THE Scottish National Party is 85 years old this year.

It took 80 years of its existence for Scotland to get to a point where it asked itself whether it was ready for independence. The answer was a clear no, not yet, but since then, much has changed.

In the meantime, throughout most of its post-war history, its existence has improved Scotland’s position because the “threat” of independence was used by Secretaries of State to secure advantage and resource.

Without the SNP it is doubtful devolution would have happened and it certainly would not have been strengthened.

Over its long history the SNP hasn’t always got it right, usually when it was fighting among itself or speaking to the converted and the fringe rather than persuading.

But in more modern times it succeeded because it truly spoke as a unifying, positive, reforming “national” party. This is when the SNP is at its best; front foot, ambitious, outward-facing, welcoming, positive. Economically grounded, hard-headed and competent but with an unimpeachable social-democratic conscience and intent. Sure, of itself and about what it is for, not about what it is against.

Don’t get me wrong, all politics needs more than a bit of negative, especially in the face of strongmen populists and bigots. Of course, we can’t purely love our way to victory. But we must start our strategy there.

The case for independence is never a slam dunk, no reform of the future ever is. It requires nuance, pragmatism and trade-offs. This much is obvious. The process of getting there requires challenge and cost to be borne for benefits and gains to then be reaped. This is true of all aspects of our lives where we seek improvement. Best to be honest about that in this world and now more than ever.

By my reading, the prospects for independence are now as good as they have ever been, and the potential long-term gains are remarkable. But two major hurdles require to be traversed.

The first is the obvious negative example of Brexit. In the minds of many persuadable people, the sheer chaos of the conduct of Brexit is a red flag on change of that nature.

So, we need to set out to be the polar opposite in our case – the antidote to Brexit; democratically legitimate, internationally respected, clear about the long-term vision and plan, honest about the short-term transition that is required.

The second major hurdle is all about us. It is about how we conduct ourselves, hold ourselves and provide a unified, unifying and disciplined case.

There may be a temptation in some minds to learn the lessons

of populist success and seek to emulate it. I believe, heart and soul, that this would be disastrous.

I understand the urgency, we all do, but we need to be the opposite of hollow drum strong-man populism.

We cannot sell a pup to a population that deserves the best of honesty. We must not “other” anyone in a country that should seek to be a beacon of civilised welcome in a world of division and pain.

We must not pretend that as oil becomes less valuable that there are other free and easy routes to success or funding public services. There are not.

We have to create an honest transition plan that we deliver and then creates the stage on which a thousand flowers can bloom. Many different visions for what the next generation of Scotland will look like should compete, that is what a democratic independent country should be all about.

But first, the foundations must be laid that are strong and will sustain us through all the storms that face the world in the years and generations to come.

We still don’t know what the UK’s relationship with the European Union will look like. The chaos and collapse of the governing system is frightening so many hearts and minds now. We must wait to know of course so that we can be clear on the plan to manage our own relationship, not least on how trade can be as friction-free as possible to the benefit of all.

But this need not hold us up and I don’t think we should box too clever in our vision for where we are headed. I now believe we need to be candid and honest, heart and soul, that we will seek to bring Scotland back to the heart of the European Union as soon as practicably possible with all that this then means. No ifs, buts or maybes.

In practical terms, we can’t formally seek re-admission to the European Union until we are an independent country. But we can make our intent crystal clear.

For me the history of Ireland is instructive. Their independence was born in far tougher times, of course. But speak to almost any Irish politician and analyst and they will tell you that membership of the European Union made their independence case real and flourish.

The world faces immense challenges in the generation to come: climate change, migration on a massive scale, a fourth industrial revolution, demographic pressures in the societies of the most developed countries, a reversal in globalisation, openness and free movement and trade.

Within that mix, the strength of the United States and China dominate. The only possible counterbalance is the European Union. The UK’s lonely voice will be but a whisper in a populist wind of bellowing strongmen.

We have to choose and I, for one, choose Europe. This will mean some constraints on our independence as we co-operate for greater goals. It will also mean real enhancements to our independence as part of the greater whole but as an international independent country.

More than anything though it will mean us knowing in ourselves and telling the rest of the world that we mean to be part of the solution and antidote to strong-man populism.

Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister is mission-critical in all of this as we seek the support and backing of the international community for what is about to happen.

The SNP must renew and redouble its backing for her heart, mind and soul so that she can remain focussed out the way on winning what is a historic opportunity for the party and the country.

She is our best asset and must be allowed to shine. Of course, the independence cause is bigger than the SNP, and that is as it should be. But without the SNP united, disciplined and focussed the independence cause will not win.

In my estimation, independence will be won with approaching, or even more than, 60% of the vote. People are not there yet, but there is a very significant shift underway.

So many people I know and meet are readying, but not yet there.

They are leery of siren voices of populism and extremism, that is not the Scotland we are or seek to be. We will not win by doubling down on hollow drum populism a la Trump, Johnson, Farage et al.

I joined the SNP 32 years ago. I am not alone. Too many people have devoted themselves to this cause for so long to let it founder.

Few people have given more of themselves than the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. She has more than a dozen years of experience in government and the recognition and respect of world leaders everywhere. After more than a decade in power, her domestic ratings are remarkable. Imagine the opposite of Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson and Farage – she is its personification.

Back her to win. How Scottish would it be to hit the bar when the goal is opening up in front of us?