AS some readers will know, I was on BBC Scotland’s Debate Night programme last night. You can view it here, assuming you have a TV licence.

The experience was interesting. There were stressed politicians swatting their notes before going on air. The usual fuss of television increased their stress before we went in front of the audience (who I thought were pretty good). And then the hour on air rushes by, with too little opportunity to get in all the points you want to make.

We addressed four questions during the programme. I will elaborate on just one here. It was almost inevitable that there would be a question following on from SNP conference, and it duly appeared. More precisely, we were asked whether the SNP’s policy on a new mandate for independence was appropriate.

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I was candid. When there are politicians around making claims that are more akin to wishful thinking I always think it an advantage to be so. The audience certainly seemed to share that view. So, I began by saying that the reality is that whatever the SNP might say, neither the Tories or Labour are going to agree to independence for Scotland any time soon. The reason, I suggested, is that neither party wants to abandon its colonial interest in Scotland any time soon, or in Wales or Northern Ireland come to that.

There was a gasp or two in response from the audience at the apparent audacity of my comment. This, though, was overwhelmed by applause: I seemed to strike a chord.

That, however, as I explained, provides the SNP with an opportunity. What it has to do now is stop arguing about the process of securing independence and go back to what it once had to do, which is explain why it should secure independence. In my opinion, nothing is more important. Crucial to this argument is however, the need for the SNP to now address three issues. 

The first is the fact that the existing devolution settlement does not work, cannot work and was even designed not to work by those parties that now want to make sure that Scotland cannot move on from it. Nowhere is this more apparent than on economic issues. The freedom to tax that Scotland has is very limited, and is, if anything, deeply harmful to the cause of creating a fair tax system in the country. You cannot achieve that when Scotland is denied the chance to alter any tax on capital gains, inheritance, investment and savings income, companies and national insurance. As a result Scotland does not also have the freedom to spend what is needed. I suspect that few in Scotland really understand this.

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Second, Scotland is hampered by the fact that the UK has left the EU and despite the glaringly obvious need to admit that this has been a disastrous mistake, neither Labour or the Tories will do this, let alone do anything about it. Scotland does, as a result, urgently require the opportunity to reset its own relationship with the world, which is currently denied it.

Third, there is the issue of democracy. Sue Webber MSP, for the Tories, tied herself in all sorts of knots during the programme by complaining at what she suggested was the anti-democratic position of the SNP in assuming that securing a majority of seats in a Westminster election, even if that meant a minority of the electorate might have voted for them, might deliver a claim to an election victory and a mandate for action. Given that this is exactly how Westminster works there was rightful cynicism about that claim by her. 

What it did however highlight is the fact that the SNP have to make clear that Scotland will need to be a proper democracy after independence, based on proportional representation and with a wide range of parties, some of whom might then deny the SNP power. The problems that many people have, of thinking that if they support independence they might face SNP government forever, has to addressed because this need not the case. That, however, requires a degree of honesty from the SNP that many politicians, once they have got used to the trappings of ministerial office, find hard to offer.

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The truth about the Union

As I made clear during the programme, I think Scotland is being held back by the fact that it is in the Union. Wellbeing in the country is being harmed by rule from Westminster. The SNP have long been the torchbearers for independence. They might need to be so again, working alongside a more independently minded Yes movement.

But, and this is vital, that requires that the SNP be honest about the limitations on what they can do now, what the conditions for successful independence are (including having a Scottish currency) and what their own role in Scottish politics might be if independence is won - because that might well be very different from what it is at present. 

The question is, are the SNP up to that? Independence might require that they are.