THE national movement in Scotland is in a febrile, testy state at the moment, caught between unprecedented political success and internal division. What is going on and are we about to snatch defeat from the yawning jaws of victory? Here’s the solution.

First, look at where we are in more detail. On the one hand, the latest polls confirm both a continuing, solid majority in support of independence and also that most folk – whatever their stance on the constitutional question – want a fresh referendum in the next few years. And while the Tories sack prospective candidates for being … well, Tories, and while Scottish Labour’s whirling leadership (?) door takes another spin, the FM continues to record stellar popular ratings.

On the other hand, bizarrely it seems, the indy movement appears to be a loggerheads with itself. There are deep divisions over strategy: Plan A versus Plan B. There is the looming threat to the FM – not to mention the stability of the SNP Government and higher civil service -– over the outcome of the Parliamentary investigation into the administration’s handling of the Salmond affair.

There are also the deep antagonisms inside the SNP and the Yes movement’s rank and file over attitudes to transgender rights – or at least the elevation of that issue (which is an important one) as a political metaphor for other ideological frictions.

The sum total of these political differences – real, imagined or exaggerated – has created a toxic atmosphere in the SNP and in the wider national movement, not to say a meltdown in personal relationships. Conspiracy theories abound replacing rational discourse. Folk are quick to “cancel” other activists – sometimes rightly but far too often on the flimsiest of evidence. Former movement leaders become non-persons. Turf wars are becoming more common in the movement, sapping energies better devoted to opposing Unionism.

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What to do? First, we need to understand why we are in this contradictory state – seemingly trapped between glorious national success and internal girning. The answer is simple. Since the near-victory of the 2014 referendum, the active independence movement has expanded in numbers by hundreds of thousands.

We have become the largest, sustained political movement in Europe. Not since the days of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement in Poland in the early 1980s, or the Peaceful Revolution in East Germany that brought down the Berlin Wall, have ordinary citizens mobilised in our numbers to effect change from below.

As a result, our movement has overflowed the boundaries of the existing pro-independence political parties. That, in turn, makes it difficult to structure debate and give the movement direction – hence the sometimes-unruly discourse among indy groups and individuals.

Yet our political strength lies in this diversity and grassroots initiative. Witness the mass rallies and demos organised by All Under One Banner (AUOB). Witness the Yes hubs and committees that have erupted spontaneously across Scotland. Witness vibrant new indy media providers such as Broadcasting Scotland or The National itself, which did not exist in 2014.

How do we keep this fantastic grassroots dynamic and find a mechanism for structuring debate and accountability inside the movement? One answer that has been proposed is the creation of a non-party, national membership organisation to give every indy activist an equal voice in deliberations, and to structure debate on strategy and tactics nationwide. This would be along the lines of the Catalan National Assembly.

An initiative to create such a body in Scotland was launched in November at an online assembly called by AUOB and supported by movement activists including Lesley Riddoch, Ian Grant of the Scottish Independence Foundation and the SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

FOR the last two months, the 15-person elected steering group – I’m co-convenor along with Gillian Mair, and the committee has a majority of women – has been developing a website and putting in place the necessary infrastructure. The public launch will be this month followed by a first national assembly in March.

The sole basis on which to found this national membership organisation has to be a guarantee it will be controlled by the membership – and the membership alone. It has to be bottom up, not top down. For many, modern politics seems remote and elitist. Our new organisation seeks to be different. We are a mass organisation wholly controlled from below by ordinary members.

Policy is made through mass assemblies and electronic voting by every member – not by remote committees. We prefigure the kind of open democracy a future Scotland should aspire to. That includes giving the movement a direct say in the strategy and tactics for achieving independence.

The “why now?” bit is easy. Far from being a distraction, the movement needs a national forum – open to every indy activist whether party member or not – to discuss strategy. Here I need to make a modest reference to the recent SNP conference, which I attended. Branch motions on strategy – what to do if the Tory regime at Westminster refuses a Section 30 order – were simply excised from the conference agenda. That is not democracy.

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The new national membership organisation is not anti-SNP, nor is it a covert political party. The organisation will not put up candidates or express any preference in voting. But it will provide the movement with an unfettered opportunity to discuss strategy and tactics, and to launch campaigns which the grassroots deem necessary.

Current tensions in our movement are the result not of too much public debate but of too little. They arise from the attempt by some in high places to suppress open discussion, on the grounds that these worthies alone know best. On the contrary, our independence movement can only be strengthened by being able to decide tactics and strategy in a genuinely collective manner.

Some will ask if it is right to start a new independence campaign body in a time of pandemic. Most indy activists view the serial incompetence of the Tory Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis as fresh reason for Scotland to govern itself – now not later. But they also respect the fact that the Scottish Government sees its first priority as dealing with the pandemic (not to mention the chaos of Brexit).

As a result, we need a division of labour, with the new national membership organisation taking up the reins of campaigning for immediate independence.

The SNP’s deputy leader, the much-respected Keith Brown, has just announced the creation of an “independence taskforce” working “within SNP headquarters”. This new body will “lead on strategy around independence as the party heads towards a referendum in early stages of the next parliamentary term”.

Cynics might wonder what a party committed to indy has being doing heretofore. And SNP members know full well that the modest-sized party HQ is less than efficient in running a mass organisation.

With due respect to Keith, the grassroots movement has been doing its own thing regarding campaigning since the FM cancelled the SNP’s official referendum initiative back in 2016, after the Brexit vote.

Rather than rely on SNP HQ – which has its own problems and will allow no deviation from Plan-A appeals to Boris for a Section 30 – the spirit of the times suggests we need to organise ourselves. And now.