland’s First Minister to set out such a basic sequence of facts – indeed to assemble them from the rubble of the crumbling constitutional ruin that is the UK – speaks volumes. There is a more than a grain of truth in the observation that if it is deliberately made so hard even to find out how to leave such an arrangement, then we should get out of it as quickly as we can.

Of course, Nicola’s reasoned and reasonable proposals have been met with an almost incoherently furious reaction not only from wrong-footed Unionist politicians but also from the supercilious Unionist commentariat with which our media is still unfortunately over-supplied .

The reason for that is, however, not just frustration and fear. It is also because if the issues of process are definitively settled then the debate has to move on to the issues of substance and on those the union has little to commend it.

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Consequently these frightened enemies of progress have spent the last few days using the old tricks of eternal questioning and perpetual sneering in order to derail, at this early stage, any idea that Scotland’s Parliament and government is able and entitled to take a series of clear, well-planned steps to ensure that the Scottish people are enabled to exercise their “sovereign right … to determine the form of Government best suited to our needs” as guaranteed by the Claim of Right.

But we can, by means of a legal referendum, if possible, or by an electoral test if not.

This simple road brings together both pre and post-devolution routes. Before the Scotland Act of 1998 the assumption, confirmed by successive UK prime ministers, was that a majority of Scottish Westminster MPs with a mandate to negotiate independence would be enough. Over time that was refined to suggest that a majority of votes would be more compelling.

The new post-devolution Section 30 arrangement had to be equally clear because on it hinged the agreement of the SNP to actively campaign for devolution in the referendum of 1997. It was never meant to give the UK Parliament a “veto” over the decision of the Scottish Parliament but merely to provide the mechanism to allow the reservation of the Union to be set aside by Westminster so that a referendum could be held if the Scottish people showed that they wished one.

Those who are squealing so loudly now know all this, of course. Their rage is for a purpose. They want to stop the debate moving on from endless manufactured rows about process. Their aim is to persuade Scottish citizens that in fact there is no way out of the UK and back into Europe and that those who argue to the contrary are malevolent, self-seeking, obsessive incompetents whose behaviour proves the point.

For the actual, real and pressing problem that needs urgent resolution is the growing impoverishment of our fellow citizens and the active removal of their rights by a right-wing Tory UK Parliament and government hell bent on imposing the disaster that is Brexit and more than willing to ride roughshod over devolution in order to do so. It is about the lies we have been told and about our growing alienation from the modern world caused by a failing insular and archaic union.

That truth is demonstrated by the way in which this union crisis adversely affects all three devolved nations – a crisis of course made worse by the intention of the only alternative party of UK Government to continue with Brexit despite its manifest failure.

For example, Wales is having to resist the negation of Welsh trade union legislation, passed entirely legally by their devolved administration but now being set aside by Westminster without even discussion.

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The UK Tory Secretary of State for Wales is meanwhile intending to interfere in devolved Welsh education, in open breach of the devolved settlement, but shrugs off scrutiny by saying that people don’t care about the “detail” of the issue.

This is exactly the same arrogant and offensive approach displayed recently by the UK Tory Secretary of State against Scotland Alister Jack when he told SNP MP Deidre Brock during a Westminster committee meeting to “suck it up” when she objected to his breaching of devolution rules and practice.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, Johnson is bulldozing ahead with the destruction of the Protocol he himself negotiated, completely ignoring the wishes of the majority in the NI Assembly and NI business as well as the UK’s obligation to maintain the rule of law.

This is taking place in support of extreme unionism even though it will damage the economy and even the fragile peace of the province. Brexit there has also increased focus on, and support for, re-unification with a growing civic movement opening the issue up for mature consideration.

The debates in all three countries are similar, though not the same and they are all being threatened by those who want to distract and disrupt democracy with fake concerns about process when what we actually need to concentrate on is substance.

The real questions are not about “how” but about “what next”.

We will all come up with different answers to the question about the type of country we wish to live in, and the relationship that we should have with our neighbours and the wider world.

But it is no answer at all to meet a desire for discussion with a refusal to talk and to respond to a request for dialogue with the curt and churlish command to just “suck up” what others are deciding for us.