THIS Saturday I’ll be in Edinburgh speaking at the latest Radical Independence Campaign (RIC). Inevitably, RIC conferences are judged by the unrealistic standard of the thousands of people who attended them between 2012 and 2014. That’s unfair, for many reasons, but mostly because these are very different times. There is no obvious event, no referendum day, to organise around now, so it’s a time for sharpening political ideas and rebuilding a platform for unity that’s more attuned to the varying voices of Scotland today.

The grassroots activists who organised this year’s conference have done brilliantly in this regard. Looking at the lineup, I get the feeling that it will involve real debate, not just fragile declarations of unity. Speakers will outline divergent positions on Brexit, Corbyn and internationalism to an audience who will – I expect – show a capacity for intellectual respect and tolerance for difference that will shame mainstream politicians.

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Who knows, some delegates might even change their mind on an issue. This is 2018 – where else can you find that?

The first RIC had an atmosphere that’s the antithesis of everything wrong with world politics today. It was united by a sentiment of respect for the SNP’s role in creating the referendum combined with ruthless intellectual opposition to its view on NATO and corporation tax.

It encouraged new voices. It showed that unity built on unanimity is shallow and false, and that real unity requires honest, rational criticism.

It was a movement built out of contrarians who rejected a stale mediaconsensus. How, we asked, could an independent Scotland do worse than British governments hellbent on privatising everything, starving the poor into submission and bombing the civilisation into strategic Middle Eastern targets?

At that stage, you could be politically passionate and vocal without falling into the “enemy of my enemy” trap. So, for example, I never felt the need to endorse Alex Salmond’s economic vision for independence.

Indeed, I would brazenly say I had nothing to do with him, because the idea of independence being about the people’s choice, not Alex Salmond’s, was a major vote winner on the doorsteps. SNP activists knew this too. They made the argument themselves on thousands of occasions.

Today, I believe, we’ve made a wrong turn that has crowded out space for critical opposition. It’s increasingly difficult to disentangle independence from a one-sided view on the European Union. Many people who started out as very reluctant remainers, motivated by understandable anti racist sentiments have transformed into uncritical converts to free trade.

The ultimate point, for me, is that this ignores the huge democratic and moral problems with the EU’s behaviour. Catalonia is one such example, but it shouldn’t be seen in isolation. Active disrespect for the views of people under attack, is the character of most interventions in Brussels. Their attitude to events in Barcelona stank, but the reek from their behaviour in Athens left the whole continent choking for breath. Personally, I can’t morally endorse the EU as a morally superior point of principle. It’s post-democratic politics at its worst.

But, in independence terms, there’s also a tactical problem. The one note obsession with Brexit hasn’t worked. The middle class, pro-establishment, pro-Brussels element are simply sick of all referendums, viewing any political opportunity for the uneducated masses, as they see it, as an evil to be avoided at all costs. That’s why I think Brexit hasn’t brought them flocking to independence, and won’t.

The anti-establishment part of Scotland still more or less supports independence, but a growing, quiet minority are defecting their immediate hopes to Corbyn, and many pro-Indy activists feel a lack of moral oomph in their politics. Independence isn’t the taboo breaking force of radicalism it was in 2012.

There’s a real danger in thinking that political division equals radicalisation. Sometimes it does. But more often than not, radicals are the people who see nuances where others aggressively assert certainties. Radicals look at the fundamental roots of things. Sometimes you’ve got to batter your opponent over the head; but sometimes battering out the same old party lines is the most conservative thing you can do.

I sometimes look back at my Facebook feed from 2012-14 and cringe at the certainty of my beliefs. That’s the wrong impulse. The unionism of Better Together was a genuine enemy, with deep roots into the worst parts of British society, from oil dealers to hedge fund managers. If I was one sided then, I’ve no reason to feel ashamed. It was sheer class anger that brought me to that position. And I was always adamant that Scotland had so much to learn from the radicals elsewhere: I never abandoned my belief in internationalism.

Today, though, we’ve got to develop a new platform, and that requires internal debate. That’s necessary, in my view, to actually win independence and break up the British state. We need a tactical rethink. But, more importantly, it’s about what Scotland looks like after independence – it’s about retracing the vision and the ideals that made our movement such a radicalising force. I believe many people want that back. They aren’t always the loudest on social media, but next Saturday will allow them to get their voices heard.