EVER since the SNP’s historic election win in 2007 there has been no downtime in Scottish politics.

We have been in a perpetual election cycle. And each parliamentary election feels more pivotal than the last. So it feels like a tired cliche to say the next Holyrood election will be a defining moment. But it’s true.

Independence was so tantalisingly close in 2014, and it’s hard not to reflect on what could have been. In fact, that’s what an increasing number of people who voted No in 2014 have been doing, but with even more urgency in recent months.

Like many people, the thought of engaging in party politics in the middle of a pandemic was the last thing on my mind. However, while most activists put politics aside, something transformational was happening in Scotland.

People were paying much more attention to their governments – keenly awaiting news on the spread of the pandemic, the action that would be taken and the rules to be obeyed. More people than ever have been plugged in to what their governments are doing. Scotland is of course no exception in that regard, and the pandemic and its consequences have shone a stark light on government – north and south of the Border.

People have watched in horror as a man who is so ill-equipped for the job of Prime Minister it’s not even laughable. In stark contrast, people in Scotland look to their own government – leading us through these tough times with compassion and honesty.

Many are now joining the dots. Where we have the powers to do things differently from Westminster, time and time again we have shown that we make better decisions here in Scotland. Imagine how much more we could do with independence?

Support for independence has been growing steadily, and after thirteen years in government the SNP’s popularity is exceptionally high. The First Minister’s approach of “show not tell” is demonstrating exactly why we need independence.

As we head into the next Scottish Parliament election, and when campaigning has resumed, this should be at the forefront of our minds and message. We need a clear distinction in our election campaign about what we have achieved, and what more we could deliver with independence.

Throughout our campaign, we need to demonstrate each point where the constitutional ceiling limits our ability to make life better for Scots.

To do that, we could take a completely different approach to our manifesto and campaign, to put independence front-and-centre next May.

We should of course publish our programme for government. We need to set out in detail how we would continue to use the devolved powers of our Scottish Parliament to deliver competent and compassionate government – across a whole range of key areas that matter to each and every one of us.

Given the extremely challenging times we are in, I would expect a strong focus on rebuilding from the pandemic. Rather than lots of new initiatives, I think what most people in Scotland want to see is a focus on key public services and keeping people in jobs – the real nitty gritty of the day job. But I don’t believe that should be the basis of our party’s election manifesto and campaign, because we don’t limit our ambitions to what the current constitutional settlement allows us to deliver.

Yes, we are a party of government, but the SNP has always been more than a political party. We are a movement for independence.

That’s why I think we need to make a clear distinction at the forthcoming election between governing a devolved parliament, and the potential of independence to make life so much better for everyone who lives here.

Therefore, I believe our election manifesto should not just include a commitment to deliver independence, but focus on how we could use the powers of independence to deliver so much more for people in Scotland – a manifesto for independence.

I’m not suggesting a White Paper 2.0. I don’t believe we should be trying to prescribe exactly what policies should be pursued in an independent Scotland. After all, the point of independence is that we will then get to make these decisions for ourselves. Rather, we should be demonstrating both the need and desirability for independence, and highlight some of the positive changes that independence would allow us to pursue.

Let’s not expend energy arguing over the finer points of policies that the future governments of an independent Scotland may or may not decide to pursue, and focus our arguments on the wider principles of self-government and the potential that gives us to transform our country.

Independence is the reason the SNP exists. It should be the focus of our election campaign. The election will be a de facto referendum on independence anyway, so let’s grasp the chance to make the positive case. And let’s abandon the tradition of publishing a manifesto in the final weeks before poll and publish our manifesto for independence as soon as possible, when campaigning resumes.

Let’s campaign on the defining issue facing our country: should we stick with the status quo and remain in the clutches of Westminster failure, or do we choose a better future and put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands?