Blair Jenkins, chief of the Yes Scotland campaign during the 2014 independence referendum, is writing exclusively for The Herald's Voices Live section.

Whatever their attitude towards independence and whatever they might say publicly, everyone knows another Scottish independence referendum is coming.

Scotland can’t stay in suspended animation and the democratic mandate for a new vote is unassailable.

For the anti-independence parties, refusing to accept the result of a fair and free election this year is not politically sustainable. Fear of losing is no excuse for obstructing democracy. In essence, people know that we have a choice to make.

Scotland has changed from the country that debated the merits of independence in 2014. Study after study demonstrates that the constitutional question now dominates Scottish politics and is the deciding issue in determining how people cast their party votes.

We know that it will be a much shorter campaign this time (we won’t need two years), we know that the Yes side is starting from a much stronger position in opinion polls (about 50%) and we know that Brexit provides the kind of compelling illustration of the need for independence that was perhaps not available in 2014.

The force-feeding of Brexit to the Scottish electorate has been the clearest possible example of the different directions of travel in England and Scotland. The “guarantee” of EU membership was the top argument used against independence by the Better Together campaign in the 2014 referendum.

I agree with those commentators who say that Brexit represents something of a tipping point for unionism and has changed the nature and tone of the message coming out of Westminster. There is a new and less tolerant form of British nationalism that takes a monolithic view of what it means to be part of the UK. This is particularly grating for Scottish ears at a point when the UK has never looked more unstable and unpredictable and those delivering the message have never sounded more privileged and entitled.

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Our experience of the Covid pandemic has focused attention on the need for a more caring society – and people believe that is more likely in an independent Scotland.

The new debate isn’t really underway yet. The full case for independence is missing at the moment because the Scottish government has rightly been focused on getting through the pandemic and paving the way for recovery.

The bad news for opponents of independence is that any divisions on the Yes side will largely and quickly heal once a date is set. A referendum gives a movement a deadline and a focus for its activities. The decision on timing is quite rightly one for the First Minister to make after the pandemic. Nicola Sturgeon will have more and better information on which to base her choice of date than any of the rest of us.

Once the campaign begins, on the Yes side it will once again be community-based, face-to-face and inclusive. The outcome will not be decided in parliaments nor in the newspapers nor in the television studios. It will be decided in many thousands of conversations around the country.

The choice will be between independence and the UK as it is currently constructed. As Professor Ciaran Martin has pointed out, devolution is at or near its limits. There is no third option to be considered. Federalism would require a referendum in the rest of the UK, but there’s a vanishingly small chance of that happening and no chance at all of a positive result.

So do we stay in a Tory-dominated UK? That’s a particularly powerful question for the 20% or so of the population in Scotland who usually or occasionally vote Labour. The chances of a Labour victory in the next General Election are already largely discounted. We get Conservative governments in the UK about 70% of the time since I started voting, although Scotland never votes Conservative. Tony Blair is the only Labour leader born in the last 100 years who was able to win a UK election.

The most successful countries in the world are small independent European nations of a similar size to ours – countries like Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. They top the UN league table for human development with the best outcomes in prosperity, wellbeing and life expectancy. Scottish Labour voters are much more likely to get this kind of society in an independent Scotland. And those voters are the key to deciding the outcome of the new referendum.

I know a lot of people in the rest of the UK would prefer it if Scotland didn’t become independent. But most of them are also fair-minded and respect democracy. I’m sure people in England and elsewhere will support the principle that voters in Scotland have spoken and now have the right to choose. It’s not just that a referendum is the right thing to happen in Scotland. If the UK is a genuine democracy, it is the only thing that can happen.