WRITING in yesterday’s Sunday National, Nicola Sturgeon made the point that the actions of the UK Government have made independence “all but inevitable”. I wouldn’t go that far, because who knows what the future holds in store. For the UK establishment the loss of Scotland would be a crushing defeat, an international humiliation on a scale unprecedented in British history.

In the teeth of another independence referendum all the bitter divisions over Brexit will be swiftly buried in order to do whatever is necessary to hold the line against Scottish independence. Even more so than the last time round, when the Unionists were only jolted out of their complacency at the 11th hour, we need to brace ourselves for a savage and desperate propaganda onslaught that will make Project Fear 2014 look like an episode of Little House In The Prairie.

Having said that, the tables have turned upside down since that snap General Election called by Theresa May in June 2017. When that sizeable contingent of Scottish Tories who were elected two years ago trooped into the House of Commons lobby last week to support Boris Johnson’s plan for an October poll, they must have been hoping against hope that the parliamentary arithmetic would protect them from the consequences of their own servility.

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Interviewed on Good Morning Scotland the following day, one rather foolhardy Scottish Tory MP accused not just the Labour Party “but indeed the SNP” of “running scared of the electorate” for voting down Johnson’s election plan. As an old African proverb says: “When the mouse laughs at the cat, there’s a hole nearby.”

If this week’s YouGov poll is accurate, forget about pandas – there will be as much chance of sighting the Loch Ness Monster next year as spotting a Scottish Tory MP. And with Richard Leonard’s Labour Party apparently hell-bent on completing its journey to the fringes of Scottish politics, the balance of forces has never been more favourable to the cause of independence.

Nicola Sturgeon, it should be acknowledged, has steered a steady ship through troubled waters these past few years and has proven herself as the most skilful political leader in the UK by a country mile. Brexit has devoured a huge amount of political time and energy over these past few years. It has put every party and politician to the test. And Scotland’s First Minister has risen to the challenge.

Some voices in the independence movement, including within the SNP, have been hypercritical of the leadership. As an outsider, I don’t know much about internal workings of the party. I would certainly like to see more dynamism from the Scottish Government and the SNP on tackling low pay, wealth inequality, the mismanagement of vast areas of Scotland’s land, and the private cartels which have a stranglehold over our transport and energy sectors.

Some of these will require the powers of independence before serious progress can be made, but I hope we can go into the next referendum campaign with a more radical vision for Scotland than was presented in the 2013 Scotland’s Future document, better known as the White Paper.

But credit where its due, Nicola Sturgeon held her nerve when there was pressure to rush prematurely into a referendum campaign. Some were demanding, stridently and vociferously, that it had to be held a year ago, in September last year, and not a day later, even though polls demonstrated little public appetite at that stage even from Yes voters. Maybe we would have won. More likely, in my opinion, we would have struggled to convince people that the time was right to take the leap.

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People learn far more from their own experiences than they ever do from listening to political sermons. And over this past year, people have learned just how seriously dysfunctional the UK state has become. How the dark heart of Toryism is as ruthless and dangerous as ever before. How tight the grip of hard-right British nationalism has become across much of England.

Some also criticised the First Minister and the SNP group in Westminster for focusing too strongly on Brexit. Some went even further and argued that we should be neutral towards Brexit because it was divisive. Some even suggested that leaving the EU would be a progressive step forward.

On this, too, the tactics of the First Minister have been vindicated. While Scottish Labour has dithered and zig-zagged, she has consolidated the position of the SNP as the party which stands up consistently for Scotland’s interests. And she has done it in a way that is the opposite of narrow parochialism, by helping progressive forces in England, Ireland and Wales resist the reactionary bandwagon driven by Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

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Importantly, she has dismantled the idea that Scotland is too small, too weak and too stupid to run its own affairs. When it comes to competence and political nous, even some opponents of independence now acknowledge that the Scottish Government is head and shoulders above Westminster. And that in turn has engendered a sense of national confidence that is indispensable if we are to convince the people to take power into their own hands.

Because of pressures and other commitments, this is the last column I’ll be writing for a while in The National. By the time I return in November – if I’m invited back, of course – events are likely to have moved on at high speed.

The Yes movement has learned a lot since 2019 and in my opinion is better equipped to win. We have the confidence now to argue our case without driving away potential supporters on to the defensive. By and large, our tone is strong and principled without being abusive or offensive.

We are part of a diverse broad movement which cannot be told how to behave. People will choose to conduct themselves in their own way. All I can do is offer my personal advice based on decades of hands-on political and trade union campaigning over in workplaces, on the streets, at public meetings and online.

And my advice would be to try to avoid arrogance or hostility, try to refrain from personal insults, and try to present the Yes movement as friendly, compassionate, humorous, generous, tolerant and humane.

These are the kind of values I’m sure that most of us in the independence movement, regardless of where we sit on the left-right spectrum, want to encourage within the new Scotland we are striving to create.