THE news that the Tories are war gaming a strategy to delay and then avoid a second independence referendum shouldn’t surprise anyone. However, Alberto Nardelli of Bloomberg is to be commended for another great scoop. The memo which fell into his hands is a document from a political consultancy firm that works closely with the Tory party (NB not the Tory Government) to look at tactics.

They have identified that, if the SNP win a majority in next May’s elections, continuing to dismiss calls for another independence vote outright could be “counterproductive”. Therefore, what they need to do is to look at ways to delay or avoid a second independence referendum.

Well, honestly, who knew? Nevertheless, it’s an important reminder that, whilst the SNP must secure a second vote for independence in circumstances which will meet with international approval and therefore the all-important international recognition, the strategy for doing so should not be one-dimensional.

It also gives an indication of how we might want to approach framing such a strategy. Whilst I commend those who have fought against inexplicable resistance to have a Plan B debated at the SNP conference, I also agree with those who caution against putting all one’s cards on the table, particularly when dealing with the current Tory Government at Westminster.

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We should not cede power to these people. They are devious and unprincipled. This does not mean we should ape their behaviour but nor should we predicate our entire strategy on the assumption that they will do the right thing when their past behaviour suggests quite the opposite.

As Pete Wishart found out this week, Michael Gove can be a dirty tackler. Ask the EU Brexit negotiation team if they think the British Government will play by the Queensberry rules in any negotiation with the Scottish Government? The answer is obvious.

We can’t run a campaign on a series of indignant remarks. The campaign to secure a second independence vote should of course seek to achieve the gold standard of a second referendum based on a Section 30 Order as that would be by far the easiest route. However, we need a strategy to fall back on when sleekit tactics of delay and avoidance are employed. Time is not on our side. Brexit has happened. The transition period will be a distant memory by the time the election comes. Our parliament is going to be hamstrung when the Internal Market Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and the longer we stay tethered to Brexit Britain the more we diverge from the EU’s standards and laws.

I am looking forward to what I hope will be a lively and stimulating debate at conference about the various options which might constitute a Plan B. However, I would suggest that the best outcome of this debate might be for the membership to mandate the newly elected NEC to set up a group to work on gaming a copper-bottomed strategy the precise details of which need not be advertised to the enemy.

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Such a group would have to involve a wide cross section of the party from centre to left and not just comprise the usual suspects. If, as I suspect they will, conference delegates seize the chance to improve the governance of our party by electing an NEC which reflects the views of the membership and their desire for scrutiny and transparency, for which Roger Mullin has so ably argued, then it will be the perfect opportunity to make sure all the talents in our party are utilised.

Contrary to a column in another newspaper earlier this week, there is more than one brain behind the Yes movement and the SNP also has quite a few brains to offer. Whilst some might say that the article in question was designed to provoke and is therefore best ignored, the reaction to it has exposed that a centrist, “steady as she goes” approach to policy and strategy is not shared across the board in the movement or the party. This is important not just for the policy vision for an independent Scotland, but also for strategic planning.

SOME of the brains in the SNP who are not employed full time dealing with the Covid crisis would like nothing more than to contribute to the development of strategy but feel left out in the cold without an obvious avenue for such contributions to be meaningful. Wouldn’t it be great if these brains could be brought together to devise a strategy to be employed to deal with the inevitable Tory dirty tricks when yet another mandate is secured?

We need to move beyond the childish assumption that anyone who questions what is understood to be the leadership orthodoxy is disloyal or wants to replace the leader. Let’s also challenge the narrative which seeks to label us all as either Salmondites or Sturgeonites. Most of us actually have a mind of our own and what we all have in common is the desire for independence. We are on the verge of realising our dream and we need to work together to ensure that we do.

Equally, we must not let those who howl “no debate” on social media prevent us from getting our house in order for the struggle that lies ahead. A small but vocal group, many of whom are not even members of the SNP, seem to have got the impression that they have carte blanche to abuse and demonise anyone who disagrees with their views on gender self ID or Plan B. But guess what? It turns out most members of the SNP don’t like that approach and would prefer to have a civilised debate as we have done in the past over such controversial topics as Nato membership.

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At the Edinburgh Central SNP candidate hustings this week Marco Biagi argued: “The party is at its best when it is at its boldest.” It is a sentiment with which I wholly agree.

Nor need we worry about scaring the horses. Today’s bold gesture is tomorrow’s mundane reality. For example, when Alex Salmond renamed the Scottish Executive the Scottish Government, after the first SNP election victory in 2007, some commentators reacted as though he was storming the barricades. Now no-one apart from some Tories questions that nomenclature.

I have one final caveat. A lot of work has gone into organising online hustings for the selection of SNP candidates for next year’s election. However, I am not the only member who has been disappointed by the lack of opportunity for members to interact with the candidates or debate their answers. It’s a far cry from the lively hustings I went through to be selected as a candidate in 2015 and lessons must be learned for the conference format if we are to have a debate which will encourage fresh thinking to flourish.