THESE are lean times for Scottish nationalists, in particular those who are supporters of the Scottish Nationalist Party. The party that looked like it might lead Scotland to  political independence has crashed. Nicola Sturgeon was the most admired politician in the UK then suddenly resigned, saying she had no more gas in the tank. Within weeks she and her husband had been arrested as part of an investigation into party finances. They were released without charge, but a dirty dark cloud descended over the party.  

The new leader Humza Yousaf is decent but dull, and predictably the party tumbled to a huge defeat by Labour in last week’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West by- election, and polls now show the Scottish Nationalist Party just two points above Labour. Admittedly, 48 per cent of Scots still say they would vote for independence, leaving 52 per cent not wanting to leave the UK. 

It's the 52 per cent that interest me. How do they see themselves in their relationship with England? Clearly it’s not one of equals, otherwise Nicola Sturgeon would not have had to ask Westminster for permission to hold a second independence referendum (which Westminster  turned down). Major taxation powers, defence, foreign policy – all of these remain in the hands of the Tories in London. And 52 per cent of Scots see that as fine and dandy.

St Paul said: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Judging by their preferences, a majority of Scots opt to stay in the childish state. What else would you call it if a huge number of Scots allow someone else to make the big decisions for them? That’s okay if you’re a child, but it’s in the nature of an adult to take charge and responsibility for their own decisions, rather than ask a Big Person to decide for you. 

This is the core problem at the heart of unionism, in Scotland, in Wales, in Ireland. Unionists continue as political children, looking to the Big People in Westminster to make the big decisions for them. 

Note, I’m not saying adults always make the right decisions.  Everyone makes mistakes, and if you install a dictator or a ruling group beyond your control, it’s possible better decisions will be made for you. But if you’re an adult, you make your own decisions  and trust in your own judgement. Because that’s what adults do.

Local unionists – the DUP, the UUP,  Uncle Jim Allister and all – have managed to talk themselves (as all unionists must) into the notion that they’re better in the United Kingdom than out of it. In other words, the Big People in Westminster know how to manage the Big Affairs which, left to ourselves, we’d only make a hames of. And yet if  Sir Jeffrey D,  Lord D and Jim A were told that from now on, where they lived, their jobs, their partner would be decided by other and wiser heads, they’d have a fit. So why demand control in your personal life and pass over control in your political life?

The British Empire lasted for as long as it did because it persuaded the natives, sometimes by promises, sometimes by persecution, that they’d be better letting the Lords of the Empire govern them, that if left to themselves they’d muck things up. Then the people of the colonised countries stood up and decided to be adults – no more rule by others, no more cap-doffing.

It’s a sad thing to say of so many of our fellow-countrymen and countrywomen – they’ve never managed to grow up politically and assume adult political responsibilities. They’ve passed control of their lives to Important and Clever People in Westminster, while they themselves continue in a sad state of perpetual childhood. 

Maybe that’s what they really fear about being part of a new Ireland – they’ll be required to grow up.