NOTHING much has changed. No party lost or gained more than two seats in the Scottish Parliament in last week’s election.

The voters sent the parties back more or less exactly as they were. The SNP are now only one (instead of two) seats shy of an overall majority – although they will revert to being two short if one of their number becomes the new Presiding Officer today. Together with the Greens, there is a nationalist majority, as there has been since 2011. The Tories remain the second force in Scottish politics, a long way ahead of the (supposedly rejuvenated?) Labour party.

The verdict of the Scottish people could not have been clearer. We are a divided country, split more or less evenly between nationalists and unionists. To remain so divided appears, for the time being at least, to be our collective settled will.

And yet. The clamour for a repeat referendum on independence started before even all the votes were counted, and the noise will only intensify as the weeks unfold. The UK Government is not interested and, instead of talking about mandates and independence and section 30 orders and all, is trying none too subtly to remain focused on building our recovery from the pandemic and the havoc it has wreaked.

READ MORE: How the Tories became unlikely working class heroes, by Stuart Waiton

This is smart politics. They would be as foolish indefinitely to rule out any repeat referendum as the SNP would be to rush into it. Politicians who say there cannot be another shot at independence for half a century are as likely to be punished by the voters as politicians who say it must all happen by the end of the autumn. What Scots want, as focus group after focus group has shown, is the prospect of a second referendum on the horizon – but no closer than that, thank you very much. Even the most enthusiastic Yes voters understand that we have to recover from Covid first.

But, even if now is not the time, it does not follow that all the UK Government should do is to sit back and hope that the clock does not tick too fast.

There are those who counsel that unionists should just stop talking about it. Let the SNP talk about it if they want to – it's their project, after all. We unionists, on the other hand, should get on with fixing the backlog in the NHS, with addressing the year of lost schooling, and with the rising tide of unemployment that, one fears, has been delayed rather than reversed by the Treasury’s highly successful furlough scheme.

I hear the force of that argument, but I take a different view. I think governments can do more than one thing at a time. Our focus should be on the recovery but, at the same time, we do need to start having a more serious conversation about independence than we have had until now. Again, this is what focus groups will tell you.

HeraldScotland: WestminsterWestminster

A lot of Scots are indy-curious. It’s an interesting and potentially attractive idea, but they want to know much more about it. Their instinct tells them that it will come with costs – and their experience of Brexit tells them their instinct is right. Leaving the United Kingdom (like leaving the European Union) may or may not be worth it, they think, but we need to know more before we can decide.

Indeed, we need to know more before we can be fairly asked to decide.

It is true that the UK’s union of four home nations is held together by consent. If one part of the UK wishes to withdraw, it has been our constitutional understanding that the other parts will not stand in the way. We are not Spain, held together by force of law. But the consent that holds us together needs to be informed consent. And we know that there are certain key, critical issues that will have to be addressed before we can really understand what we are being asked by the question “should Scotland be an independent country?”

Top of the list, now as ever, is currency. What would be the currency of an independent Scotland, and how would it work? An old question, but one to which we still don’t know the answer.

Every bit as pressing is EU accession. We know what the process would be – that is set out in the EU treaties. But what would the price be? How would an independent Scotland reshape its economy such that it complied with the Maastricht convergence criteria? There is no question that Scotland could transition to become a Member State – of course we could. But, equally, there is no question that it would be a mighty difficult and expensive process. All this needs to be set out and explained, not after any repeat referendum on independence, but before.

And then there is the border – not just the land border with England but the sea border with Northern Ireland. With Scotland in the EU and the (rest of the) UK out, what consequences for trade, for freedom of movement, for the unhindered supply of services that we all take completely for granted? Brexit may have made the case for independence stronger, to some minds at least, but it has also made the reality of independence far more complex.

READ MORE: 'Independence must be about changing lives...not flags. So let's hear the vision'

Now is the time for these questions to come to the fore. The UK Government should start asking them. Ministers should perhaps even commission some trusted independent experts to think about answering them – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, for example? Select committees could open inquiries into these matters, perhaps even joint committees of MPs and MSPs combined? You know, we could even have a citizens’ assembly on these topics.

It matters less what the process is. It matters more that, if Scots are to be asked the independence question again, whether during the course of this parliamentary session or not, we have answers we can trust on the core issues that will be facing us. We need a conversation, not about the aspiration of independence, but about its reality.

Adam Tomkins is a Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow. He was a Conservative MSP from 2016-21 but did not seek re-election.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.