ANYONE surprised by the Supreme Court ruling against another independence referendum must have been asleep most of the year. It was always going to be thus.

The whole rigmarole was a handy deflection for Nicola Sturgeon and her Government, designed solely to keep the base geed up. But a party of government cannot think solely about its base. Was her failed gamble worth it? Ms Sturgeon needs to ask herself how the many non-hardline nationalists who vote SNP feel about an exercise which everyone knew was doomed, and which, crucially, gave the appearance of distracting the Scottish Government from running the country at a time of national crisis.

If Ms Sturgeon now pursues her plan of turning the next General Election into a de facto referendum then she risks compounding this appearance of placing independence above good governance. There are many progressive voters out there, still alienated from Labour, who loaned their vote to the SNP. Some may be undecided, others moderate Yes supporters.

It’s unlikely either will be inclined to wager their entire democratic right on a vote that’s solely about the constitution, rather than the bread and butter issues families care about: the cost of living, the NHS, policing, and schools. Ms Sturgeon may think she can answer every question on the hustings with "independence is the solution", but she’s wrong.

The SNP Government is weak when it comes to these domestic issues. To allow yourself to be portrayed as ignoring the NHS, policing or education is a gamble that would make seasoned Mississippi card-sharps hold their breath. The entire Sturgeon strategy on independence has been a mess from the get-go and now risks completely unravelling.

There’s a fundamental flaw at the heart of the Yes movement and its SNP leadership: it’s intensely solipsistic, it talks only to itself, it looks inward not outward. It waves flags and tells itself how great it is, but it seldom tries to convince the crucial middle ground that it can speak for them. Coupled with this fatal flaw, there’s a desperately thin skin. Any critique, even from friendly voices, is a deadly attack. The base screams, the party deflects, the wagons circle.

These two qualities – talking only to one’s group, and hostility to any criticism – present a powerful symbol of doors being bolted and backs being turned. Any movement which wishes to win a national referendum needs to be open and welcoming. An aura of friendly evangelising should be the tactic. Instead, the Yes movement often feels like a tight-knit cult: if you don’t immediately buy into every tenet of the religion, you’re a heretic. If the spirit of a movement is close-mouthed rejection, rather than open-armed friendship, then it’s doomed to failure.

So not for the first time does Norman Mailer’s stinging summation of America’s superiority complex seem fitting to repeat with the SNP and Yes movement in mind. Mailer described the fragility and hysteria of an all-powerful America as equivalent to mythical Adonis sniffing his own armpits every few minutes to reassure himself that he’s still the most gorgeous man alive. Adonis was so riddled with doubt, he needed to self-convince that even his worst failing – his rank body odour – rendered him irresistible.

None of this is to defend Westminster’s refusal to grant another referendum. There’s a Yes majority at Holyrood. Democracy demands another vote be held. To do otherwise, doesn’t just underscore the sense of muscular unionism squeezing Scotland so close the nation suffocates, but it proves the claim that the Union is indeed a prison. The gates are barred. This is morally wrong.

When it comes to the treatment of Scotland, there can be no defence of Westminster’s overbearing bullying and gaslighting – either in the form of Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour or Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives. Both are content to undermine democracy and put England first.

So what do the SNP and the Yes movement do to break out of prison? The two issues raised above seem to provide an answer. First, there’s the issue of a movement which seems thin-skinned and talks only to itself, and a party in government which really doesn’t cut even the weakest of mustards. Secondly, there’s the issue of Westminster’s anti-democratic refusal of another referendum. Each problem resolves the other.

If the SNP found – somehow – the ability to govern well, then support for independence would rise. When, for example, Scotland’s NHS fails so badly that health service executives discuss a two-tier healthcare system, it’s hardly an advertisement for the SNP building a new nation. Show the people what Scotland can do with the powers it already has: that has to be the surest path to increased support for independence.

The only true route to another referendum is building a majority for independence that’s reflected in opinion poll after opinion poll – not the absurd presumption of turning the next election into a de facto Indyref2. A full year of 60%+ for Yes in opinion polls couldn’t be ignored at Westminster. It’s one thing to say no to Nicola Sturgeon, quite another to say no to a consistent majority of Scotland.

Good governance, though, is only half the battle. The Yes movement needs reimagined. Quit the navel-gazing, the sneering, anger and defensiveness. Take criticism on the chin. Open up. Bring people in with a smile, don’t push them away with a growl.

The big problem, however, is that neither of those two changes will take place. The SNP just doesn’t have the talent to run Scotland well. It’s essentially a party that’s about one thing: independence, not government. There’s a sense of almost Athenian tragedy about that: in order to get independence it must govern well, but its focus on independence means it can’t govern well.

Nor will the Yes movement change. Try as many good folk who believe in independence may, the Yes movement is dominated by the wrong sort of people. Fundamentally, it’s a movement of angry culture warriors, not charming, charismatic diplomats who can win others around to their way of thinking.

So, it’s not a case of the Supreme Court holding back independence, or even, necessarily, the intransigent politicians of Westminster; it’s a case of the SNP and the Yes movement holding back independence. Irony is a cruel mistress.

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