USUALLY I’m the life and soul of any party, so it grieves me somewhat to act as a bit of a damper on the one which has been rocking Glasgow for the last three days – lucky I have not actually been at it.

I agree it was a great boost to get 100,000 Scots marching through their capital in support of independence at the weekend.

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I read John Swinney’s pre-conference upbeat assessment of successes achieved by the SNP Government, and I even concurred with most of it, while making a mental reservation about education and the health service.

Certainly I would endorse claims that this record surpasses that of any other government or potential government at Holyrood. Scottish Labour is going into meltdown as London centralists assert their control once again. The Scottish Conservatives have upped their presentational game, but still do not appear to have a single idea in their collective head. As for the LibDems – who cares?

For all that, I pull myself up short, and pause to draw breath, and take a minute to collect my thoughts when people conclude the time is ripe, or almost ripe, for another referendum on independence.

Of course any party or political movement needs to rekindle its zeal from time to time, something conveniently done at the conference. The faithful want something to carry them through the dark coming months of tedium when their political activism will find no other outlet than sticking down envelopes and chapping the doors of citizens who would rather stay in front of the TV. Even the geriatric Tories, as I recall from my last days among them, could after the right collective experience persuade themselves that politics since 1997 had just been a bad dream, which they could dispel by trying harder. But I would counsel nationalists against the view that enthusiasm will be enough.

The basic fact remains that hardly anything has changed on the Scottish political scene since 2014. There are minor movements in the opinion polls now and again, but none has proved to be more than that or produced some permanent realignment of political forces. As a result, on the question of national independence, there remain two camps of voters, with a large minority of 45% who voted Yes to it the last time and would do the same given a second chance. By the same token there is, at 55%, a sufficient majority of No voters to stop the opposite bandwagon rolling again.

I do not rule out the possibility that opinion may be starting to shift. One opinion poll has just estimated the Yes vote would reach 50% if Brexit opened the way to a new referendum. But until we know exactly what Brexit is going to look like, there is little point in discussing the matter further – and this has become Nicola Sturgeon’s view too, now that she has put off all contingent decisions to the end of the year. Remember also that she once defined the trigger for a new referendum as 60% support for independence in the polls, and over an extended period too. A single one of those polls, possibly a rogue, comes nowhere near fulfilling her condition. In 2014 there was, 10 days before we were all to decide the nation’s fate, a single poll which gave a majority for Yes. And what actually happened on September 18?

So reliance on Brexit does not exactly put the SNP in the driving seat for the winding road ahead. It is not in control of the relevant events, and it could become one of their victims. What it does control is a domestic agenda which may be used to bolster and then extend its support among those Scots voters who have so far resisted its charms or else wavered in their affections.

This is a political agenda in which we are well-versed under Scotland’s pork-barrel system of public spending. In my column after Nicola’s last big speech to conference, I went through it with a fine tooth-comb to show how the plethora of promises to all and sundry found no match in any ideas for raising the necessary money, and noted how this followed a grand tradition of SNP leaders stretching back several decades. Such problems could be put off till after independence, when by definition they would all be solved.

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I am not sure the problems should be so casually postponed when, once again, we are starting to talk about independence as a serious prospect rather than a pipe-dream. In the distance we can discern a day when the Scottish Government will need to reduce its deficit, if it wants to rejoin the EU and to borrow its cash shortfall from the international money markets. This was a matter addressed by the Sustainable Growth Commission, which recommended public spending should rise at a rate slower than overall growth in the economy till Scotland appears as a welcome newcomer on the European scene, rather than another of its failing states. Since Nicola Sturgeon gave her support to the efforts by Andrew Wilson and his colleagues, it might be prudent if she made at least a gesture or two in their direction. We’ll see in her big speech to conference this afternoon.

There is a further dimension to consolidating the popular support necessary for the SNP to find its way forward. One of its reactions to the setback in 2014 was a move to the left, not least because that was Nicola’s personal preference.

Clydeside parochialism took over, and the party began to operate on an assumption that Scotland was a nation of militant proletarians, wearing boiler suits and carrying oil cans. At the General Election of 2017, punishment for this gross error followed in the collapse of the SNP’s electoral position in the north-east, where the values and the self-image are rather different.

And I would say more generally that the SNP has ground to a halt in the progress it had previously made among the nation’s middle class. This no longer has a natural political home, and is open to offers. But, in our political discourse, all it hears about are the problems of the least successful members of our society, which are supposedly to be solved by making government omnipotent.

I do not believe such problems should be neglected, but I do believe the means of making Scots more successful should sometimes be worth a mention too.

Finally, surveys show the SNP is a good deal less popular among women than it is among men. This may seem surprising when combative feminism has increased its influence in the party – but then, not all Scotswomen are combative feminists.

In my experience many think nationalism is something for the men – men are always happy to take a gamble, and to say to hell with the consequences. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to think of the future of their children and the general security of the family, while fretting that nationalism may be a threat to them.

In the shouty kind of politics we have developed since 1999, these quieter undercurrents of Scottish opinion tend to get drowned out amid the general cacophony. Party conferences are shouty kind of occasions, so it is perhaps vain to expect the members there will do anything other than shout even louder.

But afterwards they should calm down and take a closer look at the Scotland, or Scotlands, they want to convert to a cause which, without a wider base than the diehard 45%, is not going to win.