SO, Indy is back. To the surprise of almost everyone except Nicola Sturgeon’s inner circle – and that’s a gey small ring – the SNP leader started 2016 by putting independence at the heart of her party’s Holyrood election campaign.

The First Minister told MSPs she planned a new debate about the “enduring principle” of independence over the next five months and promised to argue in “a realistic and relevant” way that would push support for independence over the critical 50 per cent mark within a few years.

Now it’s hardly surprising that a party dedicated to the achievement of independence should highlight that policy at every available opportunity. But the First Minister’s been at pains to dampen down expectations of an early rush towards Indyref 2, saying repeatedly that a substantial change in the mood of the Scottish electorate would have to happen before she’d push for a re-run. So why this apparent change in strategy?

Firstly – it’s very shrewd timing. When independence was first rolled out, the backdrop was very different. Hardly anyone outside the SNP took the possibility seriously. The media north and south of the Border was openly hostile – even contemptuous. This paper didn’t exist and though online sites like Bella Caledonia did, the current dizzy and cheery plethora of independence-leaning journals was yet to be born. Local Yes groups that mix members of every party and none had not yet assembled themselves – likewise Common Weal with its 70-plus branches and provocative Book of Ideas, Women for Independence (partly responsible for reversing the Independence gender gap) and Rise (the new socialist grouping that arose from the success of the activist-based Radical Independence Campaign).

Indeed back in 2013, the first independence debate was not really a debate at all. Alex Salmond conceived of it as a military campaign, with no time for luxuries like reflection or disagreement. Throughout those two years of campaigning, there wasn’t a minute when the wisdom of SNP policy could be openly or honestly challenged without inviting accusations of rocking or even holing the boat. First time around, independence was like a headstrong steed, hardly saddled up before it was running the political equivalent of the Grand National – a long steeplechase with no warm-up and a headlong race for the finishing line. Hardly the best way to develop truly winning arguments – but probably all that could be managed at the time.

Now though, things are different. Independence is not yet a clear, majority cause but nor is it a ludicrous proposition – even doubtful voters will seriously consider it. Better Together’s promise of respect and greater involvement in the UK lies exposed as fraudulent. David Cameron has been dismantling democratic dissent by excluding non-English MPs, changing constituency boundaries to further weaken Labour, stuffing the Lords and removing their power to object. His nuclear power-favouring Government has slashed support for the renewables industry, halted Scottish wind, wave and tidal projects in their tracks and made a mockery of his own recent commitment to climate change.

Spending on Trident’s replacement has already begun and changes to welfare and benefit rules have caused the suicide of scores of hopeless, lonely people. If Scotland stands for anything, it opposes this heartless, market-driven dogma. It’s no wonder folk in the north of England are so attracted by the anti-war, green, communitarian vision projected by the SNP that 50,000 want to join us should the second indyref go the right way.

What better time to be pointing out that independence would mean we could be making some tough but very different choices right now? Of course, the plummeting oil price gives Nicola Sturgeon a serious economic challenge, but since Indyref2 is probably still years off, she has time to devise and lay out an alternative economic strategy.

In short, it may be far more productive to debate independence without the polarising arguments and Son of Project Fear that an imminent second vote inevitably create. But only if the debate is vigorous, critical, non-SNP voices are encouraged and the domestic policy questions Holyrood elections must decide on are not completely obscured. If equal time is not given to big issues like funding public services, health, education, land reform and policing, Nicola Sturgeon’s Second Indyref Debate may look glib, opportunistic and diversionary to undecided and No voters – the very folk who must be won over.

Let’s not be naïve. Ulterior motives are apparent.

Running under the indyref banner, the SNP can appear in their favourite guise – as campaigning underdogs rather than well-fed incumbents who’ve been running Scotland for almost a decade.

Headlining on independence not only deflects important questions about their record in office, it bolsters the SNP vote, acting like a giant reset button to galvanise activists, deter drifters and stop supporters backing the Greens or Rise with their all-important second or list votes.

The biggest challenge though, is for Nicola Sturgeon’s independence debate to match the urgency and importance of Alex Salmond’s.

Because now the Indy genie’s been let back out of the bottle, Scots will await developments with impossibly high expectations.