IT’S the first indication, perhaps, that the Union has finally run its course. When your opponents accept that electoral defeat is such a certainty that they now accuse you of being cruel and unusual by exploiting the rules you know they have nothing left in the tank. An idiom has been produced for it: gaming the system. This is the means by which a second independence party might hoover up the regional list seats to create a super-majority for Yes in 2021. There is a game right enough, and for the parties of the Union it now appears to be a bogey.

Set aside for a moment that the Holyrood electoral rules are being applied in a wholly legal and transparent way and consider this: the rules (or the De Hondt Method as it’s known by 0.001 per cent of the country) were contrived primarily to stop the prospect of independence. Yes, yes of course there were the lofty ambitions of ‘holding a mirror up to the nation’ and ensuring that the full ‘spectrum of political opinion in Scotland’ would be represented. But let’s not kid ourselves here: the Labour Party in Scotland and its close allies the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party were absolutely beside themselves with conspiratorial glee at having searched the planet and found a system which would bring the prospect of independence to a sharp halt. Well, they’re not laughing now.

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Indeed in the London Times this week my former esteemed colleague Kenny Farquharson, normally the very epitome of wry rectitude, was so exercised by another independence party that I may have to call him over the weekend to check up on him. “Cheats. There is no other word for them,” he wrote. It was, he declared “brazen contempt for democracy” and “a scandal in the making”.

The right-wing lobbyist Andy McIver, writing in The Herald, suggested it could backfire by handing the Cummings/Johnson axis at Westminster a pretext for questioning a mandate built on such a political obscenity. Already I can hear Mr Johnson turning to Mr Cummings and spluttering: “How dare they behave in such a legal and transparent way, it’s just not cricket.” You certainly don’t hear anything of this when the Liberal Democrats and UKIP consistently fail to secure the seats at Westminster their votes might warrant.

There are many reasons why Dave Thompson, the former nationalist MSP, signalled his intention to quit the SNP and establish a new party called Alliance for Independence. One of these may indeed be an attempt to enlarge the Yes majority at Holyrood. I suspect though, that his main reason is a loss of confidence in the SNP’s route and rate of travel towards independence. In so doing he will register any new party under its real name and bearing his real signature with the proper authorities in broad daylight and in good time.

He will declare openly in a manifesto that it is pro-independence and that he had lately become estranged from his old party for the reasons stated. When it comes time to vote the people of Scotland will thus be fully aware of what they are voting for and why. I think it’s known as democracy.

In recent years I’ve heard Labour supporters discuss the possibility of doing something similar. Would this also be an assault on democracy? Just because the party is a bit rubbish at the moment doesn’t make such a proposal any different from Mr Thompson’s.

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Certainly, I take some of the points made by Mr Farquharson and Mr McIver. This wasn’t really the way it was supposed to work. But whose fault is that? It’s a bit like the Johnson regime excoriating Nicola Sturgeon for, you know; being too lucid and statesmanlike in dealing with coronavirus.

If you are seeking to apportion blame for this situation then look no further than Scottish Labour. If this party hadn’t been so incompetent and arrogant over such a prolonged period there could be no prospect of a second Yes party becoming the official opposition at Holyrood. If they hadn’t fallen into the curious habit of electing leaders who were not remotely equal to the job this could have been avoided. And if they hadn’t striven crazily to become the glove puppets of English Conservatism by wrapping themselves tightly in the Union flag we wouldn’t be discussing it. This pale facsimile of a political party and its rootless scuffling on the periphery of Scottish politics are the main reasons why the possibility of a second pro-independence party has a chance of succeeding.

There is a scandal here, but it’s not about a Yes super-majority; it’s about how Labour in Scotland has been permitted to wither and die. Of course, it doesn’t help when your venerated former UK leader, as revealed in a BBC2 documentary this week, had effectively lent his government to Rupert Murdoch for a while in order to get his mitts on power and retain it.

If you want to discuss cheating look no further than the power-grab Mr Johnson is attempting on Holyrood under cover of Brexit. The Prime Minister is seeking to introduce a ‘market impact test’ for legislation, which threatens flagship Scottish policies like minimum unit pricing for alcohol and free university tuition fees. This is not what the Scottish people understand as devolved government and is contrary to our legendary “settled will” (copyright: Mr D Dewar).

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The SNP leadership are also partly to blame for the mounting support amongst its foot-soldiers for an alternative Yes option. It’s unhelpful too when one of your golden boys like Alyn Smith mounts adolescent attacks on those seeking an independence Plan B. There is a widespread perception amongst Yes activists, people who have striven for independence their entire adult lives – unpaid and unacknowledged by the party’s swollen management class – that the SNP have become detached from their real concerns.

Holyrood is dominated by a self-obsessed, middle-class elite who look after each other while carefully expanding their pension pots. This is not what we, the people, wanted the Scottish Parliament to become. This is the real scandal and the people, it seems, have found them out.

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