THIS Saturday I’ll have the honour of hosting the second regional local groups’ conference, this time in Inverness for groups based in the north of Scotland. The northern conference follows on from the central Scotland conference held in Dunblane in December, and like the Dunblane event, the Inverness conference is fully booked. We’re looking forward to the first get-together of local groups from all over the north of Scotland. Saturday’s conference will be attended by a couple of speakers who addressed the Dunblane conference, including Esmee Johnson and Fran McNabb, and this time we’ll also have Lesley Riddoch in attendance.

I’ve been meeting with local pro-independence groups up and down the country, and over the past couple of months it’s become clear that there’s a rising sense of expectation. In discussions with local groups about the timing of the independence referendum, there seems to be a growing consensus that it must be held before 2021, during this term of SNP Government, and that the ballot should be framed as giving Scotland its opportunity to have a vote on the outcome of Brexit. That’s an opportunity that the Conservative Government in Westminster is determined not to allow us.

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The Conservative Government doesn’t even want MPs to have a meaningful say on the outcome of Brexit, so it’s certainly not going to willingly grant such a say to the voters of Scotland. That’s why Scotland has to make its voice heard irrespective of what Theresa May and her allies want. Since Westminster has consistently sidelined, disrespected and ignored Scotland’s wants and needs, Scotland must take it upon itself to decide what sort of relationship with the EU and the rest of the world is best for this country. As yer maw always said, “If ye want something done, dae it yersel.” No-one else is doing to do it for us, particularly not when they have a vested interest in ensuring that we are permanently silenced.

There are a couple of reasons why people involved in the grassroots independence campaign are feeling that things are coming to a head, and coming together our way. First of all there’s the monstrously incompetent performance of Theresa May’s government. This is a Prime Minister who is so hapless that she got savaged by Phillip Schofield on the sofa of This Morning on ITV. That’s like going into a cage fight against a half-used packet of wet wipes, and losing.

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All the way through the first independence referendum, the constant litany from opponents of independence was “what’s your plan B?”, a chorus which had Conservatives amongst its most prominent members. Yet here we are more than a year and a half after the EU referendum, a year after the triggering of Article 50, and with just a year to go until the UK crashes out of the European Union, and there’s still no sign that the Conservative Government has a plan A. The Conservative Party remains impaled on a stake of its own making; the only thing that is keeping it in one piece is the terror that Jeremy Corbyn might beat them in a General Election.

Then there’s the fact that Ruth Davidson isn’t going to be the saviour of the Union that the anti-independence press had heralded her to be. Despite the increasingly frantic polishing and buffing efforts of much of the Scottish media, the shine is coming off Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives ™. That’s hardly surprising since the only shiny thing about them was their brass neck. Admittedly it’s a very impressive neck. It’s a neck that would make a giraffe jealous, although unlike a giraffe which famously has the same number of vertebrae in its neck as a human being does, the Scottish Conservatives are bereft of vertebrae, and indeed humanity.

There’s only so far you can go when your sole policy is “we don’t want another referendum,” and the Scottish Conservatives have now passed that point by so much that they’ve circled the globe and are now coming back around to it from the other end. They stand exposed as an empty shell, held together with nothing but bluff and dog whistles to sectarian elements. They reached the nadir of ludicrousness when they released a party political broadcast which tried to pretend that the Scottish Conservatives were some sort of glorified job opportunities scheme for working-class wannabe politicians, and signally failed to mention the one thing that defines the Conservatives of 2018 above all else – Brexit. The party takes its cue from its leader, who is invisible when it comes to answering questions on Brexit but who’s always available for the important and pressing issues of the day, like talking about Bake Off on Radio Forth.

The shine has likewise come off Jeremy Corbyn. Just like Ruth Davidson, Jeremy doesn’t want to talk about Brexit, because otherwise his overwhelmingly remainer support base might realise that Jeremy is every bit as much in favour of a hard Brexit as Boris Johnson is. Faced with the most incompetent, self-serving, and chaotic government in living memory, Jeremy Corbyn still can’t command a decent lead in the opinion polls. A halfway competent opposition leader ought to be miles ahead in the polls at this point. The Labour Party was never going to save Scotland, but under Corbyn they don’t even appear capable of saving themselves. There is absolutely no point in looking to Labour to protect Scotland from Brexit.

It’s clear that the Scottish Government was unnerved by the election losses their Westminster cohort suffered in 2017, even though by any definition the party won the election in Scotland. Within the broader independence movement, there’s a view that the reason the SNP suffered as many losses as it did was because it tried to claim that the election wasn’t about independence.

That might have worked in a media landscape where the SNP get a fair crack of the whip, but wherever that landscape lies, it’s not in Scotland. The anti-independence parties and their press pals were never going to let the SNP get away with not talking about independence. The SNP can’t avoid independence, it has to own it.

However the SNP is now looking to the wider independence movement to prove that there’s an appetite and a demand for independence, and that another referendum is winnable. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and events like Inverness are a way to get going on that work.

That’s the task facing the movement as we enter this Chinese New Year. The signs are good. It is after all, the Year of the Dug.