FIFTEEN polls in a row have put support for independence at well above 50%. Just think how much higher it could go once we launch a campaign and answer the questions that still trouble soft No voters.

So it is very important we do not lose sight of the prize.

The new NEC and officer bearers elected by SNP conference delegates are going to have their hands full. At the same time as ironing out troublesome governance issues, we are also going to be very busy overseeing the putting together of a manifesto with policies to win next year’s election and, also, planning for the independence vote that will follow.

So let’s pull together and stop tilting at windmills and setting up strawmen to attack. It’s time now to play the ball, not the man or the woman. We are sons and daughters of the Scottish Enlightenment. The best parts of that tradition should be what we take forward as we debate ideas and look at the detail of policy.

We cannot have areas of policy that are no-go whether it’s the question of a fallback strategy if Westminster continues to say no or the importance of protecting women’s rights as well as the rights of trans people.

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Given that a false account of my position on the latter issue has been peddled by some people who really ought to know better, I want to take the opportunity to set the record straight in the hope that we might move on without any more malicious misrepresentation.

The SNP manifesto for the 2016 Scottish election committed the Scottish Government to “review and reform gender recognition law”. It did not commit the SNP to a policy of self-identification. The process of review and reform was ongoing until paused for the pandemic. Concerns have been raised about proposals to change to a system of self-identification of sex or gender and we should recognise that these concerns are legitimate.

In particular, there is a very real conflict with the sex-based protections set out in the Equality Act, including female only spaces such as changing rooms, hospital wards, sanitary and sleeping accommodation, refuges, hostels and prisons and the right to refuse consent to males in single-sex spaces or males delivering intimate services to females such as washing, dressing or counselling.

I am proud of the fact that in Scotland we have very good rights-based protections for trans people. No-one is seeking to change that. I think in the current climate we need to be careful that the knowledge of and confidence in those existing rights isn’t erased or undermined by people using fear and misinformation to argue for further change.

The debate has become toxic and dominated by name-calling. I have neither said nor done anything which is transphobic and yet I am repeatedly accused of being a transphobe including by elected parliamentarians, councillors and members of my own party who are breaching the SNP members’ code of conduct with their wild allegations.

Joan McAlpine and others have suffered the same treatment. This behaviour could just be seen as childish and silly except it isn’t silly for me or my loved ones because it has brought down a tsunami of abuse and violent threats on occasion requiring me to have police protection.

The National:

Those who are seeking to shut down debate by ignoring the legitimate concerns of women do a disservice to everyone and undermine the rights set out in the Equality Act. We need to find a way through this that is measured and respectful of the concerns of trans people and women.

In June 2019, together with a trans woman who is a constituent, I wrote to Shirley-Anne Somerville and proposed that a Citizens’ Assembly be set-up to identify the problems and work to find solutions.

I am sorry that our suggestion was not taken up. When the new NEC meets, it is a suggestion that I will renew with the proposal that some sort of mediated process could help to heal the rifts in our party which have grown up over this issue and move us towards a solution.

However, this is just one area of policy which has already taken up a great deal of bandwidth. There is still a lot of work to be done in other areas which are of huge importance not just to winning independence but to managing the transition to independence successfully.

It is policy and planning that will win the prize of independence. Once the independence campaign properly begins, a searing focus will be turned upon our plans for the economy, trade relations with the rest of the UK and the process of re-joining the EU.

So we must have clear answers on these issues.

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A huge amount of thinking about these matters has been done within our academic institutions and by bodies such as the Scottish Centre for European Relations, Common Weal, Business for Scotland and the Scottish Independence Convention. The answers which emerge from this work need to be pulled together and packaged for consumption by voters.

Fortunately, our new policy convenor, Chris Hanlon, is a real ideas man and someone who gets things done. It should be remembered that he championed the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies and that it was his energy that helped bring this issue to the conference floor and into party policy.

He has the focus and the drive to deliver real policy change and delegates have elected a very talented diverse group of people to the policy committee to help him.

There’s a lot of work to be done so let’s make sure our new NEC gets started on it and frees up our First Minister and her Government to get on with tackling the Covid crisis so together we can plan for the independent future that will follow.