The case for Scottish independence has never been more compelling

We are living in truly extraordinary times.

Never did I think we would reach the stage where a UK Government of any party would openly talk of flouting the law in the way the current regime is doing.

And never did I imagine that any Westminster administration would do something as reckless and irresponsible as willingly driving the UK over the cliff edge of a catastrophic No-deal Brexit.

But, unbelievable as it may seem, that is the hard reality of what faces us. We are now less than three weeks away from the Halloween horror show that a 31st October Brexit would entail.

The fact that we are even having to seriously discuss issues like food shortages and lack of key medical supplies almost beggars belief. Only this week we heard Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, say that a No-deal Brexit could cause unnecessary deaths.

This is all the more hard to take as back in 2014 during the independence referendum the No campaign told people in Scotland that if they voted No we would stay in the EU.

They said that the UK was an equal partnership and that Scotland would be leading it.

Now, our vote to Remain is ignored and a cabal of Brexit extremists are driving us towards the most harmful form of Brexit possible.

And in the process they’re driving a coach and horses through the idea of Scotland as an equal partner in the Union.

The talks between Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar on Thursday suggest there may still be the makings of a proposed Brexit deal.

But with all the focus on avoiding no deal, in the background the UK Government has been, by stealth, drawing up plans to move further away from the EU, its social protections and the huge European Single Market.

Even if an exit deal is agreed there are many years ahead of wrangling with Brussels over the UK’s future relationship. Boris Johnson has been clear he wants to abandon previous commitments to maintain the same European environmental standards and workers’ rights.

He wants to come out of the Single Market and the EU Customs Union which gives Scotland access to around 40 trade deals with countries around the world.

With the people of Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain, the SNP can’t back a deal that would leave us vulnerable to an extreme hard Brexit, with all the damage to jobs, the NHS and living standards that would involve.

There has, rightly, been a lot of talk about the need for a consent mechanism for Northern Ireland to be included in any new deal. We support the Good Friday Agreement in its entirety and recognise the unique circumstances there.

But with England and Wales voting to Leave, Scotland could then be the only nation in the UK not to get what it voted for.

It cannot be right if Scotland alone is the only part of the UK to be denied consent, to have its votes ignored, to be treated unfairly and denied a choice over its future.

That would simply strengthen the already overwhelming case for giving the people of Scotland the choice of a better future with independence – and that is a choice the SNP is determined to offer.

I will say more about that when I speak at our annual conference in Aberdeen this week.

We go into our conference in great shape. We are the party with momentum. Coming off the back of our best ever European election result, and with opinion polls showing a clear shift in support for independence and for holding an independence referendum.

We take nothing for granted, but polls also show we have significant and growing leads for the SNP at Holyrood and Westminster.

However, a key part of political leadership is knowing when not to make a miscalculation that those in opposing parties would like you to make.

That is why I will not fall into the trap that our unionist opponents want me to, by deviating from our current path of ensuring the next independence referendum is legal and constitutional.

We don’t need to be talking about Plan B when we have a perfectly good Plan A – especially when any Plan B is exactly the route many opponents of independents would like us to go down.

To be clear, if we were to try to hold a referendum that wasn’t recognised as legal and legitimate – or to claim a mandate for independence without having demonstrated majority support for it – it would not carry the legal, political and diplomatic weight that is needed. It simply wouldn’t be accepted by the international community, including our EU friends and partners.

Our opponents want to push us to talk about Plan B, because they know Plan A is the right one to deliver independence.

And the only reason they are so desperate to block a referendum is because they know they are likely to lose it.

I understand the frustrations felt by some within the SNP and the wider independence movement – I am impatient myself for independence because the need has never been so great and the case has never been more compelling.

Ultimately, democracy must prevail and mandates delivered by the people in elections must be respected. As the Labour Welsh Government said in a significant document published this week, for Westminster to try and stand indefinitely in the way of independence for Scotland or Wales would be “both undemocratic and inconsistent with the idea of a Union based on shared values and interests.”

Scotland doesn’t want to be taken out of the EU – the country has rejected Brexit and Brexit parties at every opportunity.

There is no mandate for it – but there is a mandate for a referendum on independence.

And I am determined to give the people of Scotland that choice.