NOW might be a good time to consider the state of the independence movement in Scotland. Covid is still raging but I suspect most folk have decided to live with it and risk a return to a semblance of normal life. The Ukraine crisis has saved Boris Johnson’s political bacon, at least for now. The cost of living disaster has yet to bite. Politics is back to “normal”.

So where stands Scotland?

The latest polling (March 16) had the No vote on 49% compared to 44% for independence, when don’t-knows were excluded. That is outside the normal margin of error and indicates a shift towards the Union since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But the polls have been volatile since the Covid pandemic erupted so there is no reason to take this as settled. If anything, the constant volatility regarding support for the Union suggests the UK remains deeply unstable as a polity.

However, other evidence has to be taken into account. Turnout on pro-indy marches remains low compared with before the pandemic, when hundreds of thousands of Yes supporters took to the streets. That might be a delayed reflection of the “Covid effect” but equally it could represent a degree of demoralisation – or at least disenchantment – with the SNP’s leadership.

We also need to remember the impact of the Alba Party split from the SNP, last year. This took away a sizeable proportion of the SNP’s activist base. Since then, despite worthy appeals to the contrary on all sides, internal antagonisms within the national movement have intensified. So far this has not been completely debilitating but it has led many activists to retreat into passivity, in the hope divisions will disappear. But that won’t happen without a degree of leadership from all sides of the movement. So far, that is not happening.

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Next, the indy camp is suffering from the fact the SNP have been in power at Holyrood for a whole 15 years. In any functioning democracy, that is a very long time. Inevitably, a prolonged period in power accumulates resentment and makes the main politicians a mite arrogant. I put it no stronger than that. After a while, all ruling administrations run out of ideas and become blind to their own shortcomings. That is clearly happening to the Sturgeon government.

I should qualify this by saying that at her worst Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers are light years ahead of the Tory clique at Westminster in social empathy. But that is a pretty low bar for evaluating performance. On the economic front, the FM and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes have been saved by the financial largesse provided by the Chancellor’s printing presses. Now the over-promoted Rishi Sunak has turned off those money printing presses the economic and managerial weaknesses of the SNP administration are being exposed daily.

In particular, the record of the SNP government in managing public-sector companies and contracts is proving seriously deficient. The saga of incompetence over the Ferguson Marine contracts has now passed from defending the indefensible to finding someone – anyone – to blame.

Even with lesser failures, such as the inability to find a commercial rationale for the nationalised Prestwick Airport, there is an air of failure regarding public sector management. Which makes this month’s nationalisation of ScotRail problematic, to say the least.

I don’t argue this to be gratuitously negative about the Sturgeon administration. Yet I think it fair comment that the SNP government has nationalised at the drop of a hat and then failed miserably to find a way of making public service companies either pay their way or contribute leadership to the economy in difficult times.

I say this as a fervent supporter of public ownership. The heart of the problem is that the SNP’s nationalisations and industrial investments – Ferguson Marine, Prestwick airport, BiFab, the Gupta steel project, to name a few – were all reactive rather than part of a strategic plan to develop the economy.

This represents a piecemeal approach to economic planning that has failed repeatedly. The cumulative record of incompetence is now plain for even fervent indy supporters to see.

At the same time, the SNP administration has abandoned commitments to create a public energy company and has failed catastrophically to generate the promised jobs in North Sea renewables. But this green revolution was the obvious and well-publicised key to Scotland’s economic transformation.

It is little wonder that the national movement – inside and outside the SNP itself – is feeling disoriented. Will independence produce some magic change in economic direction and economic fortunes – especially if a post-indy government is led by the same people?

One just might have kept a glimmer of hope alive but not after the publication of the SNP administration’s so-called plan for economic recovery, published at the start of last month. This document, which parrots platitude after platitude about “entrepreneurship” is utterly devoid of any concrete plans for economic development.

Worse, any reference to independence and how self-determination will aid in economic recovery is completely absent. How can you plan economic growth if independence is deemed irrelevant? No wonder the recovery plan was universally panned by everyone from the STUC on the left to the Fraser of Allander Institute on the liberal right. And no wonder the document has added to the discomfort and disorientation of the independence movement.

In the short term, the SNP are talking up plans for another referendum. But it must be apparent to the FM and her closest advisers that the grassroots indy movement has grown deeply cynical about such political manoeuvres.

To be charitable, Nicola might believe she can win a court case to establish the right of Holyrood to hold a second referendum regardless of Westminster’s wishes. And that, if so, world opinion will force Boris Johnson to accept the outcome of such a unilateral referendum.

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At best, this is a high-risk strategy. Even if such a constitutional court case is won, the Tories will simply legislate against any indyref2 or call for a boycott of the poll and will certainly refuse to accept the results if it takes place. Indy movement activists – who will have to campaign – know this in their bones.

Meantime, there is the looming threat of the cratering of living standards, for the middle classes as well as the poorest. This crisis could – and should – serve as the launching pad for a new push for independence. This will only be successful if the SNP stops being so God-damned goody-goody about the constitutional niceties of defying the Tories at Westminster.

The FM has to lead by being prepared to defy the UK Treasury on social spending priorities. She has to create a public energy corporation and take state control of energy production – both to capture the windfall profits being hoovered in by the international oil and gas monopolies, and to reduce costs to households.

Independence is about taking power in Scotland, or it is about nothing. After 15 years of havering, the SNP has to start exercising that power or face a rising tide of despondency and the possible disintegration of the national movement. Independence is at a crossroads. Use the power, Nicola, or lose it.