THERE is a general feeling of disorientation among SNP activists following the General Election. I’m blaming no-one: politics is a rough business and after a decade in power at Holyrood the party could not hope to have everything permanently its own way. Or see our political opponents remain forever on the back foot.

However, in the month since the election there has been an uncharacteristic void regarding what we might call the party’s “project”. The First Minister is still talking about an independence referendum after the outcome of the Brexit negotiations are clear. But the precise date for this has become opaque. Gone is the call for an independence vote some time between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

Instead, the priority now is to get the best Brexit deal possible, defined as staying inside the single market and (more improbably if England quits the EU) staying inside the customs union. There is much to commend this strategy. Scotland voted 62:38 for Remain, and leading on that issue puts pressure on the Ruth Davidson Party and the anti-Corbyn Scottish Labour Party. But this thrust also has a number of inherent weaknesses.

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For starters, unless Corbyn seriously takes up the fight, there is no effective majority in the Commons for staying in the single market. In fact, Corbyn whipped the majority of his MPs into abstaining on a Labour rebel motion backing this very policy. As a result, Theresa May is off the hook. And the Tory government has set its face resolutely against remaining in the single market or the customs union and that won’t change.

Of course, Ian Blackford and his doughty band of SNP MPs at Westminster will fight for Scottish inclusion in the Brexit negotiations. They will set down a lot of creative amendments and keep the Tories out of their beds by calling numerous late-night votes. But I can’t see the Conservatives taking heed unless we find a bigger political stick with which to threaten them. Yet we have abandoned indyref2, at least for the time being.

True, with the help of the SNP and dissident Labour MPs, the pro-City wing of the Conservative Party (championed by Chancellor Philip Hammond) might win a lengthy transition period before the UK quits all EU economic institutions — perhaps five years, maybe a decade. However, such a tactical delay can hardly be represented as a major victory. And it clouds even further the decision over when (if ever) to call for a second independence referendum.

So can anything be done to recover the political initiative in Scotland? Here’s a suggestion: the SNP government at Holyrood should announce it will hold a unilateral referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, circa the spring or early summer of 2019. Note: this is not an independence vote. It is designed purely to let the people of Scotland give their view on the Brexit deal, whatever it is. (The Scottish Government should lobby the devolved parliaments and assemblies in Wales, Northern Ireland and London to follow suit – a combined electorate of around ten million.) This strategy has the advantage of putting matters squarely back in the hands of the Scottish electorate and away from the corridors of Westminster and the machinations of Oxbridge-educated civil servants. Of course, such a vote would be non-binding on the Tory government. But it would shift the dynamic of the EU debate to Scotland. Instead of the SNP government being a spectator in the Brexit negotiations, it would be in a position to determine public opinion. It also gives the SNP some muscle in demanding participation in the Brexit negotiations: David Davies and his team would know that the European Commission can look over their shoulders and appeal directly to Scottish voters when it comes to staying in the single market. Giving Scottish voters a direct voice makes it less easy for Davies and the Tories to ignore their opinions or that of the Scottish Government. I doubt if wobbly Theresa May will accede to handing negotiations over to a commission of the devolved nations – that’s a pipe dream. But a consultative referendum puts real pressure on her and Davies to come north to address directly Scottish concerns on Europe.

EVEN if the Tories reject the call for an independent negotiating commission, the Scottish Government can still establish its own, in order to feed into the Brexit discussions. This might consist of business people, representatives of EU citizens working and domiciled locally, local authorities, trades unions, the churches and civic Scotland. Such an independent EU Negotiations Commission north of the Border would make it more difficult for the Conservatives to dismiss Scottish demands to stay in the single market – at least without paying a political price.

There’s more. Calling a Scottish referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations would force Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale to relate to Scottish voters directly, which limits their ability to prevaricate or dissemble on Europe and the economy. Of course, both are likely to dismiss a local referendum on the final Brexit deal as an SNP manoeuvre. Let them.

If we go ahead with such a vote – and we should – Davidson and Dugdale either have to get on board or risk becoming politically irrelevant on Europe.

A second EU vote – after we know the true facts on Brexit – also allows the SNP to reconnect with its supporters who have doubts on Europe, many of whom abstained at the General Election. We are not asking these folk to change their minds on Brexit as such. Instead, we are giving them a chance to make a considered judgment on the real economic outcome of quitting the EU. And yes, we have to consider the possibility that people will vote to accept the Brexit outcome. But it will be an SNP government that gives them that democratic choice.

The bottom line on such an initiative is that Scotland might create a political momentum across the UK that keeps Britain in the single market. That would mitigate the worst of the economic fallout from the original Brexit vote in 2016. It would also be a political blow to the Tory and Farage right wing and would help split the Conservative Party.

But what of independence? To hold and win an independence referendum requires the SNP to recover national momentum. We do that by seizing control of the EU agenda from the Tories in London, by offering the Scottish people a deliberative vote on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. If London refuses for a second time to accept Scotland’s wish to stay in the single market, then the door opens to a second independence referendum.

In politics, there are no magic bullets. Calling a post-negotiation referendum is only part of the story. The SNP government has to show decisively it is has not succumbed to being part of the political establishment. We need radical measures on the economy, including the creation of an interventionist Scottish Investment Bank.

But equally, politics always abhors a vacuum. After the General Election, the SNP can’t simply revert to governing Scotland well and keeping its fingers crossed. We need to take control. A post-negotiation referendum allows us to do that.