AN SNP chum confessed to me last week that he wondered whether they should just go home and leave the Tories to it, on the basis that they couldn’t damage the Union any more than the Tories are doing themselves.

It was a throwaway comment, of course, but nonetheless wickedly accurate.

Imagine, for a second, you are one of those in the 20-or-so per cent of the population who might be persuaded either way in the event of a second independence referendum.

You are already statistically unlikely to think much of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The perception that his government’s behaviour during Covid has been the very definition of ‘one rule for them and another for the rest of us’ has reduced further your regard for him, and made you question whether the problem is wider than Mr Johnson. The Tories in general. Westminster in general. The call, by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, for Mr Johnson to resign validates your concern.

Then enter Jacob Rees-Mogg. In dismissing Mr Ross as a ‘lightweight’ – the ultimate insult in politics – he was personally offensive. But the insult was laced with meaning. It was, accidentally or otherwise, a deep reveal about the DNA of the Conservative party right across the country. It is a party which is instinctively opposed to the decentralisation of power, whether that be within its own party structures, or within the Union it claims to hold so dear.

Mr Rees-Mogg doesn’t regard Mr Ross as a lightweight because he knows him and has assessed his political abilities; he regards him as a lightweight because he is a leader in a devolved Parliament. In Mr Rees Mogg’s world, remoteness from Westminster is inversely proportional to relevance. The Scottish Tories are irrelevant. The Scottish Parliament is irrelevant. Scotland is irrelevant.

Mr Rees-Mogg is not a lone wolf. They were his words, but they echoed the instincts of the Tory heartlands throughout the south of England.

All this from the party which has spent the last five elections, at Scottish and UK level, running the same single-issue campaign claiming to be the true defenders of the Union by opposing a second independence referendum under any circumstances. They have made a decent success of it, too, by working with the SNP to create a polarising narrative which benefits both parties. You either believe in independence, or you believe in the status quo. There is no space between.

But there is a space between. It’s the space occupied not only by that 20 per cent, who will ultimately decide on whether the UK remains together or breaks apart, but by the bulk of the 40-or-so per cent who are unwavering No voters.

They do not share Tory DNA. They don’t accept devolution through gritted teeth – they embrace it because they want decisions to be made as closely to them as possible. They don’t instinctively look to Westminster for guidance, or for authority, or for leadership – they instinctively look to Holyrood. They may not think much of the Scottish Government or Scottish Parliament’s performance, but they still want Edinburgh, not London, to call most of the shots.

They may not know exactly what devolved structure they want. But they know what they don’t want. They don’t want independence from the UK. But they also don’t want London to retain as much control as it does today.

Reader, if you are one of those people, you will soon be voting for the Labour Party.

The Labour party’s recovery from the odious reign of Jeremy Corbyn may still have some way to run; people will forgive, but they will take their time to forget. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether Sir Keir Starmer will be another Neil Kinnock, making the party acceptable again and preparing it for government, or another Tony Blair, taking it into government.

However, on the future of the UK, Sir Keir and his Scottish counterpart, Anas Sarwar, have already made a giant leap forward. However ill-defined it may be, however much work they have to do to make the case for it, the ‘something in the middle’ option is highly likely to form the future of the UK settlement.

Sir Keir and Mr Sarwar, not for the first time amongst Labour leaders, are placing themselves ahead of public opinion rather than reacting to it. They are leading, in contrast to the Tories, who for decades have been forced to follow, kicking and screaming.

At some point, Labour will put flesh on the bones of its proposal for home rule (which is now becoming the more popular alternative label to devo max, or the older and narrower fiscal autonomy).

Having former Prime Minister Gordon Brown lead this report has some pitfalls, but nonetheless we can expect a vision of the UK looking more like countries such as Canada or Australia, with more financial devolution both to devolved parliaments and to local authorities, and in England to mayoralties, a reform of the House of Lords and perhaps also the Commons, and some sort of codification of the new arrangements.

The publication of Labour’s plan, in itself, is far from enough. As long as indyref2 is in the future rather than the past, the debate will still tend towards the poles.

Labour in Scotland would need a game-changer, probably in the form of Sir Keir becoming Prime Minister, which would force home rule onto the agenda, either because it was a manifesto commitment which would then simply be enacted, or because it would be included in a three-option referendum (in which I have no doubt it would prevail).

In the absence of that, if the Tories remain in government at UK level, Labour and home rule will have to sit tight, frustrated for sure, but knowing their time will come.

The Tories, of course, could read the market more astutely and move in this direction themselves. However, with past performance being the best indicator of future performance, we know the chance of that is vanishingly small. It’s all in the DNA.

If we define Unionism as supporting the ideas which will bind the Union together, it is obvious which is the true party of the Union.

It’s Labour, stupid.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters