‘YOU must read the Daily Mail.” The speaker was providing media training for people wanting to be parliamentary candidates. On this point, she was emphatic.

Much as she was certain that almost everyone in the room would only have contempt for Britain’s most influential tabloid, she wanted us to know what the Mail had to say because it would be vital opposition research. The lines which would be used to attack our party most effectively would be found in its pages.

Being dutiful, and unimaginative, I complied. That might be enough to make me sound like an archetypal Mail reader, but I was fascinated to discover the wide range of content – and how the practical could jostle for space with frothingly enraged madness. It was before the launch of Mail Online, so I never had to explore the infamous “sidebar of shame” with its prurient interest in the minutiae of the lives of celebrities.

That trainer made another point. She explained that the Mail was famous for its editorial lunches, where there was, perhaps surprisingly, wide-ranging discussion, with leading politicians vying for invitations.

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Journalism is famous for being lubricated by alcohol. But this was quite different – the active development of political ideas in a convivial atmosphere, with the possibility of the newspaper picking them up, and campaigning for them.

We had to think of the Mail almost as a political organisation, confident in its ability to influence public opinion and unembarrassed about seeking to be on the best possible terms with party leaders.

Sharing ideas over a meal is central to many human cultures. The academic tradition of the “brown bag” seminar is much more modest than a Daily Mail lunch. People come with a bag of sandwiches to listen to an informal presentation of new research, and then talk about how to improve it.

Eating, and talking, were entirely central to the Scottish Enlightenment, perhaps most famously in the meetings of the “Select Society”. Established in 1754 by the portrait painter Adam Ramsay, with the support of David Hume and Adam Smith, it quickly acquired a membership extending across the professions – law, medicine, banking, and the church – but also university professors, land owners, and politicians.

As set out in an article in the Scots Magazine in 1755, the society’s members had a rather self-conscious goal: “By practice to improve themselves in reasoning and eloquence, and by the freedom of debate, to discover the most effectual methods of promoting the good of the country.”

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Although it lasted for only 10 years, it brought together many of the leading thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment and its impact is still remembered today.

Think of the Enlightenment as the project by which Scotland worked out what it meant to be a stateless nation and how to manage political debate and theological differences without shedding blood. The greatest minds of the age came together, contending with each other about how to do that.

Enlightenment was not just to see the “improvement of manners” in polite society. Setting aside religious dogmas, man would become the measure of all things. The world would be explicable entirely in terms of natural processes.

Reason was in the ascendant. Voltaire, the year before the Select Society wound up, remarked drolly: “It is a wonderful result of the progress of human culture, that at this day there come to us from Scotland rules of taste in all the arts, from epic poetry to gardening.”

Combine the objectives of the Select Society and the hospitality of the Daily Mail and we would end up with The National organising lunches where the discussion would naturally turn to ensuring that independence will succeed.

The nucleus of the initial guest list would be the paper’s columnists. Michael Fry, with his vast knowledge of Scottish history and politics, would be an adornment to any meeting. Ruth Wishart’s practical wisdom, and clear thinking, would keep us focused on independence. Stuart Cosgrove, steeped in popular culture, often made the best arguments in the paper last year. Lesley Riddoch would ensure that the discussions had a radical tinge. Andrew Tickell, as well as excoriating Tories, would provide legal expertise.

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There are plenty of others – David Pratt, Kirsty Strickland, Paul Kavanagh, Kevin McKenna, and George Kerevan, for instance. It would naturally fall to Richard Walker, the paper’s founding editor, to try to keep order.

Talking about independence is good. But talking is not enough. There needs to be a plan. Not a plan to win a referendum, but a plan to change Scotland, so that after independence, the country will quickly start on a path which is recognisably different, and better, than has ever been possible in the Union.

For the last seven years, Scottish voters have been almost equally divided between support for, and opposition to, independence. There has been no serious effort to ensure that independence is the “settled will” of the Scottish people. Being able to explain clearly what will change with independence, and how the new country will tackle the many challenges which it will face, is surely an essential part of the process of finding that consensus.

And while I’ve been thinking about this for months, I was provoked to write now by a young SNP activist on Twitter, with his easy dismissal of The National as “a comic”. It’s not.