SOMETIMES you can best help your cause from the sidelines, as Angus Robertson, the SNP’s former deputy leader, has recognised.

Mr Robertson lost his Westminster seat at the 2017 general election, but rather than spend time pursuing another, he has sensibly put his energy and talents into something potentially more useful: a think tank.

He believes Progress Scotland, just launched with respected pollster Mark Diffney, can build the case for independence by providing insight and analysis on what it will take to persuade the undecided.

Think tanks are viewed by many as little more than talking shops. But the work they do in rigorously researching and testing not only how the electorate thinks but, crucially, why it thinks that way, is crucial. Such organisations bring proper depth and understanding to political thinking, paving the way for better policies.

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And never has Scotland been more in need of rigorous thinking than now. The terrible situation we find ourself in, about to be ripped from the European Union against our will and plunged off the no-deal cliff, wilfully ignored by a robotic Prime Minister most focused on keeping her party’s fringe extremists happy, demands action. Or at least options, and independence remains the most obvious.

The moral and democratic case for independence gets stronger and clearer by the day as the grim inability of Westminster to deal with the gravity of the situation plays out. On one side of the house you have a Tory party gone rogue, prepared to abandon its own fundamental principles and trash the country economically, socially and culturally in the name of a glorious English past that never was.

On the opposition benches, meanwhile, you have a bafflingly ideological and ineffectual Labour party willing to harm the very people it claims to represent by allowing this madness to go unchecked. No wonder the party’s membership in Scotland has nosedived by 20 per cent in the last year.

The perfect storm indeed. Some in Scotland - certainly those who shout the loudest on social media - would have you believe it is also the perfect time for another independence referendum. But as the democratic case for Scotland leaving the UK strengthens, the economic arguments are harder than ever to make.

If an independent Scotland was a hard sell in 2014 with both sides of the border inside the EU, the possible and probable consequences of the current stalemate are mindboggling. Imagine the economic ramifications for an independent Scotland inside the EU, while its next door neighbour and biggest trading partner is outside the customs union, making tariffs necessary on every product or service that crosses what would quite possibly have to be a hard border. Then throw into the mix that they don’t use the same currency. All this may be happening to a Scotland and England already economically traumatised by the aftermath of a hard Brexit. Could Scots be persuaded to vote to potentially make themselves poorer in the short-term to achieve longer term prosperity? The Leave campaign persuaded a majority in England and Wales to largely ignore economics in 2016, of course.

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Then there’s the fact that referendums themselves have become the stuff of nightmares for many of us. The last two years of chaos and division have shown that a close result on independence – say 52-48 in favour – could potentially be just as disastrous. The anger and disgust felt by many, meanwhile, at the Westminster class only highlights the distrust most of us feel towards all politicians. They have betrayed us.

One can only imagine, of course, how the newly souped-up, Brexit-ed UK would look to thwart Scotland’s independent ambitions. The arrogance and disrespect with which the UK Government has already dealt with the EU and Holyrood tells you much. And look at what is happening to Northern Ireland; ultimately the Tory party has shown itself willing to sacrifice peace, if that’s what it takes to achieve Brexit. Imagine how it would seek to punish Scotland if it tried to leave the union.

When will Scots be ready to even contemplate another political upheaval? It won’t be any time soon, if you ask me, and certainly not until we believe there are sensible alternatives on the ballot paper.

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I’m not saying Scotland shouldn’t or won’t be able to choose a different future for itself. I believe emphatically that we should get that opportunity, and look forward to it. When, however, depends on so many complex things, none of which are in the gift of Nicola Sturgeon and her party.

And that’s exactly why Mr Robertson’s think tank is a positive development, just when we need one so desperately. He is right to point out that Scots need more than hope - we need cogent and pragmatic solutions to very difficult questions.

At least Mr Robertson is trying to provide them; his opponents, after all, have nothing to offer.