SATURDAY’S All Under One Banner (AUOB) march in Edinburgh was a mighty show of strength for the independence movement. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, but friends who did participate – some of them hardened veterans of street demonstrations going back to the Thatcher era – say it was one of the biggest marches they’ve ever seen.

Numbers on demos and rallies are always a matter of dispute. The anti-Trump demo in Edinburgh this summer was estimated by the organisers to be 60,000 strong, while Police Scotland put the figure at 9000. And again on Saturday we have a dispute over numbers, varying wildly from the 100,000 estimated by the organisers to the 20,000 claimed by the council. I would be interested in why the council took the unusual step of carrying out its own estimate. I’m also curious about whether they actually employed people to do the counting, and what training they were given. Maybe AUOB should stick in a Freedom of Information request to find out more.

READ MORE: National View: The message of the march? Get ready for indyref2!

Whatever the exact numbers on Saturday, what is clear is that the active base of the independence movement is stronger by far than it has ever been before. Sure, we all know that 100,000 is only a fraction of the total population of Scotland. But when people take to the streets on anything approaching that scale, giving up their precious time and many travelling great distances, it reveals that the movement has commitment, energy and determination on its side.

There are no pro-Union street demos in Scotland because those who feel passionate about the United Kingdom are few and far between outside the ranks of the Tory party and the Holyrood contingent of Labour and LibDem MSPs. Their numbers are hardly enough to fill a cinema, never mind take over the streets of Edinburgh. Most of the rest are default Unionists, sceptical rather than hostile to independence, people who right now would rather stick with the safety of the status quo than strike out in a new direction.

As any sports coach will testify, morale, enthusiasm and dedication are everything when it comes to winning the trophies and the medals. The independence movement has the wind in its sails and the future in its hands. But the downside of confidence is complacency. Marches and rallies are great for momentum and enthusiasm can be infectious. But again, as any sports coach will tell you, to become a winner you have to work on your weaknesses as well as play to your strengths.

In that spirit, I want to make some observations on a couple of polls published this weekend. Both the Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times and the Survation poll for the SNP showed that Brexit – which is going to happen – will leave the Yes and No camps running neck and neck. But that’s before the consequences of Brexit have become clear and before any serious campaign for independence has begun. If I were a hard-line Unionist, I’d be very worried at these figures.

But of more concern are the Survation figures gauging people’s voting intentions for the next Westminster and Holyrood elections. If there were a snap UK General Election, the SNP would gain four extra seats, while Labour would lose three and the Tories would be down one. In overall share of the vote, the SNP is on 37 per cent. That suggests support for Scotland’s governing party lags significantly behind independence.

The National:

However, apart from the exceptional circumstances of 2015, Westminster elections have been tough for the SNP. As expected, the Survation poll shows the SNP doing better in the next Holyrood elections. But not better enough.

According to the poll the SNP would win 44 per cent on the constituency vote, and 40 per cent on the list vote. When the figure for the Greens is added – down to two per cent – the next Scottish Parliament would lose its pro-independence majority.

That means facing up to two crucial points. Firstly, and this point cannot be repeated too often – to deliver independence, the SNP needs allies. There is a sizeable slice of the Scottish electorate which is rock solid in support of independence but lacking enthusiasm for the SNP. Most of them I suspect, are on the political left. And that’s leaving aside those who have still to be convinced of the case for independence – none of whom are natural SNP voters.

The National:

The second point concerns the timing of the next referendum. It’s highly unlikely that will happen before the UK leaves the EU. Unlike some commentators, I don’t believe that will necessarily be an obstacle to independence. It could even have its advantages: it would, for example allow us to move to independence without an instant hard border with the UK and give us time to negotiate future relations with both the EU and the UK.

In the meantime, I believe the First Minister is right to support a new vote on Brexit – making it clear that if England once again votes to break with the EU, Scotland will have the right to hold an independence referendum soon after. But given the arithmetic of the House of Commons, even with Labour and the SNP on board, a second EU referendum is unlikely to happen.

I understand why the First Minister is holding fire on the next referendum until the dust settles on Brexit. The terrain has changed since 2014 so the arguments have moved on. That’s why I think March 2019 is too early. We need patience as well as passion. Last year, I suggested September 2019 as a possible target for indyref2. If we have to wait bit longer till sometime in 2020, that’s fine by me. But no longer otherwise we may run of steam and possibly even lose the parliamentary majority that will be needed to deliver another ballot on Scotland’s future.

In the meantime, I hope the Yes movement will devote as much energy to winning over undecided and No voters as we have expended so far on marches and rallies. These are great for morale and momentum, but we need to complement these with a clear strategy for victory in what will be a battle for minds as well as hearts.