David Mundell's statement to the House of Commons today was extraordinary. It wasn't simply that he failed to strike a conciliatory tone or offer any path towards compromise. It wasn't simply that he repeated his unconvincing justifications for the UK government's unprecedented breach of the Sewel Convention. He actually went a step further than any UK minister had ever gone before by unilaterally changing the terms of the Sewel Convention, thus leaving the Scottish Parliament utterly defenceless against any future attempt by the UK government to further reduce its powers or abolish it altogether.
As I understand it, until today the UK government at least accepted that the Sewel Convention precluded it, in "normal" circumstances, from legislating on devolved matters without consent. Its excuse for breaching the convention on this occasion was that this is a one-off exception in circumstances that are not "normal". But today Mundell insisted that the convention allows (indeed "requires"!) the UK government to legislate without consent whenever the Scottish Parliament has been asked to consent but no agreement is reached. Essentially Sewel Mark II as set out today is a rapist's charter: consent need not be obtained but merely sought. "My client took every reasonable step to obtain the woman's consent, your honour, but regrettably she was being stubborn." There is no longer any requirement for circumstances to be "abnormal" for a refusal of consent to be ignored - future breaches could in fact become fairly routine. (The way Mundell would frame it is that circumstances are automatically deemed to be "abnormal" whenever the Scottish Parliament withholds consent, thus setting up an almost comical circular argument that deprives the words "normal" and "consent" of any meaning.)
I would suggest this has enormous implications for the next independence referendum. Personally, I've never believed it's likely that any UK government in anything like the foreseeable future would seek to abolish the Scottish Parliament outright. But it doesn't matter what I think is likely, it only matters what the public think is plausible, and after the events of the last 72 hours, a lot of soft No voters will now have entirely rational doubts about just how secure Holyrood's foundations really are. If the next Yes campaign presents the choice as being between independence and no Scottish Parliament at all, that may resonate in a way that would have been unthinkable in 2014.
With almost every move they make, the Tories are idiotically weakening their own hand in any referendum campaign. They're putting all their eggs in the basket of preventing that referendum taking place before the current mandate expires in 2021. That's one game we mustn't help them with.