WE’RE on a long road with Covid-19, but also in winning Scotland’s independence.

Yesterday was also the four-year anniversary of the EU referendum vote, a poignant reminder amid today’s strange times that Scotland remains a work in progress. Coronavirus has been tough – living apart from friends and loved ones, not able to see them except under limited circumstances. But the numbers are gradually improving, and with Scotland’s infection rates clearly on the downward trend (and long may that continue) then staying the course becomes easier seeing the results of the sacrifice.

Finally, there was also a glimmer last week that public sentiment on independence is changing too. I have, as the SNP policy development convener, been doing a series of Zoom meetings with branches, constituencies and groups of constituencies up and down the country about the SNP’s policy development process.

It is an easy format – I outline the role and work of the Policy Development Committee, then there are questions, comments and some debate.

I have spoken in this way to more branches nationwide than anyone, and am struck by the discipline and resolve of the party. And how different it is to the online discourse. There is a palpable frustration in the SNP that we are not where we want to be, and we are raring to go when we get back to any sort of normality, but there is also a clear-eyed recognition that to win we need to bring people with us and show we are behind our leader Nicola Sturgeon.

For much of the past four years – and I have written about it extensively in this column – I think a sizeable proportion of the people of Scotland have been shocked out of what they thought the UK was and Scotland’s place in it. They voted No on the basis that they genuinely believed we are a partnership of equals that respects Scotland, that they didn’t want to risk EU membership, that they wanted no economic disruption. These assumptions and promises all look pretty threadbare now, but that brings people over to be being open to independence, not necessarily yet in favour of it.

I won the Stirling constituency in December with 51% because a number of people who are quite explicitly not in favour of independence loaned me a vote because of their disgust at the Tories. But they’re open to a discussion about independence.

They’re not interested in process discussions or “Plan B” (indeed they’re barely aware such debates are under way) or any other mythical silver bullet that will somehow wave a wand and make us independent. They’re interested in their lives, their communities and right now feeling pretty anxious about the future. The reason why I am in Stirling talking about local issues like Covid, traffic disruption, the bins being lifted and economic recovery is because that’s what people are talking about and by being all over those issues we’ll build that credibility for the next step.

Last week the polls moved – and moved decisively. Again, long may it continue. The demographic breakdown of the polls is even more encouraging.

So now is not the time for sniping from the sidelines with empty sloganising. The work we want to see and the response we want from the people of Scotland is happening. There is an opportunity for us, and I’m proud of the work that is going on to develop the independence prospectus. The nature of the work of the Policy Development Committee is that some things will be encouraged by us, some things elsewhere supported by us. The work of the Social Justice Commission under the excellent Shona Robison MSP and Neil Gray MP is genuinely transformative, thinking about how to develop a social security ecosystem to support people that is centred on dignity and fairness. I would encourage everyone to get into it and contribute to this energising discussion.

LIKEWISE the Higgins report published this week, commissioned by the Scottish Government about how to build back our economy from Covid, is a rich and energising series of real ideas to get our teeth into. The proposals put forward by Common Weal – pro-independence but not part of the SNP – are interesting too, as far as they go. Again, I encourage SNP members to bring them into our processes and debate them on their merits.

It has been a long road, but we’re almost there. Independence will come when a clear and consistent majority of the people of Scotland want it. That is an argument we can win and a challenge we are more than up to. Its happening.