ELECTION week is a dismal time to try to persuade politicians to be rational, but once more unto the breach I go. In two days, Scotland goes to the polls in what few dispute is the most important election of the devolved era.

The election is about one thing: independence, and specifically whether or not there should be another referendum on the matter. The two main parties, in a strategy which one of them will likely live to regret, have made it the central, effectively single, issue at stake. That strategy makes it ever more difficult to dispute the legitimacy of the result.

I challenge you, readers, to find anyone who doesn’t understand that a vote for the SNP, the Greens or Alba is a vote for a second referendum, and a vote for the Tories, Labour or the Lib Dems is a vote against one. The indisputable clarity on this, which was not present in 2016, is with us now.

For this reason, in the event of a pro-referendum majority later this week, the UK Government must grant the Scottish Government another independence referendum.

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I find myself in an awkward position as I write this. Many years ago, I worked for the Scottish Tories. I know, like, and am friends with many Tory MSPs and staffers, however in truth I’ve always seen politics through a different lens.

I voted No in 2014, largely because I felt that it would have represented a poor financial decision for me and my family, and for the nation on whose public services we depend. The benefits of independence – and let’s be clear that there are some – were, in my opinion, heavily outweighed by the costs. For me, it wasn’t worth it.

This was a clinical, not an emotional decision. I am not a nationalistic person. I don’t sleep on a Union Jack or sign off my tweets with #OurPreciousUnion, nor do I feel a need to prove my Scottishness by pretending I know how to speak Scots. I am content with, rather than proud of, my Scottishness, Britishness and European identity. I don’t spend much time thinking about it, in truth. National identity simply doesn’t motivate me when I’m standing with my pencil in a polling booth.

This clinical thought process, though, is not present amongst many of Scotland’s Tories or their colleagues in London. On the contrary, hysterical is the word I think best describes my erstwhile colleagues’ position on a second referendum.

Interestingly, I cannot say the same of their nationalist opponents. Sure, the foot-stampers and flag-wavers carry with them an emotional burden, but the decision-makers do not.

HeraldScotland: Nicola SturgeonNicola Sturgeon

These are people, let us remember, who decided that an independent Scotland should retain the Queen as Head of State, the BBC, the Pound, and so on. I’d place a decent sized bet on these policies having been agreed because they are considered to be electorally beneficial rather than because they are genuinely desired.

Unionism shows no signs of such level-headedness. All of its collective energy appears currently to be directed at stymieing a second referendum rather than winning one. Indeed, I have heard at least five different theories on how a referendum can be prevented (including the apparent willingness of Downing Street to take the issue to the Supreme Court, as reported at the weekend), but precisely no theories on how to win one.

I understand why they got here. They have a genuine, passionate belief that Scotland’s best future is inside the UK, and it’s a perfectly natural reaction to avoid driving down a road that might lead to the opposite outcome.

However, that is exactly my point. By denying a second referendum, they are driving down that road. They just don’t realise it.

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The origin of the Tories’ strategic problem lies in its instinctive centralisation. The party equates centralism and unionism in a way its counterparts in the US, Canada and Australia, amongst others, do not. They see any decentralisation of power away from London as a defeat; a slippery slope to nationalism rather than a modernisation of unionism.

Unionism’s response to the SNP winning the 2007 election was the meek extra powers of the Calman Commission; its response to nearly losing the first referendum was the Smith Commission. Each time, Scotland wanted a slice of cake and was given a crumb.

The Tories’ need to be forcibly dragged into devolving any power, and makes them, justifiably, appear reactive and cumbersome. It wins plaudits from those who would walk through lightning with an umbrella up to vote No, but not those who could swing either way.

There is a scene in the Austin Powers movie where Mike Myers’ spoof spy character lies in the road yelling “No” at a steamroller moving towards him. He has enough time to avoid the steamroller, and come back and avoid it again several times over, but he doesn’t move.

Unionism has been like Austin Powers for at least 15 years. The nationalist steamroller has been coming towards them, yet they have shown no understanding that they can easily get out of the way.

They now need to shift their considerable energies from preventing a second referendum to winning one. Precisely how they can do so is for another day, and I have written about it often in the past. It is not particularly difficult to create a winning strategy, and if the Tories don’t get there, I’m certain that Labour and the Liberal Democrats will.

For the moment, though, in this of all weeks, the Tories should think about democracy. About Brexit, in fact. Most Tories were outraged at the thought of the will of the people being overturned by pompous, metropolitan politicians who thought the people were too stupid to make the right decision.

They were right then. And, for the same reason, they’re wrong now. If the Tories lie in the road and yell “No” at the steamroller, they will lose the goodwill of soft No voters – those required to win a referendum, but who demand the respect of democracy.

This is a very simple matter, when you think about it rationally. When you think about it democratically. If people vote for a referendum on Thursday, then they must get one.

And if the Tories have a problem with that, they really should do a better job of persuading people to vote for them instead.

•Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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