BEFORE this month is up, the UK will leave the European Union. Dominic Cummings wants to pack the civil service with “weirdos and misfits”. The US is on the brink of war with Iran. Australia is burning. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more dystopian start to a new year. Aldous Huxley, eat your heart out.

And yet Scotland will imminently be dragged out of the most successful economic and political union the world has ever known – to satisfy an ancient Conservative ideological obsession and to tickle Boris Johnson’s vanity. We’re slouching away from Europe’s centre of gravity at a time when climate change, terrorism, fake news and right-wing populism are threatening our democracies and our very lives. Brexit made little sense in 2016; it makes even less sense in 2020.

And Scotland is well aware of this. We’ve constantly rejected Westminster’s narrow isolationist agenda, whether in the 2016 EU referendum, in the European elections or in the recent General Election where 90% of Scottish seats were won by pro-Remain parties.

We also did it in 2014 when, in good faith, many of our fellow Scots were persuaded by Better Together that a vote for the Union was the best way to protect our EU membership. They were deceived.

It’s these disaffected Unionist voters that the independence movement most needs to speak to. Voters who are now coming to terms with the reality of Brexit, and who lent the SNP their vote at the General Election – perhaps for the first time – but who still hesitate about independence.

The National:

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The SNP cannot assume that the turmoil of Brexit alone will push these voters to support Yes. When faced with uncertainty, the instinct to “hold on to nurse for fear of something worse” is a powerful one. That’s why our strategy must focus on building confidence in ourselves.

Brexit may well be the tipping point for many of us, but for many more, it still won’t be enough. I don’t share Iain Macwhirter’s analysis that “independence won’t be won or lost over finance”. I’ve knocked on enough doors across Scotland, including in the financial capital of Edinburgh, to know that’s simply not true. Our economic case will be central to building confidence and reassuring the waverers. How that case will be presented in the next campaign will be the difference between winning and losing.

This year must be a year of civic participation. Citizens’ assemblies are spearheading that process, but we must go further. This is too important to be left to politicians alone or any one party or ideology.

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A Convention on Scotland’s Future could bring together civic Scotland in all its diversity – business, the third sector, churches, as well as Scotland’s political parties – to forge a national consensus.

The path to independence is built on participatory citizenship. Yes groups and organisations should be reconstituted or re-launched; many already have. Recent statements by senior Labour figures and the STUC’s general secretary, who called for the Scottish party to reconsider its opposition to indyref2, should be welcomed, not met with catcalls and cynicism.

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Nicola Sturgeon is right to demand the transfer of power to hold a referendum this year.

The National:

And if that request is denied she will leverage it into support for independence. So to those champing at the bit for indyref2, I simply say this: we’re 16 months out from the most crucial Holyrood elections of our lives.

The SNP already has a mandate to hold a referendum, but it’s those elections that can make a Section 30 irrefutable.

Then, 2021 must be a rallying cry for Scotland’s right to choose. It must galvanise the newly converted as well as the faithful – both the angry and the hopeful, and both the careful and canny and those prepared to take a risk for their country. And the SNP must be prepared to work pragmatically to secure a pro-independence majority.

It won’t be an easy task. But by May 2021, Brexit will be causing damage and Scotland’s choice will be clear: chaos with Westminster and the possibility of a US trade deal that could jeopardise our NHS, or a common future of co-operation and partnership with our European neighbours as an independent country.

We must paint a vision of an outward-looking Scotland – one that plays its full part on the international stage. For 40 years the UK has been on the edges of Europe, not shaping the European debate but merely reacting to it through a Eurosceptic lens. Scotland will be a different kind of member state. It will assert its interests at the heart of Europe, like Finland, which has just completed its EU presidency, or Estonia, which has gained a seat on the UN Security Council. Now more than ever, the world needs small, green, socially progressive nations that reject isolationism and make a stand for liberal values.

The world needs Scotland to be an independent country.