GOODNESS. When I stopped writing for The National to have a break, I’d no idea that a near apocalypse was upon us. As I write this, a staggering 25,075,600 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and 736,372 people have died from it across the globe. Thousands of people in Scotland are reeling from grief. We are all rocked by the collective trauma of it all. The world has turned on its axis and now many of us are staring down an economic tsunami. And with autumn almost upon us, the pandemic may be far from over.

So, no matter who you are, or where you are, our personal and political landscapes have shifted under our feet. Fault lines have erupted, folded, expanded – and some have melted away. Amidst everything, support for independence, which sat stubbornly below 50% for most of the six years since the referendum, climbed to 55%. Not least because Nicola Sturgeon, part of a small group of world leaders, rose to the challenge.

Some pundits still throw a charge of incompetence at the SNP Government. But come on. In comparison to who? The Westminster Government led by Boris Johnson and his Rasputin-impersonating sidekick? Theresa May? The Cameron-led Government that led us to Brexit? The Blair and Brown governments that took us into an illegal war, deregulated the banks and led us into an almighty economic crash? Or the last Labour-led Government in Scotland whose leaders cheered on the invasion of Iraq and racked up tens of billions of debts in bungled PFI schemes that we’ll still be paying off in 20 years’ time?

I don’t think the SNP Government has been perfect in their handling of coronavirus. They relied too heavily, in good faith, on the advice and strategy that emanated from London in the crucial first weeks. But they did their homework, appointed their own advisory group, got a grip of the strategy for Scotland – and showed they bloody cared.

Nicola Sturgeon, through it all, has been like the guy who works at the shows on the waltzers – standing upright while the world spins and the rest of cling on to our seats. Between that and the multitude of other pressures that have assailed her Government over these past six months, can any of us honestly claim that we would have coped so calmly and resolutely?

Even when it comes to mistakes – and it was a mistake not to move more swiftly to overrule the SQA – the readiness of our Government to acknowledge and rectify their mistakes should be welcomed. U-turns are not a sign of weakness, but the mark of a confident, mature and responsive democracy.

I’m genuinely surprised at the negativity towards the Scottish Government from within the independence movement. And I’m not talking about the expression of principled differences over policy. I have many disagreements myself – on the monarchy, redistribution of wealth, economic growth and criminal justice to name a few. That’s the nature of the broad popular front that is the independence movement.

And I believe that the SNP should be embracing the plurality of the wider Yes movement and working more closely with wider forces to prepare the way for a resounding victory in the next independence referendum. The 2015 landslide no doubt convinced them it wasn’t necessary.

Although I’m not familiar with the internal workings, rivalries or factions of the SNP, I’m sure that even many of the party’s activists do not always feel included in decision-making. I sense that’s driving the appetite for some sort of Plan B and the calls for UDI. I also sense that the SNP inner circle is reluctant to lay out the details of its tactics and strategy in a fluorescent-lit shop window with a largely hostile media pack huddled on the outside gaping in.

That’s a dilemma that those of us with a radically democratic outlook struggle to resolve.

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I’m all for talking about how progressive an independent Scotland could be. I’m as impatient and hungry for independence, and to do something with it, as anyone. I’d be one of the first to the barricades should that be required.

But we need a bit of patience. The fate of the independence movement could be determined in nine months’ time, depending on the balance of forces after next May’s election. It is premature, frankly, to be giving up the ghost on a legally binding, mutually agreed referendum post the 2021 election.

That plays into the hands of the Tory Government in Westminster. Of course Boris Johnson right now is ruling out a second referendum – especially when he knows that to do so will provoke splits in the independence movement and threats to declare UDI. Never take a Tory leader at face value.

IF the Scottish electorate votes resoundingly next May for the right of Scotland to decide its own future, then we will be entering different terrain. If Johnson still says no to democracy for Scotland, then we need to muster all the forces we can to exert unstoppable pressure for the right to decide in a second, binding referendum. These forces need to go beyond the existing independence movement and include trades unions and other independent civic organisations and institutions.

Catalonia had two million people on the streets in 2014. I was in Barcelona just after that gigantic demonstration and spoke to trade unions and political parties who mobilised their members to join the march, even though they were undecided about independence. What they were clear about, however, was the right of the people of Catalonia to decide their own future. Ultimately, they lost – even with two million on the streets.

Scotland is not Catalonia and the UK is not Spain. But let’s be clear: until we can be confident that we could bring a million and more people out onto the streets, any talk of UDI is just pretence.

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We can all agree on the final destination of independence. But we need to make sure that all the passengers get on the train before it sets off. That impatient, radical and vibrant movement that brought hundreds of thousands to the cause of independence and produced many incredibly talented activists in 2014 has also created rarefied bubbles. Those who spend their lives on social media and mingle only with like-minded activists are prone to misjudge the mood of the broader mass of the electorate. Leading from the front is one thing. But when you run so far ahead of everyone else that you disappear from sight, you cannot lead anyone anywhere.

At this time, more than ever before, we need cool heads. We need to stop panicking. We need to stop playing into the hands of our enemies by indulging in intemperate outbursts directed against our own side. We need, dare I say it, a bit of self-discipline.

Seriously – can we not just keep the heid for a wee while longer?