HYSTERIA was, I suppose, an inevitable consequence of such a divisive election, closing the book, by and large, the divisive issue of Brexit. It has not been in short supply, from the protest marches of Friday night to various cries of ‘dictator’ from people who should know much, much better.

In Scotland, we would be well-served by dialling it down, for the focus is, once again, about to shift north. Brexit, if not ‘done’, is certainly now decided. The government will do what the people asked it to do nearly four years ago, and leave the EU. That’s good: I voted Remain, but I lost, and in a democracy, you must allow the winners to win.

How do we relate that concept of the mandate, of democracy, to Scotland and to independence? That is the question which we will now wrestle with as Scots over the next 18 months, and quite probably for years thereafter, with the attention of the UK and the world on us.

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The discussion has begun; it began at 10.01pm on Thursday night after the exit poll predicted another surge towards the SNP. Inevitably, the SNP claimed a mandate for indyref2. It was the fourth time such a mandate had been claimed since the 2014 independence referendum. The first was in 2015, after the SNP’s 56-seat landslide; the second was in June 2016, after the UK’s Brexit vote fulfilled the SNP’s manifesto criteria of Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will; the third was after the party won the 2017 General Election, and this was the fourth.

Opposing, the Tories, of course, claimed that no such mandate exists. They cite various reasons, principally that in this election many SNP candidates expressly said a vote for them was not a vote for indyref2 and that the SNP’s campaign slogan was ‘Stop Brexit’, as well as the old favourite, that the 2014 independence referendum was claimed by the SNP at the time to be ‘once in a generation’.

The reality, political and democratic, lies somewhere in between these competing claims. The strongest of all the SNP’s claimed mandates is, in fact, the one which emanated from the combination of the 2016 Holyrood election and the Brexit referendum. The manifesto called for a second referendum in the event of certain circumstances and specifically cited the circumstance of the UK voting to leave the EU with Scotland voting to remain.

I take the view that this qualifies as a mandate, but I accept that it is not so clear as to be inarguable. It was by definition caveated, and its electoral endorsement is partly tied to a contorted pledge in the Green manifesto which, as far as it is understandable, has probably not been met.

The Tories, too, have a point. Whilst their ‘once in a generation argument’ is bogus (the circumstances of 2014 are so different to now that it carries no democratic relevance, even if some think it has an ethical one) the argument that last Thursday’s election does not constitute a specific mandate is solid.

The voting patterns in Scotland were quite clear - the Tory vote stayed relatively solid and the collapsing Labour vote went primarily to the SNP, and to a degree to the Lib Dems, both on the basis of Brexit. This was a Brexit election in Scotland just as it was in England, and that was the key driver for voters with pencil in hand.

A sensible discussion between Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon could bring common ground and common sense to the frenzy. Sturgeon should find it easy to accept that there will be no referendum in 2020, mainly because it is an open secret that she and her team do not actually want a referendum next year, with their pro-independence polling numbers looking far weaker than they had expected them to, given the perfect storm of Boris and Brexit.

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Similarly, Johnson, fresh off a campaign which was based on upholding democracy by ‘getting Brexit done’ as the people had asked, should be able to relate to a clear indyref2 mandate emerging from an election in which it will be the main issue.

This all points to the 2021 Scottish Parliament election - the most important there has ever been. That election will be fought on very clear ground, with very likely no room for debate on anything other than indyref2. If the SNP wins that election with a clear manifesto commitment for a second vote, a full two parliamentary terms after their first win, there can be no serious grounds to oppose it.

You can’t be a fair-weather democrat. You can’t demand to get Brexit done because voters asked for it whilst demanding that indyref2 is continually rejected despite voters asking for it.

For Johnson to concede this point, the Scottish Tories will need to play a key role, and their position over the coming months will be worth analysing. Although under the circumstances, they returned a creditable result last Thursday, they should not allow it to paper over the cracks which are clearly there.

The Tory strategy – no to indyref2 – was designed to expand its vote by encouraging Labour unionists to lend their vote to the Tories. That strategy crashed and burned on Thursday. Are the Tories, who have become institutionally obsessed with indyref2, nimble enough to reflect upon the fact that they may have maximised that ultra-Unionist vote? I am not so sure.

A subtle change in position could help them, whilst also providing them with a more credible, democratic position on indyref to match the credible, democratic position they have held on Brexit.

Their position has been ‘vote for us and we will stop indyref2’; they should alter it ahead of 2021 to ‘vote for us or we will not be able to stop indyref2’. In other words, the party should acknowledge that a mandate in 2021 will have to be respected, and there will have to be another independence referendum, so if you don’t want one then you had better vote Tory.

This change in strategy would serve three purposes. Firstly, it would incentivise the core vote in just as compelling a way as the current strategy - frankly, it’s not as though they are going to vote for anyone else. Secondly, it would respect democracy, and in times such as these, that would be a noble act. Thirdly, and most importantly, it would be a departure of the tired, old, failed Tory strategy of the last 40 years, which in the final analysis has always been: say no to Scotland.

Not for the first time in Scottish Tory history, they are struggling to see that this is failing, and is simply pushing people away from the Union and towards independence.

The irony of all of this is that the Nationalists’ strength is over-estimated by Unionists, who have become so paranoid about indyref2 that they seem blind to the fundamentals which are in place, and which may allow the unionists to record a larger win than last time, closing the book on independence just like they closed the book on Brexit.

All they have to do is smarten up. Are they able?