AS coronavirus restrictions are eased, Scots are hoping to recover a sense of pre-pandemic “normality”.

Recent signals from the Yes movement suggest that could include the return of regular mass campaigning for independence.

The SNP have vowed to step up their efforts, with MP Stewart Hosie saying earlier this month that the party was reaching out to the wider independence movement and plans “to provide SNP speakers at every possible event".

But are such commitments helping to re-energise the Yes campaign? Or do restless grassroots activists remain frustrated in their demands for concrete action? The National spoke to leaders of the Yes movement ahead of a critical period in Scotland’s future.

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to do “everything in her power” to hold a referendum in 2023. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, refuses to countenance the idea, stating during a visit to Scotland last week that independence is “just not going to happen”.

Whatever comes of the constitutional wrangling, pro-independence campaigners are determined to make the case Yes in anticipation of a 2023 ballot.

If the movement is to kick into gear, it will doubtless be fronted by the SNP. But Scotland’s other party of government also has a crucial part to play.

The Greens announced recently with the SNP that the parties would be launching a joint prospectus for independence ahead of a 2023 vote. Each will also publish its own distinctive blueprint for an independent Scotland.

The Greens told The National they were eager to match the SNP’s commitment to greater engagement with activists, especially now that large-scale physical events are permitted under coronavirus rules.

A spokesperson said delivering a referendum is the party’s priority when it comes to constitutional policy, adding: “We look forward to putting forward our distinctive Green Yes vision at more and more events as the campaign heats up.” The leader of two major pro-independence organisations feels the political engagement from the country’s main pro-Yes parties is already having an impact.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, the chief executive of Business for Scotland and founder of Believe in Scotland, said that there has been a noticeable shift since the appointment of SNP president Michael Russell, who was put in charge of the party’s independence unit last year.

The National: Business For Scotland chief executive Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp pictured speaking at the Trades Hall of Glasgow for the launch of the Believe In Scotland campaign and Scotland The Brief book.

  Photograph by Colin Mearns
22 January 2020
For The National

READ MORE: SNP aim to line up speakers for 'every possible event' in run up to indyref2

MacIntyre-Kemp explained: “The SNP is the dominant political party in Scotland – if we are to become an independent nation then the SNP will have to be the prime mover.”

“We have never thought we had to wait for the SNP to announce a referendum to champion independence and so we continued to campaign to move people to Yes. However, since Michael Russell became president we have seen a significant increase in the willingness of the SNP to engage with us and other external Yes campaign groups.”

MacIntyre-Kemp hinted that recent claims from the SNP of stepping up campaigning were not merely bluster. He said: “Last year we distributed more than two million items of independence related campaign materials and reached millions of people through our billboards, leafleting and social media campaigning.”

Looking to the year ahead, the campaigner added: “We can only confirm that work is being done to prepare for a referendum in 2023 and that we are involved directly in some of that work. As for the question of how we will campaign this year – simply take last year's impact and at least double it.”

It is also a crucial year for the independence movement’s most visible campaigners, All Under One Banner (AUOB), who are back in action next week (March 5) in Paisley. The SNP are providing speakers and helping to promote the event – something which the party has not always done, to the annoyance of some Yes activists.

An AUOB spokesperson told The National that “scepticism” remained within the movement, with some even suggesting the commitment to indyref2 campaigning was part of a strategy to win votes in May’s local election.

But AUOB welcomed the party’s public commitments to Yes events, and suggested they could help spark renewed enthusiasm among activists.

“It's still too early to tell but there is some evidence of dormant Yes groups beginning to mobilise again,” the spokesperson said. “It is vital that together we rebuild the mass movement. Therefore this year's AUOB marches will provide more evidence of the state of the movement and the impact of the SNP's announcement on the ground as time goes on.”

As for ambitions to actually hold a second referendum on Scottish independence in 2023, the spokesperson concluded: “Everyone knows this simply has to be delivered. As such let's move forwards on this basis. Let’s get ready for the impending vote on Scotland's future. Now is the time to take to the streets.”

For these campaigners, the next 18 months are all or nothing.