HUNDREDS of campaigners yesterday joined an online conference to discuss the next steps towards independence, including the setting up of a national membership organisation similar to Yes Cymru by next year.

The Assembly, organised by the group All Under One Banner (AUOB), saw a series of panel events with key speakers from the independence movement and group discussions in workshop sessions.

Organisers said more than 1200 people had signed up, with at least 400 taking part in the event, which was a “temporary replacement in the time of Covid” for the usual marches in the streets of towns and cities across Scotland.

Speakers included SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, who told campaigners September next year would be a “reasonable” expectation for indyref2 to take place.

Andrew Wilson, of AUOB, said one aim of the day was to have a “serious discussion” about the achievements of Yes Cymru – the non-political party independence group in Wales.

“A number of people here today are very impressed with what Yes Cymru is achieving in Wales and that has prompted the discussions about a similar national membership organisation here,” he said.

“Today is an opportunity for the Yes movement to have a discussion about such an organisation, what it should look like and how it will be run.”

He added if campaigners were in favour of this plan, further meetings would be held with a view to setting up such an organisation by 2021.

Speakers included National columnist Lesley Riddoch, who said it was extraordinary to see so many people attending the event.

“There has been in my mind a disproportionate belief in parties as the salvation, parties as somehow the kind of drivers of ideas,” she said.

However Blackford told campaigners he recognised the independence movement was not just about the SNP.

“The SNP of course is the party of government and has a role to play in securing the referendum,” he said.

“But the commitment I give to AUOB and indeed to the movement in a more general sense is we all have to work together.

“This is about all of us, this is about all the people of Scotland and this is about winning a referendum.”

Blackford said there was “no question” Westminster was preparing for a second referendum.

He was challenged by Riddoch on criticism that the SNP has no strategy for Boris Johnson continuing to refuse a section 30 order.

But he said: “I don’t believe the position [the UK Government] has got is tenable.

“Of course we have to have alternatives, but when you look at the polling and the support we have now got … this strategy is winning.

“The strategy of making sure the people of Scotland have the right to determine their own future by determining section 30 should be transferred from Westminster to Scotland.

“That is what the election campaign we will be fighting for in 2021 is about – it is about the right of Scotland to choose.”

However SNP MP Kenny MacAskill said the biggest challenge to the movement was people giving up hope or expectation that anything can change.

“We are facing unemployment and austerity – that would normally be viewed as not the appropriate time to be looking for massive constitutional change,” he said. “Equally I actually believe this is almost our 1916 moment – the risk that existed for change in 2014 has transferred. The risk is now in staying.

“If we don’t move and move fast what will happen is Brexit will be delivered, Johnson will be removed, some Tory of a slightly more moderate hue will come in and they will come for us – and we will have missed our moment.”

He added: “We have got to break this impasse and the cosy, self-congratulation that afflicts too many in my own political party where we pat ourselves on the back at how high we are in the opinion polls.”