THIS Saturday I’ll be hosting a conference in Dunblane for local independence groups. Over the past two years I’ve been visiting local Yes groups, SNP branches and Common Weal groups all over the country, and have also been participating in The National Roadshow events as a speaker. I’ve lost count now of the number of local groups I’ve visited – or more accurately groups to which I’ve taken the the dog to visit. I’m under no illusions about who the star performer is. He’s the one who schmoozes and snoozes all the way through the proceedings but then gets up at the end to take the applause.

A couple of months ago The National Roadshow was in Aberdeen. A week or so before the event Callum Baird, The National’s editor, phoned me up to say that he was hoping Alex Salmond would be speaking at the event – although as it turned out he wasn’t able to make it – and so Callum hoped I didn’t mind being bumped down the billing. “Oh not at all,” I replied. “That’s great. Usually I take second billing to a dug, taking second billing to the former First Minister counts as a promotion.” There was a silence for a couple of seconds, and then Callum said: “Eh no. You’ll be third billing. After Alex Salmond and a dug.” I know my place.

Those attending the Dunblane conference represent a good cross-section of groups across Central Scotland. In the new year there will be another conference in Inverness for groups from the north of Scotland, and one in Dumfries for groups from the south of the country. Some 62 per cent of delegates to the Dunblane conference are women, and those attending are coming from more than 60 groups and organisations. There will be short presentations from myself; from Iain Black, of Heriot-Watt University, who will discuss his research and analysis of voting patterns; Fran McNabb, of Yes Livingston and Women for Independence, will speak about her experience in the campaign, as will Struan Johnson, of SNP Dunblane, and Carol Gilmore, of Yes Kelty. And the dug will of course be there as well.

One of the most important speakers will be 16-year-old Esmee Johnson of SNP Youth Dunblane. She will be sharing her experiences as a young woman active in the independence campaign. Opinion poll after opinion poll has demonstrated that young people are far more likely to support independence than older people, so it’s going to be vital that the campaign engages with and represents younger Scots. We need to get them enthused and participating in the movement and ensure they are motivated to turn out and vote. However from the talks I’ve been doing up and down the country, where the audiences are typically middle-aged and older, it seems that younger people are less likely to participate in traditional “town hall”-style events. It’s going to be a key goal for the independence movement to find ways of including and listening to the concerns of young people and assisting them in organising events and activities which are going to appeal to younger voters.

But Saturday’s sold-out event isn’t intended to consist of an audience sitting quietly in their seats while people address them from a stage. The Dunblane conference, and the Inverness and Dumfries conferences to follow, will give delegates the opportunity to air their own views, to discuss, to interact and hopefully to reach some sort of consensus on the best way forward for our movement. The network of local groups needs to find productive and co-operative ways of working with the pro-independence parties, with the Scottish Independence Convention and with national organisations like Common Weal, Women for Independence and Pensioners for Independence.

What’s become clear from conversations with activists in local groups all over Scotland is that because each local group is autonomous and because there’s no formal network of local groups, the local groups are underrepresented at a national level in the independence campaign. That’s a problem, because it’s the local groups who are going to provide the motor and spirit of the referendum campaign to come. That’s what this first local group conference hopes to start to address.

It’s all the more important that local groups take the lead in the second independence campaign because it’s clear from opinion polling that support for independence is considerably higher than support for the SNP. We need party politics to achieve another independence referendum, but we won’t win that referendum with party politics. We need a campaign that is all-party and no-party. We also need the autonomous local groups to take a leading role in this campaign because the kind of independent Scotland we win will be determined and shaped by the campaign we run in order to win it.

A top-down hierarchical campaign will achieve a top-down and hierarchical Scotland. A campaign run and organised by self-acting, autonomous, informed and engaged local groups and individuals will achieve an independent Scotland full of informed and engaged citizens who participate in the democratic process instead of sitting back passively and having politics done to them. That’s the British model, and that’s what we seek independence from, otherwise we’ll just end up with what we’ve got just now only tied up in a tartan bow. The whole point of independence is to make Scotland a better place.

One of the most striking things from my meetings with local groups and activists all across Scotland is that I’ve yet to meet a single person who wants independence because they think that Scotland and the Scots are better than anyone else. Far less have I met anyone who wants independence because they hate the English. Everyone who is serious about this movement – and there are many thousands of us – wants independence because there is so much that is wrong with Scotland, and we want to fix it. The only way we will ever fix it is to take the power into our own hands and do the job ourselves. Westminster sure as hell isn’t going to do it for us. Let’s get to work.