THE word of the week is “independent”. From what, and to do what, exactly?

Those appalling Yessers among us (you know who you are) have already fanned out in satirical force. They are wondering, idly, whether at any point soon The Independent Group – the renegade squad of awfully sensible Labour and Tory MPs which launched this week – will even recognise that Scotland exists. Never mind the possibility of an “independent” Scotland. (Does that mean we’re a group too?) As for abuse, so far we’ve had The Funny Tinge Group Limited (this references both the racist solecisms of Angela Smith, as well as the weird company legal status of the group itself). I also saw “UKIG” (ho ho, excellent). Not to mention, if they ever manage to get some of their more beige Caledonians to turn, the Scottish Independent Party (anti-independence, of course).

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an “I”. By which I mean, the point at which the word itself becomes unmoored from any of its referents, and grabbed by a major player. This is, to be honest, all too possible. Being “independent” has had a capacious history.

Scottish Scandi-European social democrats may shudder at the idea of occupying the same umbrella as Brexiteers and Kippers. But the semantic truth is that the basic Oxford definition of “independent” (“free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority”) more properly applies to the scorched-earth autarchists of Rees-Mogg and co, than it does to the steady Euro-pragmatism of the SNP (or dare one say it, The Independent Group itself).

Political confusion reigns everywhere: quelle surprise. And who knows for how long this weird group of individuals, recoiling from what they perceive as the extremes of socialism or barbarism, are going to last?

But there’s some mileage in dwelling on the semantics of anything “independent”. To coin a phrase, it’s clearly territory to be fought over.

There’s a brilliant map of how the word has developed, and how it currently works, at the Keywords Project website, run by the Universities of Pittsburgh and Cambridge. This is an updating of the famous book by the leftist literary critic Raymond Williams, in which he analysed “socially prominent words” (eg “art”, “industry”, “media” or “society”) “that were capable of bearing interlocking, yet sometimes contradictory and contested, contemporary meanings”.

Apply this approach to “independent”, and it becomes clear why The Independent Group’s title might actually have legs, as a container for whatever “centrism” might come to mean politically.

From its beginnings in 17th-century English, independent has always pointed to the individual, as well as the group. Those waistcoated men of “independent means”, or even “o’ independent mind”, as Burns would put it.

No doubt this is the self-image of the TIGers. They separate themselves both from Empire 2.0 types, and Corbyn’s starry-eyed post-capitalists. They turn their “objective” minds to the obvious “realities” of the status quo ante (as if the crash, indyref, Corbyn, Brexit and the IPPC report never actually happened).

But the word has further potencies. Using Google to analyze the “corpora” in English (meaning huge bodies of scanned texts), the Keywords Project also relates that from the 1980s, the frequency of “independent woman” increases over that of “independent man”.

Again, it’s not so difficult to imagine how attractive the term might be to women benefitting from the advances of 20th and 21st-century feminism. The “three amigos” of Allen, Wollaston and Soubry, the ex-Tories joining TIG, are women visibly enjoying their freedom from party constraints.

But Nicola Sturgeon, over many years, has also benefitted from eliding her own “independent” status, as a strong feminist woman, with her aspiration for her country’s autonomy. If the TIGs became a home for “independent women”, they’d be a powerful magnet.

There’s another connotation to note here, which is the sense of “independent” as “not government or corporately controlled”.

This can encompass “independent schools” (private schools with a free-thinking varnish on them). But it also includes processes of “independent verification” by “independent bodies” or “independent inquiries”.

Again, one might imagine the egos of these untethered politicos being stroked by such an implication. Indeed some of them have already made ostentatious statements about any policies they propose being “driven by the data” (as if social data isn’t always shaped by who’s producing and paying for it).

Yet for a moment, in this crazy, post-truth, post-modern world, the appeal of such an “independent” group will revive the old, old question that newspapers like The Independent, in their ad campaigns, once confidently asked. “It is. Are you?”

And we haven’t even gotten to the obvious door-to-door political advantages of the term “independent”. Which is the way it describes those who explicitly reject – either as candidates or voters – a party affiliation.

In my current work with The Alternative UK, a political platform that tries out experiments with new forms of civic power, I can tell you that, in England anyway, the appetite for “independent” representatives is ravenous, particularly at the local level, where disillusion with existing party systems often crunches underfoot.

I would have said it’s doubtful that this wheen of mainstream Westminster politicians, wandering shabbily into their watery spotlight, will be in much of a position to capture these anti-party-political sentiments.

But I predict that some entity, or some figure, shall be. And we should hope that it’s not the political technologists of the hard right who get there first. They are set fair to use all their tech, expertise and cash to turn ground-down citizens against the “Establishment” and the “Others” (with the first rendered as in league with the second).

A broad appeal to a spirit of “independent” thinking and acting in communities may not be the worst message to send out to the listening, yearning public. “A plague on all pre-existing political ideologies – and let’s turn to each other and define our needs, priorities and thus policies and structures”. The environmental campaigner George Monbiot calls this a “politics of belonging”. It may yet have legs.

Again, there are some small flags weakly fluttering from the TIGs around this theme. But overall, they seem more like a rest home for the politically exhausted, than (say) a New Labour driven by pumping powerhouse think tanks.

Those of us in the “independence” movement of this country might be feeling a little complacent at this point. Don’t we strike a balance between movement and party, between community mobilisation and the beautiful parliament that this activism built, which our southern friends could only envy?

As the noble King Kenneth once pronounced: mibbies aye, mibbies naw. Currently, it’s actually a tricky moment between the “independent minds” and the “independence strategy” of our cause.

Are the grassroots cries for placing a “separate” Scottish currency at the core of an indy campaign just about “symbolism”? Or does it reflect an increase in the necessary popular and everyday tough-mindedness for independence?

Are the appeals to a “soft independence”, implying several years of continuity with the UK’s currency and regulatory systems, about “facing” those famous “facts” of current capitalism? Or are they a massive misreading of the need for clear and tangible targets for progress?

The Westminster political system is in realignment and meltdown – and it’s easy to rib The Independent Group as a small and temporary volcano, sputtering out grey lava.

(To be “indie” about it, they also sound like a lost act from the Postcard Records roster.) But we shouldn’t take for granted whatever coherence our movement for full Scottish democracy possesses.

To “be independent”, as a citizen in 2019, means that your political loyalties can switch on a dime (or a meme).

This shilpit parade of duffers and careerists will, I very much doubt, be able to tap into such febrility.

But something rough is slouching towards Bethlehem, as Yeats put it. Up here, I hope a guid Scots indy gets in the way first.