Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Grope over fear. Part 3.

I've decided there is to be a part 3.

There has been a huge amount of nonsense talked in the last ten days but not the least of it has been that their might be immediate further legal proceedings.

Firstly, by the complainers. There have been a small number of cases in Scotland where victims of sexual assault, when the perpetrator has been found not guilty or not proven in the criminal courts, have successfully raised civil proceedings for damages. That won't be happening here for there is a three year time bar on such proceedings and, although that can be waived at the discretion of a court, none of the case law would support such a discretion being exercised here.

Secondly, by Mr Salmond for "malicious prosecution." That would certainly be a competent process but the idea that it would be a wise idea to voluntarily invite a court to opine on his guilt or innocence on the basis of the civil standard of proof "on the balance of probabilities"? Or even on the Crown's own set standard of "reasonable prospect of conviction". Even to posit it demonstrates its patent inadvisability.

Then there is the suggestion Mr Salmond might write a book exposing the "conspiracy" against him. That won't happen either. Because nobody would publish such a book. It is not possible to identify the complainers but it is in the public domain that most of them are women who hold prominent public positions in Scotland and thus people with significant reputations to defend, To state that they engaged in a criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice would be a hugely defamatory one. If but one of them, on the publication of Mr Salmond's proposed opus, waived their anonymity and gave him 24 hours to retract his allegations then, on his failure to do so, the damages would be astronomical. Salmond himself, such is his hubris, might take that risk but no reputable publisher ever would.

To be honest, anyway, I have considerable doubt whether the anonymity will hold, not because some cybernat or other won't breach it, that will almost certainly happen but be dealt with the criminal justice system appropriately. If it weren't for the current civil emergency I suspect a few collars would already have been felt. Who knows, perhaps they have been and we are just not allowed to know about it.

No, rather, I think the anonymity won't hold because one or more of the women themselves will decide to waive it. These women are people of integrity and they may ultimately decide that the only way for the public to know who is and is not lying here is for the public to know who they are and then form their own view based on that knowledge.

I can't in any event see "jig saw" identification, buttressed with the full might of the criminal law, surviving the inevitable Holyrood investigation. They may also, regrettably, have to work that out for themselves.

Then we have the consequence ultimately for the SNP if Salmond tries to rejoin. I cannot model a circumstance in which that would be allowed to happen without a huge electoral price being paid and indeed a huge loss of membership following. Or preceding, dependent on the exact sequence of events. Which the current leadership would understand. 

One of the most annoying features of Scottish politics in the last ten years has been the ability of the SNP to portray themselves as morally superior to other Parties. It is annoying but it has to be acknowledged. The minute even contemplating letting sex pest Salmond back in is mooted that bubble would be burst. And burst bubbles can't be re-inflated. Anyway, if a lot of white late middle aged men leave "in disgust" that might suit them. At least until they work out that this is most of their activist base. Better still that however than admitting to those young idealists drawn to the "Yes Movement" that, when these guys were dancing with them in George Square, they weren't participating in a mutual "civic, joyous" moment. They were just looking at their arse. And were now officially excused to do so. Or indeed worse.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Grope over fear (part 2)

Yesterday, when I wrote part 1 of this, it was my intention in Part 2 to go through the evidence of the Salmond trial in some detail, to demonstrate exactly what the defence case put was and to allow readers themselves to form a view of his guilt or innocence, not on the criminal test of "beyond a reasonable doubt" but the civil test of "balance of probability". I would also have invited you to form a view of the moral character of Mr Salmond in relation to the details of his conduct that he did admit and indeed moral character of those who had covered this up "for the cause".Others however have this morning done that for me in some excellent press coverage. The person who I think has achieved it best is Maurice Smith in the Scottish Review and I would commend his work to you here.

I want instead therefor to make only a point that I have not seen considered elsewhere.

HMA v Salmond had, for months, been scheduled to start on 9th March and had, for months, been reported as being expected to last "three to four weeks." In fact it lasted just over two.

The reason for that shortened timescale was one word: Coronavirus.

Personally, I was a little surprised the trial started at all. By 9th March it was clear a storm was coming. By coincidence, I myself was at the High Court in Edinburgh for a criminal appeal on 12th March and I had never seen the Court, or indeed the city centre as a whole, so quiet on a week day.

By 17th March, day seven of the trial, it was announced that no new jury trials were to start in Scotland, even those scheduled only for a couple of days. Yet existing jury trials were to continue.

The verdict came in on 23rd March. On 24th March the Courts were effectively closed. I strongly suspect the Salmond case was the very last jury verdict delivered in Scotland before the country went in to lockdown.

Once a long jury trial starts the availability throughout of certain key players is essential.The judge, the lawyers, the witnesses and (by law) a minimum of twelve members of the jury. If something happens which prevents that, at least for more than a couple of days, then the trial has to be deserted "pro loco et tempore" and started again. Not from the point where it was abandoned, but from the very beginning. That involves any witnesses who have already given evidence having to do so again, a particularly difficult thing to require of them in a sex offence case.

This was nonetheless an ever likelier possibility as the trial proceeded, compounded latterly by the possibility that if anybody else who had been present in court showed Coronavirus symptoms, then all present would have needed to self isolate.

This undoubtedly impacted on the conduct of he case.

Almost invariably the Crown case forms the bulk of the evidence so when that "three to four week" estimate was put out it might have been reasonably though they'd take up at least two weeks of that. In fact they took less than six days.

Now, once they had started, the Crown faced a moral dilemma. Did they adduce every single piece of evidence in as much detail as possible, running the risk of the trial collapsing, or did they just make sure they, as quickly as possible,  had a sufficiency of evidence on each charge. It is clear they opted for the latter route. And, it should be noticed, they succeeded in that latter task. There was no suggestion by the defence at the close of the Crown case that, excepting the one charge the Crown withdrew owing to the unavailability of a witness, Mr Salmond had "no case to answer", a legal process whereby the judge can direct a finding of not guilty on basis of the evidence being insufficient in law.

But obviously some things went by the way in the process. For example, we heard nothing, to the best of my knowledge, as to the contents of Mr Salmond's Police interview. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that, on behalf of the Crown, we heard from no Police Officers at all.

I say all of that just by way of observation.

As I also say this.

On the morning of the verdict, two jurors were discharged for reasons known to the judge but not disclosed to the jury. Nonetheless, it would be reasonable to say, given external events, that this would have been a worrying and distracting development for the remaining jurors. I also note in passing that, given that eight votes were still required for a guilty verdict, this raised the barrier for the Crown from a simple majority to something approaching a two thirds one.

But that second point is not my main one. When a jury is routinely "sent out" to consider a verdict, they are told by the judge to "take as long as you like" Given these external events however that was surely counter-intuitive on this occasion? Had the jury not reached a verdict on the Monday, as far as they knew at the time, they'd have had to make a fresh journey into the largely deserted city centre the following day to spend that day in an enclosed space alongside twelve other people any one of whom might be carrying a deadly infectious disease.

Now, nobody knows, at least officially, what ever goes on in jury rooms but it is accepted practice that it is never a good idea to put a jury under pressure to reach a verdict. But pressure was inevitable here. And there is also lawyers folklore here that I'm sure would be corroborated by many colleagues. One of the reasons that it is accepted practice not to pressure a jury for a verdict is that there is a strong belief it makes them more likely to acquit. For the very reason that they, if they have not had enough time to consider all the evidence, then must be mindful of their obligation only to convict if satisfied "beyond a reasonable doubt",

That's all. There might be a part 3. I'm still thinking about it.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Grope over fear (Part 1)

I want to start with a personal anecdote.

Twenty or more years ago I represented a man charged before a sheriff and jury with multiple counts of indecently exposing himself to children. His MO was in each case that he jumped out from a concealed spot to primary school aged girls. He then ran off and was never caught at the scene.  Nonetheless, my guy had a record for similar and was local to these events, so the cops set up what is known as an emulator board of photographs of him and others and showed this to some of the victims. Their identification was sufficient for them to get a warrant requiring my client to stand in an identification parade where six out of nine witnesses picked him out. That warrant also allowed them to search his home. A point to which I will return.

Anyway, my guy protested his innocence so the case went to trial.

Now, I say with due modesty, I was a pretty experienced criminal defence lawyer at the time. I'd done at least a dozen jury trials with varying degrees of success but I certainly knew what I was doing.

For the procurator fiscal prosecuting, this proved to be her first ever jury trial.

Obviously, identification was key, and the Crown started with what proved a significant error.

The Crown can lead their witnesses in whatever order they like. In this case they chose simply chronologically. The problem was that the witnesses to the first incident were precisely the three who had not identified at the parade. There were entirely innocent reasons for this. They were children and they had had to wait longest for their chance to make their ID but my opponent thought she could rescue this. So she took her first witness, a wee girl of ten or so, through her recollection of the incident and then ended by asking if she saw the man who had exposed himself "in court today". With little hesitation she pointed out my client in the dock.

Now you are warned as a defence agent you should never ask a question to which you don't already know the answer but to a limited degree I broke that rule here. Although I was pretty sure of the answer.

The system has tried over the years to make it less of an ordeal for children to give evidence,. Things would be much better in such a case today with, at the very least, the use of a video link. But then, some bright spark had decided it would help if they were given a tour of the court in advance. As these kids had been. By the very Procurator Fiscal now prosecuting.

So I started by sympathising with the wee lassie over what had happened to her. It was never the position of the defence but that she had tried to tell anything but the truth about her ordeal. But, could I just ask her this?

Was this her first time in this courtroom? No

When had she been here before? Last week.

Was that just for a wee tour? Yes

And who had conducted that tour? Here she referred to the PF by her first name and smiled at her.

And did you tell you who'd be sitting on the other side from her? Yes, the defence lawyer. At this I gave her a smile of acknowledgement of the right answer.

And what about here (pointing to the bench)? The Sheriff.

And here? The jury

And finally here? "The man who did it".

I paused to make sure the jury got that point. They had.

From now on I will accelerate for the sake of brevity. It was lot more gentle in practice.

Can I just ask you about something else? Do you remember going to the Police station for an identification parade? It is a matter of agreement that this man was in that parade, not on his own as he is today but alongside nine others.  Did you pick him out then? So why did you pick him out today?

"Because [the PF] told me it was him".

Now,for the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting even that had happened. My opponent might have been inexperienced but that didn't mean that she had subjourned to perjury. Just that, with the best of (disastrous) intention, the Crown, in an attempt to be witness friendly, had given the girl the impression that this was what they wished her to say.

They never recovered. They ploughed on with the other two witnesses to charge one, who made no identification at all and, by the time they had got on to their other six witnesses, who had identified in perfectly controlled identity parade conditions, the jury had already concluded that their case was trash. My own  "are you absolutely sure" questions to them being entirely rebutted by the witnesses themselves, largely passing the jury by.

But before I came to the denouement, I come back to the search warrant. Even the grimmest, sleaziest, of cases have an element of dark humour. In this case it was a Rangers beeny hat.

On the occasion of every crime, whatever else he was (not) wearing, the perpetrator was wearing a Rangers beeny hat. Each and every witness spoke to that.

When the Police executed the search warrant, what did they find in my client's bedroom? Not one but several Rangers beeny hats. All lodged as Crown productions, some even individually identified by the witnesses.

But the fiscal didn't make the link! All the witnesses spoke to the hat but no witness linked the hat to my client. For reasons to this day unknown, evidence of the search was not introduced. So, as far as the jury was concerned, my client had never owned a single hat of any sort. Indeed he might have been a lifelong Celtic man. Hatless or otherwise.

We were found not proven by majority on every charge.

Now three afterthoughts.Two from then and one from today.

Then, first, the client's immediate reaction. Which was thanks with the expressed regret I hadn't been his lawyer "the first time". I would certainly be if he was ever prosecuted again. It is small consolation that, presumably, he never was.

Secondly, then, the client's parents, who had been in \Court throughout and who seemed the only people present sincerely convinced of his absolute innocence. How they rationalised the Rangers beeny hat is a matter for them. They gave me a bottle of whisky. Without telling them, I gave it to charity.

Thirdly, today. Being found not guilty (or not proven) proves nothing. Except that the Crown has failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt on the day.Why I think they failed on a different day, involving much better lawyers, and, crucially,  much fewer jurors, than feature here, will be the subject of part 2.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Corona virus and me

It's a weird, weird time and, in truth, I have no special insights.

I thought however I'd just record how Coronavirus is affecting me because I suspect pretty much everybody else would have a similar story.

First of all, my work. My firm has effectively stopped receiving new business and much of our existing business has stopped progressing. Understandably, to the clients, even things that might have been a priority: child contact disputes; personal injury claims close to settlement; "closing" commercial property deals don't seem nearly as important. In the latter case, anyway, why would any potential buyer proceed given the current uncertainty?

We've stopped seeing existing clients face to face, instead dealing with them over the phone and sending out documents for signature rather than getting people in for that purpose. That works but only up to a point. Sometimes there is a benefit in seeing the client's general demeanour and reaction to the matter under discussion. You can't do that over the phone.

But soon there will be no business at all for our domestic conveyancing team. Who'd buy or attempt to sell a house in this circumstance? And the courts will, I suspect, shortly be dealing with only absolutely emergency business, so they'll not be much for me to do either. We had an interest in a High Court trial on Monday with a significant consequence for another matter. The trial won't be happening since no new jury trials are to be started.

Now, in the end we are lucky. This business won't fold but we'll undoubtedly need bank support and, one day, that will have to be repaid. God knows how I'd be feeling if I ran a restaurant  or a hotel or even a corner shop.

For me personally, I was planning to semi retire at the end of April but I've already cancelled that plan as much of the capital value of a business like this is in the "work in progress" (work done but not yet feed). At the end of April that is likely to be wholly untypical.

Anyway, what would I have been retiring for? My plan was for Andi, my life partner, and I to go to Italy for the whole of June, rent a house with a spare bedroom and invite friends or family to join us for a few days at a time. No chance that's going to happen now, or even this year. Andi had arranged a month's unpaid leave from her work. She's asked if she needs to take it.

And that holiday was amongst other things to celebrate her finishing her OU degree. But for that she needs to sit an exam. What's the chances of that going ahead?

And then finally, she had also just got a new (additional) job as an interpreter. But if there are no courts or routine medical procedures it's unlikely there's going to be any work in that line.

All of  this however is as nothing compared to my principal concern. You see, I've still got a wife. After fifteen years of remorseless progression, she is now in the very late stages of Alzheimer's disease and exceptionally frail. She is cared for at home but now does little more than sleep and eat, assisted by a battery of brilliant carers. What however if they get ill? The idea that this is an unskilled job is grossly insulting to those who do it. I certainly couldn't do it adequately.

But worse still, what if Maureen herself gets it? I have, long before the current crisis, decided she is not going back into hospital. She knows enough to know she is not at home and in the company of strangers. The last time she went in, three years past, she became increasingly distressed and I then had to fight a ludicrous battle with the hospital administration to get her out, despite them conceding she did not need treatment. In any event, if any rationing of access to hospital care arises, I am realistic enough to know where she would emerge from any triage.

So all I can do is wait, and hope. With a foreboding expectation.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

What's the alternative?

One of the oldest sayings in politics is that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them. Problem is that it is not true.

Sure, the starting point for there to be a change of administration at an election is that people must have lost faith in the existing administration but they also need to be persuaded that the alternative would be better.

And the current problem in Scottish politics is the failure for any Party to satisfy the second part of that test.

All three opposition Parties at Holyrood are, excepting a commitment to the union, which is, in truth, nothing to do with Holyrood, currently effectively policy free zones.

It's easy to berate the deplorable management of our public services under the SNP. Health, transport, education, justice. It would be difficult to choose which is the greatest shambles. And that's before you even consider major infrastructure projects. Bridges you can't cross. Ferries that can't sail. Hospitals you can't use.

But, and its a big but, in what way would a different administration do things........differently?

Labour would apparently spend more on everything. Except we are entirely silent as to where the money would come from. It certainly wouldn't come from restraining public sector wages. Indeed they are amongst that self same everything. Nor would it come from reviewing the big ticket items that so distort existing Scottish public spending; free personal care and free university tuition. Indeed they are also areas where we'd spend more money.

This simply lacks any sense of reality. Even when suggested in co-ordination with a wealth tax. Since Holyrood doesn't have the legal competence to levy a wealth tax.

It's just not credible.

But, let's be frank, barring the unanticipated departure of Richard Leonard to spend more time on the picket line, there is little prospect of Labour being more than a bit player after the 2021 elections anyway.

Which leads me to the Tories.

I like Jackson Carlaw, who was always good company at any election count when we were both younger activists back in Renfrewshire during a previous century. He is arguably also the best leader of (any) opposition since 1999. He deservedly won the outright Tory leadership at a canter.

But the whole contest was a policy free zone. A vote for Jackson was a vote for experience and, whisper it, also a vote against the other woman who was a "right wing lunatic".

A vote for the Tories in 2021 certainly isn't a vote for more spending. Indeed one of the few things they undoubtedly would do is align Scottish taxes with the rest of the UK. Arguably that would not lose much revenue but it certainly wouldn't bring in any more.

So what else would they do? Abolish the Curriculum for Excellence, presumably. But replace it with what? I have no idea. "Reform" the NHS. But how? Do "something" about transport. Again I ask what? Increase policing and lock more people up. Except they have no plan to fund this any more than has Richard Leonard. It certainly however won't feature a wealth tax.

Part of the problem is their own failure, for fear of electoral consequence, to confront the big ticket items I refer to. Not least because their principal beneficiaries are among key Tory demographics: home owning pensioners and middle class parents, or at least their offspring.

But at least they'd be more competent! I hear you protest. Mmm. The SNP administration might hardly be a ministry of all the talents, indeed, given the extent it is filled with Nicola's cronies, not even of all the talents in the SNP,  but, with a handful of exceptions, do many of the Tories fill you with confidence they'd be much better?

But I'm going to end with a strange conclusion. The best alternative to the current SNP administration might be a future SNP administration.

The independence campaign is going nowhere. There is no prospect while public opinion remains broadly 50/50 that Westminster will concede another referendum. And there is not much the SNP can do about that.

What would however change things would be if public opinion became clearly and consistently in favour of independence. At some point the political imperative would force the moving of the legal goal posts.

Now, to date, the SNP have tried to keep their fragile "Yes" coalition together by doing nothing that might annoy anybody. The problem is that this is precisely what has led to the woeful underdelivery across the public sector. And people get that "lack of powers" only goes so far as an excuse. Suppose the terms of the debate were changed however?  If it became not "we are doing so badly because of lack of powers" but instead "Look how well we are doing, just think how much better we could do with more powers?"

Difficult to imagine? Except that was essentially the underlying message of Andrew Wilson's growth commission.

And anyway, what else are the SNP going to do if returned for another five years? They are certainly not going to have another referendum.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Waiting for Lisa

The nomination meeting for my CLP is taking place tonight at a location I can literally see from my office. It's at 7pm. It therefor makes no sense for me to go home for half an hour just to turn around and go back to where I started. Nonetheless that leaves me with an hour to kill and I thought I would pass it with a brief blog about why my own vote will be for Lisa Nandy*.

Firstly, it is because she got things right over Brexit. Labour should have voted for Mrs May's deal, particularly with the guarantees on employment rights and environmental protections she offered latterly. The failure to do so was always going to end in tears. There was never a majority in the last Commons for a second referendum nor would there ever have been. There was never a circumstance where a General Election before Brexit would have changed that. There was never a circumstance where Labour was going to win such an election.

Yet these three things were wilfully overlooked in Labour's pre December 12th strategy. The results were almost inevitable. A shift to the right among the Tories, a General Election at the moment of maximum disadvantage to my Party, a Tory landslide and....oh....a worse exit deal and the possibility, in time, of the hardest of Brexits to follow.

One person was at the heart of the devising of that strategy and that person was Keir Starmer. If the criticism of the Tories is that they have split the country to unite the Tory Party then what does that say for the Labour politicians who have facilitated that?

But I've also got a second reservation about Keir Starmer which is in no way his fault but nonetheless nothing he can do anything about.

The problem of Corbynism wasn't just its appalling politics and economics. It was it's appalling geography. The Leader, Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary all held literally adjacent seats. The Shadow Chancellor was just up the road and all of the leader's inner circle had been players in specifically London politics all of their lives. In many cases as also had been their parents.

Keir Starmer, to the public, will demonstrate no change from that. And that's a big problem. The northern towns who have turned away from Labour, just like the Scottish ones who had done so earlier, have a resentment of London. When the SNP talk of "Westminster", we too easily dismiss this as invariably just code for "the English". Sometimes it undoubtedly is but there is a legitimate argument against the vast accumulation of wealth, power and opportunity in one small part of the country which realises that "Westminster" is not England and that Scots antipathy to Westminster  is equally shared  across many of the English regions. Oddly, the person who seems at least to currently get that is none other than Boris Johnson. Whether he is sincere about doing something about it, only time will tell. But he is certainly talking a good game.

So Labour needs a visible change. Regrettably, Starmer is not it. That as I say is not his fault but it is a fact.

But the final reason I believe we need to do better than Starmer is a more positive one. I think Labour could win the next General Election. I don't think he does. His strategy is clearly to stabilize the ship and start then start pumping out the sewage that Corbyn has brought on board. His commitment to an independent complaints process is, to be fair, a move of genius in this regard. But do I think he believes he can take us safely to port in 2024? I doubt it.

As I say, I disagree. The very volatility that has led to us losing so many seats could, with an exceptional leader, be played to our advantage in that regard. But it needs an exceptional leader.

I heard Lisa Nandy speak in Glasgow on Monday. She was exceptional. Speaking largely without notes, she answered questions with a mixture of self deprecating humour and yet total command of her material when she spoke, on matters across the whole policy spectrum. And she was also wise enough, when asked about matters regarding which she knew little, to confess just that.

But above all she was relaxed and confident and full of ideas.

And she didn't have the decline of towns as a momentary leadership campaign hobby horse. She could point to a track history of work in this area. Sometimes even cross Party. That is precisely where Labour needs to come back and no candidate has a better grasp of what needs said and then, in Government, done.

She probably won't thank me for the comparison but I kept thinking she reminded me of someone else I had heard recently. Afterwards I realised it was Tony Blair.

*Obviously alongside Ian Murray and Jackie Baillie.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

New Year, New World.

Happy new year.

I wrote in my last blog about the extent that what happened on 12th December has completely changed the political agenda. For the first time since 2005-2010 we have a government with a clear majority and are only now remembering that Government's with clear majorities can do what they like.

Leave the EU? Done. Abolish the Fixed Term Parliaments Act? Done. Change the system of recruitment to the senior Civil Service? Done. Reform the remit of the Courts to intervene in matters of Government? Done.

But Scottish politics hasn't yet appreciated the biggest "Done" for us. Stop there being a second Independence Referendum? Done.

You see the Tory Manifesto was quite explicit on this. And let me remind you that they have just won election to the only Parliament that matters on this issue. Westminster. Because holding a referendum on independence or giving Holyrood the power to hold a referendum is a reserved matter under the 1998 Scotland Act. Simple as that. This is precisely why there was the "Edinburgh Agreement" giving temporary power to hold what turned out to be the September 2014 Referendum by means of a "section 30" order under that 1998 Act. A necessity the SNP conceded at the time

The standing assumption in Scotland is that if the SNP win an absolute majority at the 2021 Holyrood  Election (for all sorts of reasons there can't be a referendum this year even if the UK Government was willing)  on a clear commitment to holding a second vote then they would be allowed to have one. But I ask a simple question. Why are people making that assumption?

What could the SNP do if they weren't so allowed?

You see the powers of Holyrood are defined by statute and they do not include the unilateral power to hold a binding referendum on whether Scotland should leave the Union. That is the constitutional settlement approved by the 1997 referendum and enshrined, as I say, in the 1998 Act.

So, what happens if, hypothetically returned with 65 or more Holyrood seats in May 2021, whoever leads the SNP by then requests the power to hold another referendum and the British Government, with the support of the British Parliament, simply says no? The answer is nothing. Nothing happens.

For what options would the Scottish Government then have? None.

They could pass legislation to have a vote anyway but it would just be struck down in the Supreme Court. Any possible reading of Miller (No.1) in the Supreme Court tells you that. So it couldn't proceed by a legal route. I don't mean couldn't proceed legally, I mean couldn't proceed. For any attempt to instruct civil servants or local authorities to go ahead anyway would be met with prohibitory court orders which, if breached, would ultimately engage the criminal law and any illegal expenditure involved would leave its instigators open to personal surcharge.

So that's that.

They could try and organise a legal referendum about something short of a unilateral declaration of independence. If you know the history of this in detail, you will recollect that this was something the Nats themselves later conceded had been in their mind during the 2007 Parliament. I have considerable doubt about whether they'd get away with this legally but suppose they did? There has been a legal referendum on a direct proposition in 2014. Just over 2,000, 000 people voted no. Does anybody think more than that would vote yes in this "advisory" vote when the other side didn't engage and the UK Government said in advance they would ignore the outcome? So even suppose that the Nats did this and won 1,500,000- nil, so what?

They could try and organise a referendum without using the formal structures of Holyrood at all, which, as far as I can work out, is the strategy of the marchers, but......I'm falling about laughing now.

They could declare UDI. Only they couldn't for the simple practical reason that, in its immediate aftermath, they would have no practicable way of raising taxes and thus paying (devolved) public sector wages, including their own. They don't have the legal vires to do that but they don't even have the logistical capacity. That's why devolving certain benefits has proved so complex even with willing parties on both sides. And Westminster would be hardly likely to continue to hand over the block grant for that purpose in these circumstances. This would be more likely simply to lead, of necessity, to the suspension of Holyrood and the establishment of direct rule. That, as much as anything else, was why the unilateral declaration in Catalonia was such a farcical episode and had that precise outcome without the Cat Nats being able to do much about it.

They could, as a Party, engage in civil disobedience. Except that in Scotland they would only be inconveniencing themselves while in the rest of the country they would lack the capacity to achieve much. That's why this tactic has also quietly died out in Catalonia.

They could appeal to international public opinion. Good luck with that.

Finally, obviously, they could engage in domestic terrorism elsewhere in the UK but I doubt many even of the most dedicated of nationalists have the stomach for that and one suspects it would be completely counter-productive to their cause in Scotland if they did.

So, you see, there is really no downside to the UK Government saying no. The Tories would be unpopular with a fair bit of Scotland but the Tories are unpopular with a fair bit of Scotland now.

So maybe we should take Boris at his word. There is not going to be a second referendum for (at least) the promised "generation". That was actually decided on 12th December 2019 without anybody really noticing. As, regrettably, it looks like the Tories will now be in power for the best part of that generation. Majorities of 80 seldom fall to a single blow. Maybe, that will allow the current "outrage" of a, I accept a substantial, minority of Scottish public opinion to continue indefinitely. Or maybe, eventually, people will just realise that it is time to move on.