WHITHER the SNP following this weekend’s enthusiastic Spring Conference in Edinburgh?

You know: the one BBC Scotland didn’t seem to know was happening.

The sun shone (mostly). The turnout of delegates and visitors was impressive – I’ve never seen such long queues to get in. The Edinburgh International Conference Centre (a venue which I had a direct hand in creating, back in my Edinburgh Council days) was more infinitely friendly than that cavernous black box on the west coast.

True, the exhibition space and fringe events seemed thinner than in the past, perhaps a reflection of the eye-watering attendance fees charged by the party. Memo to chief executive Peter Murrell: surely branches and worthy campaigns should get preferential access, otherwise party democracy suffers?

The big debate was, of course, focused on the Growth Commission (GC) and the currency question. As was noted by a number of speakers, this debate was a bit lop-sided and failed to look at many of the important issues raised in the overall Growth Commission economic plan – now endorsed by the party.

I’m not clear whether this lack of breadth in the discussion was due to a shortage of amendments from branches, a deliberate decision by the Standing Orders and Agenda Committee, or a view by HQ that matters had been thoroughly dealt with at the three National Assemblies.

If the reason had anything to do with the latter, then we have a problem. The three National Assemblies were a tremendous and successful exercise in inner-party democracy. But there was supposed to be a stage where the outcomes of these assemblies were reported back and used to influence policy.

As far as I can see, this has not happened. To date, party HQ has published no report on the assembly deliberations for the membership, and it is not obvious that much of the detailed discussion was incorporated in the lengthy, four-page motion put to the Spring Conference by Keith Brown and Derek Mackay.

This democratic deficit is most obvious when it comes to climate change policy. Attendees of the three National Assemblies spent time discussing the contradiction between the GC’s proposal to double (and more) Scottish GDP growth after independence, and the need to declare a climate change emergency.

Yet the climate question was hardly mentioned during Saturday’s debate on the Growth Commission economic strategy – to my mind, the most glaring omission in the discussion. Especially as conference explicitly voted (whether it realised it or not) to endorse the massive GC GDP target.

Let me make a self-criticism here. I have spent much of the past year criticising the GC position on currency. But last October’s UN climate change report should have made it plain that the imminent threat to the biosphere and human civilisation from accelerated climate change – due to the growth fetish of free-market capitalism – now trumps every political agenda.

We now have a scant 12 years to restrain global warming to a maximum of 1.5C.

For starters, that knowledge makes a mockery of the SNP’s plan to cut air passenger duty. Worse, embracing an economic goal of doubling GDP growth is frankly insane in this situation. I use the term “insane” not as political hyperbole but as a clinical description, because going for even faster economic growth when you have only 12 years to stop an environmental and human catastrophe must be a definition of madness. Recently, I raised this very issue personally with one of the key members of the GC, a professor I respect. He smiled, somewhat indulgently I thought, and explained that as long as the electorate wanted growth, there was nothing to be done but go along with it.

Which brings me to the heart of my issue with the Growth Commission debate at conference.

I have a lot of time for Keith Brown, who proposed the leadership motion endorsing the GC’s strategy. But Keith and his supporters argued on Saturday from the point of view that those of us opposing the GC, sterlingisation and the infamous six currency tests were somehow being ideologically purist; too lefty to engage with public opinion as it is; too unwilling to forge a compromise to win over wavering, soft No voters from 2013; and too impatient to do the necessary hard work to secure the indyref2 victory that seems now so close.

That’s a singularly unfair criticism, bordering perhaps on the patronising. It also forgets that the left-of-centre Common Weal, on whose board I sit, has been the major source of well-researched,

open-minded and fresh thinking on policy matters related to independence. Or that the signature note of Common Weal’s activities – ably led by that most unsectarian of souls, Robin McAlpine – has been how to widen support for independence.

I should also point out to Keith Brown that after a year’s debate,

I remain utterly frustrated that GC members and advocates consistently refused to answer or refute any of the technical criticisms myself and Common Weal raised regarding sterlingisation and the six tests.

Even during Saturday’s debate, no supporter of the leadership motion actually responded to any of the technical points raised against sterlingisation; or attempted to justify economically the six tests.

This lack of dialogue will come back to haunt the party. One result is the confusion over what exactly was decided on Saturday. Conference voted down all the currency amendments except D, which called for a new Scottish currency “as soon as practicable” after independence. The mover of D, Timothy Rideout (who made the best speech in the debate) lampooned the six tests and said sterlingisation would not be “real independence”.

Despite this clearly expressed view, the party leadership was quick to “spin” the vote in the opposite direction. The SNP press office immediately issued a statement claiming that “it is now the policy of the SNP to use the pound at the point of independence” and that an independent currency would be introduced “only through a careful, managed and responsible transition supported by six key tests”.

My central concern over sterlingisation remains that – far from being a pragmatic policy bridge the unconverted – it will unravel smack in the midst of any referendum debate. Sterlingisation means you don’t have a lender of last resort to bail out your banks if there is a financial crisis (think Greece). That will be the daily headline during indyref2.

If we are now committed – as we are – to a new currency, let’s be bold and implement it, or drown

in ambiguity. Which brings us back to how we win over unconverted voters to independence – and stimulate existing Yes supporters to go to the polls yet again. We don’t do this by fudge, ambivalence or pretending nothing much will alter. We do it by proving independence can change ordinary, insecure lives for the better. And we do it by telling the truth, even if it is hard.

Independence is not an abstraction. Rather, Scottish independence is the only local road map to combating climate change and its economic causes; to ending mass poverty and the chronic, illness-inducing pressures of consumer capitalism; and to seizing popular control over our resources from the big banks. We need to say that and trust the people to respond. I’m not sure that’s what happened on Saturday.