ON Saturday I joined a number of enthusiastic Yes activists at a stall in Ayr town centre who were taking part in Believe in Scotland’s Day of Action. It was the first time the Yes Movement had taken part in a major campaign since lockdown and it was great to engage people in political debate in the great outdoors after so long stuck inside and on Zoom.

During that day I saw scores of photographs on social media showing similar stalls and activities up and down the country. Leaflets and campaigning materials being handed out, discussions starting, European flags outside the Scottish parliament, Saltires hanging from bridges and flying on top of mountains.

I work with Believe in Scotland and knew exactly how much work had gone in to coming up with the idea for the event and organising it, alongside partners the National Yes Network and the Scottish Independence Foundation. It was great to have The National on board as media partner and I was proud of the Open Minds newspaper we had produced and distributed.

Social media showed people joining together to engage with people who for one reason or another have not yet been convinced by the case for Scottish independence. As the countdown to indyref2 begins in earnest nothing is more important that attracting new converts to the ranks of Yes voters. It was gratifying to see a real effort to do just that with a range of convincing campaign material which we were getting into the right hands.

READ MORE: National independence day of action marks start of new grassroots campaign

So it was disappointing to see naysayers pour scorn on the day and even denigrate those taking part. All those months indoors seem to have made some of us cynical and depressingly quicker to criticise attempts to change minds than to get actively involved.

We don’t know yet when Scotland will get its second vote on its future direction but it would be sensible to suggest its likely to be by the end of 2023 at the latest. That’s the preferred date of the Scottish Government and following the SNP/Scottish Greens co-operation agreement the political push for that date looks unstoppable.

Westminster can try to block it all they want but Boris Johnson and his cronies have already moved from abject refusal to countenance indyref2 to simply disagreeing over the date. The Prime Minister and cronies such as Michael Gove and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack give often contradictory statements on the issue but the current consensus seems to be not before 2024. So in effect the disagreement seems to focus on just a few months.

Given that the gap between the two sides is less of a chasm than a short jump it’s hard to see why Westminster would be happy looking like authoritarian hardliners and risk the resulting voter alienation rather than enter meaningful negotiations.

Recent warnings that a block on indyref2 would move the Union from a voluntary agreement to one enforced by law seem to me a compelling argument for Johnson and chums to think again.

Given that timescale a second referendum is not too far away. There is much to be done and not a huge amount of time to do it.

For some parts of the Yes movement, of course, even the end of 2023 is too long to wait. They want the referendum as soon as possible and view the two-year countdown as an indication that the SNP is dragging its feet.

While I see why they feel like that I’ve got rather more sympathy with the SNP. It has, after all, a country to run and one which has during the past year or so faced considerable challenges. I don’t think it unreasonable to expect the wider Yes movement to pick up the slack at a relatively early stage of the campaign.

Which is why events like last Saturday’s Day of Action is so important, for two main reasons. The first is the obvious one of trying to reach out the Yes bubble and actually present information to undecided votes which might win their support. But it’s also important to galvanise existing supporters to begin campaigning in earnest.

Saturday’s Day of Action was successful in both those counts. Campaigning information was distributed beyond the boundaries of the Yes bubble and activists were able to reconnect with each other and feel supported in a way that hasn’t been possible during lockdown.

A win-win then. Why the niggles from the naysayers? To an extent they represent an uncertainty over what makes for effective campaigning. For some the huge marches organised by All Under One Banner before lockdown were a great way to visually communicate the strength of support for independence and that was in itself a recruiting tool. After all, if so many people supported Yes there was clearly something going wrong. The marches were also a feelgood experience for those taking part. While not being everything, that feeling was certainly something.

On the other hand, detractors argued that no one was ever converted by having a flag waved in front their face and that huge marches were an indulgence but did nothing to swell the ranks of Yes voters.

FOR me, both sides have a point. I loved the marches but felt guilty about the echo chamber. It was great to see so many people on the streets but how did it connect with soft No voters?

​READ MORE: Politicians DID come out to support Day of Action for independence

When I joined the SNP I was amazed at the importance placed on good old-fashioned knocking on doors, although obviously that hasn’t been possible for months. But trudging up never-ending stairs was regarded as a real rite of passage for activists. It was almost as if you weren’t taken seriously until you had worn out a pair of shoes a week.

But as a newspaper man I was looking for the dramatic picture to capture the imagination and, with the best will in the world, a bedraggled activist holding a bundle of leaflets wasn’t that picture. A huge line of Yes supporters in the Royal Mile filling the frame with Saltires … now, that had the wow factor.

Maybe the reality is that we need a bit of both. Last Saturday was a time for smaller, local events. For creating space for conversation and debate. For stalls rather than the spectacular. And it worked. #BelieveInScotland trended throughout the day on Twitter. The Facebook reach was amazing. The Day of Action kicked off an Autumn of Indy Action. It encouraged Yes groups which had slipped into hibernation to restart. Saturday’s individual events may have been relatively small scale but this was not a small thing and its ripples will spread wide.

There’s a big lesson to learn too. It’s that it’s easy to criticise the efforts of others. It’s easy to say events are too big, too small, too alienating for soft Nos, too Yes, too dull, too crazy. It’s easy to carp from the sidelines rather than to try something for yourself.

Last Saturday was an important day for another reason. It was the seventh anniversary of the first independence referendum, a time which was up there among the best in my life.

I remember those days as an explosion of activity, a celebration of political activism. Something was happening all the time, not all of it helpful but it was at least memorable.

If we’re to get those days back in the run up to indyref2 it’s time to ditch the cynicism, park the moaning and do something – anything – to get involved.