A COUPLE of weeks ago, I noticed something strange in the Daily Mail. “What else is new?” I hear you cry – but bear with me. The “care home tycoon” Robert Kilgour had announced his intention to go to law to try to prevent Holyrood legislating for an independence referendum. It wasn’t the announcement – but the language he couched it in which caught me.

Kilgour’s statement was conspicuously full of references to “shes” and “hers”. “If she tries to go for an illegal ­referendum,” “we are up for taking her on” he said. You’ve probably already deduced that he was ­referring to the First Minister – but it struck me as a strange and rather ­telling way of framing a legal challenge to ­legislation which would need the support of 65 MSPs to become law.

You can think of it as personalisation. And last week, it was a thread running right through much of the hostile reporting in the wake of the First Minister’s announcement of the Supreme Court referral in Holyrood.

Reading some of the more antic corners of the mainstream media, you’d believe that there was precisely one woman in the whole of Scotland who wants to give Scots the right to exercise their rights to ­self-determination.

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You’d imagine there’s no manifesto ­commitment to honour. No cabinet ­support. No parliamentary majority. No wider party – or wider movement – in ­favour of ­testing the Union’s future. No voters, ­either. Just Nicola, standing in a field alone with a sign bearing the legend: “separation now,” ­accompanied by boos of the whole ­nation. The reason we’re here isn’t popular ­support for the breakup of Britain, but one ­woman’s “reckless obsession” as one press outlet sanely described it last week.

British political reporting has form for this kind of character-led reporting, ­reframing social forces and structural ­issues as battles between personalities – just think of Brexit – but this is ridiculous. This isn’t analysis – it’s a fever dream. It’s political psychosis. To believe it, you have to discard not only your ability to think – but also your ability to count.

If the picture of Scotland sketched in the pages of the print press in recent days were true, Nicola Sturgeon would not be the first minister, the SNP would not be the largest party, and Holyrood wouldn’t have a ­pro-independence majority. Are we meant to believe all this happened by accident, by happenchance, inexplicably? You have to wonder who the opposition parties and their media friends are trying to convince here – the public, or themselves.

Unionists are more than entitled to their political opinions – but they are not entitled to their own facts. The 2014 ­referendum established that support for Scottish independence is not fringe ­concern of a committed but eccentric ­gaggle of activists and poets in Scotland – but a proposition supported by over 1.6 million people. There’s no point in ­pretending otherwise.

The Yes campaign may not have won a majority eight years ago, but it helped turn independence into a mainstream ­political idea – an idea whose appeal cut and cuts across age groups, classes, ­genders, ethnicities, and geographies. While the profile of that support has changed since 2014 – polls show levels of support for a new state remains substantial, including among voters who otherwise support the Labour Party.

You’d imagine the continued ­electoral success of pro-independence parties would underscore that a significant ­proportion of the Scottish electorate ­remain convinced that the democratic ­future of this country is as an ­independent state. But apparently not. We held a ­Holyrood ­election just last year. The public had the opportunity to pass their verdict on the parties and their manifestos. They decided to return a pro-independence majority to Holyrood, on a clear platform to that a referendum on ­independence should be held. It was Douglas Ross who told the voters in the lead up to polling day that “people have to be really clear that a vote for the SNP is a vote for another independence ­referendum”.

This isn’t the 1950s – or even the 1980s. If Labour wants to spend its time dreaming of the glory days when the SNP had just six MPs in the House of Commons to their 56, they’re welcome to enjoy their political catatonia. But out here, back in reality, independence has not and will not go away. Scrunch your eyes up tight, tap the heels of your ruby slippers together three times – you’re still not in Kansas ­anymore. Too much has changed. But many prominent Unionists still seem unwilling or unprepared to confront that reality. They are in a state of denial about what they are dealing with.

Whether you supported or opposed these developments, you can’t credibly deny that the last eight years have seen material changes to the British state and how it has governed, from the UK’s ­departure from the EU to the emergence of a Tory majority with a sweeping vision of a more unitary union state, prepared to routinely overrule devolved legislatures and claw back powers from Edinburgh and now Cardiff too.

The chief strategist of the 2014 No campaign Blair McDougall memorably claimed during the 2014 campaign that Boris Johnson wouldn’t become Prime Minister and that the process for ­removing your EU citizenship was ­“voting yes.” Hard experience has taught us otherwise. You’d think that experience might have taught these flawed prophets a bit of modesty, might have counselled some recognition that the prospectus which was used to convince a majority of Scots to stay in the Union has proven false. Apparently not.

You can understand the bottomless fascination Unionist politicians and big voices in the media have about some of the wilder things random punters who support Scottish independence say as ­another manifestation of this ostrich ­policy.

It is a truth generally ­unacknowledged by the Scottish media that ­pro-independence politicians are held responsible for every one of the madder elements supporting independence – every man jack of them – while pro-Union politicians are spared questions about their fellow travellers and the vitriol they fling.

If a crackpot in fake chainmail and a plastic cutlass gives an eccentric speech at anything independence related, the footage of the scene will reliably do great numbers in the yoonisphere. You can ­understand this as a pure exercise in ­political cynicism. Anything which makes you opponents look bad or mad is worth loading into the slurring spreader and ­giving a good airing. And fair enough, as far as it goes.

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BUT this obsession with the inconsequential and inflammatory remarks of no-marks and nobodies has more psychologically interesting dimensions to it. The implication – the innuendo – is that these voices are representative of the broad coalition of folk who think Scotland should be an independent country. More escapism, I think.

Confronted with the challenging ­reality that this movement is made up of the ­hundreds of thousands of ­ordinary ­people from all walks of life – they routinely ­obsess about and amplify ­unrepresentative extremes, presumably in the hopes of convincing folk this is “the mask slipping”.

If you’re already convinced independence supporters are part of a brainwashed cult – a recurring trope of some of the more easily provoked corners of social media and Tory MSPs – I dare say this is all in good fun, confirming your ­existing prejudices and assumptions about your political opponents. I understand why Unionists might prefer to be struggling against an independence campaign which was rooted in ethnic nationalism, ­nostalgia and bad history, whose representatives were easily dismissed as screwballs from the margins and extremes of popular opinion. It would be an easier campaign to beat if this were true. But it is pure projection.

In their heart of hearts they must realise – this isn’t the reality of our political moment or movement. Batter lumps out of a straw man if you like – it’s still a straw man.