FIRST of all, congratulations to Keith Brown on his election as depute leader of the SNP. He wouldn’t have been my choice, but then I don’t have a say. As an outsider I would suggest, however, that the scale of the vote for the other two candidates should sound a note of warning to the SNP leadership.

Up against the formidable Economy Secretary, Julie Hepburn, a non-elected grassroots activist, polled 38 per cent in the first ballot. Chris McEleny, a local councillor in Inverclyde, won more than 16 per cent, multiplying his vote almost five times over compared to the last time he stood in 2016.

I have to say, without any disrespect to Keith Brown, that a combined 55 per cent first-preference votes for two rank-and-file candidates reassured me that the SNP membership is not about to hand over a blank cheque to the party leadership.

I’m sure there were multiple factors at play in this contest. But it’s also clear that a least a sizeable section used their vote to express concern about one or both of the two big issues that are causing disquiet right now across the entire independence movement: the timing of the referendum and the report of the Growth Commission.

In the recent past I’ve been strongly criticised in the letters pages and online comments section of this newspaper for suggesting that a referendum may have to wait until 2019, so I’ve never been gung-ho about rushing in without the necessary preparatory work.

But I do believe our time is coming. The BBC YouGov poll published last week produced some fascinating information. The main headline, we know, was that people in Scotland are decidedly more optimistic about the future than those elsewhere. And as John Curtice pointed out, that sense of confidence is directly related to the belief that Scotland will become an independent nation.

Even the establishment now acknowledges that the debate over Scotland’s future is between hope and fear, optimism and pessimism, confidence and timidity.

Yes, the Scottish cringe is still alive and kicking, but it’s almost entirely confined to the hard-line, never-say-die, Unionist core, most of them Tory voters. The rest of us – Yes voters and those who are open to change – are turning Scotland into a powerhouse of positive energy.

But we have to grasp that thistle soon if we are to maintain the momentum to carry us forward to independence.

According to the most recent poll, published in The Times a few days ago, support for the pro-independence parties in the next elections has grown since the start of the year – to 44 per cent in both the constituency and regional ballots. Support for independence is marginally higher at 45 per cent.

But there is one crucial element that opinion polls can never accurately measure – and it’s the main reason they often get it wrong. Turnout. In the last Holyrood election, just less than 56 per cent of the electorate put their cross on a ballot paper. In the 2014 independence referendum, the figure was almost 85 per cent.

And whenever there is a low turnout, you can bet your last pound sterling that the voters posted missing are overwhelmingly young, poor or both. In other words, the people who will vote in huge numbers for independence.

Research published last week by Common Space found that the age divide around independence has widened further since 2014, with 60 per cent of young women now pro-independence.

So too has the class divide: just 33 per cent of people in the social category AB1 back independence compared to 53 per cent among C2DE voters.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic uncovered by the progressive, pro-independence think-tank is that support for independence is growing steadily among Labour voters and has now reached a striking 30 per cent.

If all these figures are accurate – and Craig Dalyell, head of policy and research at Common Weal is a respected and rigorous academic – then there are two obvious conclusions to be drawn.

The first: as things, stand, it will be easier to win a referendum than to achieve a pro-independence majority in the 2021 Holyrood elections – and if we don’t get this done and dusted within the next couple of years at the outside, we could be waiting until at least 2026 and maybe even 2031 before we get another chance.

The second: the Growth Commission report has to be treated with extreme caution, otherwise it will backfire. At best, it represents one view of independence, which is probably not even shared by most SNP members, let alone the broader independence movement.

That BBC poll produced other interesting data which received negligible publicity. One set of questions listed 11 policy topics and asked respondents to choose whether the decision-making in these areas should be taken by Westminster, Holyrood or local councils.

In every one of these 11 areas – including unemployment benefits, immigration control, income taxes, business taxes, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, health, housing and education – a resounding majority chose either the Scottish Parliament or local councils. In not one did more than a third choose Westminster control. I suspect that if the list had been extended to include every reserved power, the pattern would have remained the same.

Most people then, according to the BBC and YouGov, want pretty much everything to be controlled within Scotland. They may not call it independence, but if looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ...

Surely, then, the primary task of the independence movement is to translate that implicit support for independence into explicit support by asking the right questions. If we set out to talk to everyone and anyone who is not a diehard Unionist and ask which governmental authority should have control of each of the reserved powers, then I believe people will start to talk themselves round to independence, without having to be bludgeoned or driven into a corner.

The BBC survey, incidentally, was conducted at the end of April, long before the Growth Commission report was published. I don’t expect, after these two long years of deliberation, that the First Minister will publicly repudiate the document. But I do hope, now that it’s had its day in the sun, that it will be quietly side-lined to allow the independence movement to come together and focus on the democratic case for independence.

Power to the people, sang John Lennon back in 1971. That’s what independence is all about. Sovereignty. The right to choose our own road forward.

And if history is any guide, the people of Scotland will choose a leftward path – as we have done for the past 60 years.