EVERYWHERE you look evidence is mounting that Scotland really will get a second chance to vote for its independence before the end of 2023.

This week we learned that the Scottish Government has set aside £20 million to pay for the vote. At the weekend hundreds of independence supporters attended an inspirational conference in Aberdeen. And a poll shows that a permanent Westminster block on another referendum was supported by just 31% of Scots.

You can tell that the prospect of indyref2 is solidifying by the increasing desperate responses of the Unionist parties and particularly the Tories, whose desperation only underlines the case for independence as they dig themselves ever deeper into a hole.

The Conservative leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, took the biscuit this week when he accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of “obsessing” over independence rather than focusing on “the issues that really matter to [Scots]”.

READ MORE: FMQs: Watch Nicola Sturgeon defend £20m indyref2 budget in fiery answer to Douglas Ross

Presumably those issues include the cost of living crisis brought about by his own party and ignored by it until the public backlash grew so strong that it threatened to bury any chance of it being re-elected at the next general election in 2025.

Or perhaps the partygate scandal, which grows more jaw-dropping with every incredible revelation. This week we learned that London police were more interested in charging protestors with breaking Covid restrictions by attending a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard than in properly responding to the Prime Minister’s attendance at drinking binges in Downing Street at the height of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson (below) can hardly be accused of simply ignoring his own breaches of the ministerial code. He’s making sure that won’t happen again … by changing the code rather than modifying his own behaviour. Those changes were yesterday described as “highly unsatisfactory” by the chair of the Commons Committee on Standards in Public Life. We’re left watching aghast as gutless Tories fail to hold the Prime Minister to account and the actual voters are powerless to act.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks down Downing Street in London after a press conference following the publication of the Sue Gray report into parties in Whitehall during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture date: Wednesday May 25, 2022. PA Photo. The full

It’s simply beyond the abilities of Scotland’s Tories to grasp the fact that independence is increasingly the only reasonable response to the shambles of a Westminster government who have inflicted an incalculable wound on our economy with Brexit. It took the recent, brilliant final episode of Derry Girls to wake many of us up to the potential terrible consequences of leaving Europe on Northern Ireland. The need to escape a union more interested in holding meaningless Platinum Jubilee street parties than in forging a meaningful future for ordinary working families has never been more urgent.

That was an overarching theme of last Sunday’s Progress to Yes conference organised by the Aberdeen Independence Movement, which saw different elements of the Yes movement take the first tentative steps to join together now that the vast majority of the Covid restrictions have been lifted.

The National was there, staging a panel discussion on the newspaper’s role since it started publishing since 2014 and what its campaigning role will be in the run-up to indyref2. It was a true joy to come face to face with some of the readers in a way that hasn’t been possible for the past two years while Covid prevented the National Roadshow setting up all over the country.

There were plenty of other other pro-indy voices at the conference. Believe in Scotland, Women for Independence, Bella Caledonia, Socialists for Independence, the National Yes Network, SNP Socialists and the Scottish Greens were just some of those who took part. This at last was the Yes movement getting down to the serious business of discussing the ideas which will shape the Scotland we will reinvent with the tools independence will give us.

I have a pang in my heart for those marches which attracted steadily increasing numbers before Covid made it impossible to continue to hold them. I still remember the thrill of Nicola Sturgeon telling a packed George Square at a National Rally in 2019 that indyref2 would be held in 2020, plans which also fell victim to the pandemic.

I believe there will always be a place and time for independence supporters to gather in their thousands to show the scale of support for independence. However, there are other tasks that demand our attention before our road to the second historic path. Last Sunday’s event was the start of our movement’s approach to tackling those tasks.

So there were discussions on how an independent Scotland could act on the climate crisis, could lead the world in renewable energy, could make life easier for the LGBTQ+ community, could not simply protect pensions but improve them. There were discussions on abortion rights, foreign policy and on the thorny issue of splits within the Yes movement itself.

Of course, much remains to be done. There are very many more discussions to be had. This event was very far from the last word on any of these issues but it was a start of a revitalised dialogue not just on why we need independence and on how we will achieve it but on what we can do once independence is ours.

And, of course, there were Unionists piling in on social media to ridicule and criticise, to post special selected photographs on social media to imply – wrongly – that attendance was low.

And yes, there was also criticism from some independence supporters who objected to being asked by SNP MP Stewart Hosie (below) to sign up to a code of conduct committing activists to show respect while arguing for independence.

The National:

In one sense, this was a tricky issue in a wide-ranging movement, despite the SNP’s pre-eminence in the parliamentary battlefield. It was obviously a response to some of the toxicity on social media between, for example, supporters of the SNP and Alba and between those with different views on gender recognition reform.

At the heart of the pledge, though, was a recognition that bitter feuds are a hindrance rather than a help in a campaign to win new converts to independence. It was in a sense an attempt to lance the boil, to lay down the ground rules for discussion rather than to brush disagreements under the current. There are elements of the independence movement who will never agree. There are issues on which there is no middle ground. Sometimes the best we can hope for is an end to abuse.

At the end of the day, what really is the problem with a set of ground rules which aim to prevent divisive public spats? What’s wrong with advising activists against using “intemperate language which would weaken the campaign”? What’s wrong with saying no to transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny, or with a “zero-tolerance approach” to discrimination and prejudice?

READ MORE: Indyref2 campaign set to have 'Yes pledge' code of conduct at heart

Would I prefer that such a pledge was unnecessary? Absolutely. Am I uncomfortable with “rules” or restrictions being imposed on discussion by people not elected to do so? A little. But I agree online abuse is counterproductive as well as unpleasant. And to be honest there’s nothing in the pledge that I object to and plenty I agreed with.

I’d go further and say that if those principles were in a manifesto for the new independent Scotland I’d be onside.

I know which side I’m on in the big divisive debates. I’m not going to change my mind and I’m not going to abandon my principles just to win independence. I just happen to believe it’s possible to fundamentally disagree with people without feeling the need to hurl bitter insults at them on social media.

So it’s a thumbs up from me, both for the pledge and the conference where it was unveiled. Neither makes the prospect of independence less likely and both will help the cause. As the campaign gathers speed we need more initiatives which will recapture the energy of 2014 while at the same time help to make sure we win a rather different result. The alternative truly doesn’t bear thinking about.