I FIRST joined the SNP in 1976 and, having campaigned for the party and candidates in numerous council, Holyrood, Westminster and European parliamentary elections, it is fair to say it has been a long – and at times exhausting – journey.

The days when the SNP campaigned knowing we would lose our deposit have long gone and I take my hat off to those who stood on an SNP ticket knowing they wouldn’t win while recognising they were building a platform for the next campaign. It takes great strength to stand, lose, face the ridicule of the victors and stand again.

It was losing the referendum in 2014 that motivated me to stand for Westminster the following year. Inverclyde had been a Labour stronghold for 80 years. Gordon Brown had said they would never lose it. But even when we were ahead in the polls as the contest drew to a close, we never took victory for granted.

And I say “we” because this has been about far more than just me. I get the privilege of serving and representing my constituency, but it took a large team of dedicated activists selflessly giving up their time and putting in untold hours of effort to get me elected – not just once but three times. And I only tell you this so as you can understand where I am coming from.

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I was drawn into politics for a range of reasons. I believe in a better, fairer society for all. I would be classed as a left-of-centre socialist. Like most people, I can recognise where wrongs are being perpetrated and like most people, I call out those injustices. My office works tirelessly for Inverclyde, representing people with issues from housing and welfare to passports and transport.

There is hardly an area of day-to-day life an MP’s office doesn’t touch. People often say they are not interested in politics. But politics affects their lives in so many ways that if you express an opinion on health, education, transport, employment, welfare, immigration, emigration and a hundred other topics then you are talking politics and you are taking an interest.

What people mean is they are not interested in the machinery of politics and that is understandable. Sometimes the grandstanding and the self-promotion of elected members is stomach-churning but sometimes they are raising the volume of a voice that has gone unheard.

The methodology behind government and opposition is often lost on people, and therefore the machinations of elected members can look strange and unjustified. Sometimes they are – 650 MPs trying to do a job that has no job description will inevitably lead to a range of behaviours and practices.

Some of those will leave the electorate feeling disenfranchised and outside the political loop. MPs from England will constantly be challenged by their constituents to address particular issues. They may be local issues or national ones. Over the course of an electoral term their number one issue will change, but for me as an SNP MP the number one issue doesn’t. The reason my party exists is to establish an independent Scotland. Therefore, my office will work in much the same way as many others, but at a political level, independence will always be top of the list.

That does not mean I am dedicated to it every minute of every day, but it does mean that in matters that are appropriate I take into consideration the independence angle and react accordingly. That may be as simple as pointing out the powers required in Scotland to address an issue, or it may be dissecting the claims made by the Conservative and Unionist government to show them in a different light.

The day-to-day job continues, but the reason for being an SNP MP does not change from day to day or year to year. While we do good work in our constituencies and many people have benefited from the hard work and dedication of MPs office teams, we will be judged on the outcome of the journey towards independence.

THE history books will not say “the MP’s office helped 10,000 people with welfare cases and 1000 with visa issues”. They will say the election of a majority of SNP MPs did or did not contribute to the ultimate establishment of an independent nation.

That is why I will work every day for the people of Inverclyde, regardless of how or indeed if they voted, but will always remember I stood on an SNP ticket and the SNP’s reason for existing is establishing an independent Scotland. Seven years on from the last Scottish independence referendum, we find ourselves now in the curious position of poll after poll indicating that the people of Scotland would support a referendum for independence and would vote for independence. The clamour for that to go ahead among independence supporters is understandable.

But the outcome can’t be guaranteed. Had we held a referendum between 2014 and now, it’s likely the independence movement would not have won. In my view that would have killed the movement stone dead for my lifetime. Therefore, I see it as my role to help move Scotland towards a vote for independence, and regardless of when it happens, we must ensure the people of Scotland vote for independence for all the right reasons.

In my head, the independence movement is like a plane full of travellers who have gathered together on a common journey. We knew the destination, we built the plane, we fuelled it and we flew it through difficult conditions and landed it safely, but we are now stuck.

We can’t disembark because the last leg of the journey is not clear. Some of the passengers think it is, despite the fact this is uncharted terrain we find ourselves in. And like a group of tourists stuck in a plane on the hot tarmac, impatient to get to their resort, we are growing intolerant. Arguments are breaking out, voices are being raised, the harmony is less obvious, the cohesion is under threat and those that would oppose us are loving it. The discontent is understandable, but the danger is factions will destroy the fabric of the movement with their own interests being pushed to the front and the greater good being ignored. The old adage of divide and rule never looked so sweet to supporters of the Union.

IT is right and proper that we continue to plan for an independent country and developing a vision is an important part of the process. I don’t want an independent Scotland that is no more than a smaller version of the UK.

We need to take a long hard look at a wide range of policies and design a country fit for this century. We need to maximise our resources and safeguard our future.

A lot of that planning needs to be done now but it must not become an obstacle of our own making that hinders the progress and harmony of the greater independence movement.

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We will disagree over aspects of the finished design, but policies must evolve, and it will take time and effort to get it right. We will make mistakes and learn from them, but the biggest mistake would be to take our eyes off the prize and that prize is for all the citizens of an independent Scotland.

It’s not a badge of honour which would enable a few acolytes to spend their years in a retirement home doting over their name in a history book, telling tales of their great victory while they rubbed shoulders with people in power.

Scotland’s independence is for everybody, an attainable goal that will allow this and future generations to design and build a country that reflects the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a nation that wishes to be treated as an equal among equals.

A nation for people who are responsible and compassionate towards each other and outward-looking to other nations. A nation that one day will look back and ask what took us so long? And we can answer that we did what we had to do and we acted at the right time and that’s why we won.