THE independence debate post-2014 has never stopped. Independence has retained the gains it made during the 2014 campaign, added new converts and continued to enjoy record-historic support, but it has lacked the strategic breakthrough that would put it into a convincing winning position.

For all the noise, there is uncertainty and wariness on all sides, including among independence supporters. Stepping back into this environment is Stephen Noon, previously chief strategist for Yes Scotland, the 2014 campaign and responsible for the direction and tone of the Yes side then and its emphasis on positivity, hope and possibility. After the vote, he left Scotland for Canada to train as a Jesuit priest and is now back studying at Edinburgh University.

His reflections in an interview with The Times are worthy of consideration, particularly for those on the Yes side, but for all who care about politics, public debate and our future.

Noon believes “there is a difference between winning a campaign and building a nation” and continues: “You don’t build a nation by creating two 50/50 sides.” This is an obvious but controversial comment for some. There is no successful and viable route to independence by narrowly winning 52:48; if people didn’t already recognise this truism, Brexit underlines it with bells on.

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Independence cannot just browbeat people into supporting the cause. There is a lack of empathy on the part of Yes towards No voters. There are valid reasons for people supporting No, believing in the Union or not choosing to buy the case for independence. Too many independence supporters think there is no legitimate case for the Union, which means they don’t understand why people support No and will not make the journey to Yes.

There is a need to re-assess political strategy on the independence side. “In life, you sometimes get 90% of what you want, and that’s good enough”, states Noon. “And so for the independence movement, if we can get 90% of what we want, and in a way which gives the No side also a good chunk of what they want, is that not worth exploring?”

Such comments will be heresy to parts of the independence movement but are worth digesting, for across all society and politics, maximalist demands are sometimes unachievable and impossible.

And in today’s Scotland, thinking about the widest-possible coalition of change and building consensus is laudable and worthwhile.

Noon rightly sees the fixation on an independence referendum as putting process above substantive politics. This is something I have long argued. An indyref is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The end is a self-governing Scotland taking decisions about itself and having honest, mature debates that reflect where we are, what we need to do and where we fall short of our ambitions.

Noon observes that, across the world, independence has come via many different routes, and suggests that Scotland has concentrated too exclusively on the Quebec and Catalonia road – neither of which have led to independence.

Instead, he suggests we might be better to investigate how Canada, Australia and New Zealand emerged from their former dominion status and became independent.

This, again, will be tantamount to sacrilege for some. But if you know your SNP and self-government history, in the 1930s and 1940s, SNP policy was exactly this: Scotland becoming a self-governing dominion in first, the British Empire, then, the Commonwealth. Senior SNP figures at the time saw New Zealand as an exemplary model for Scotland – in particular, to differentiate Scotland from Ireland. The point being that in the past, there were different approaches to self-government, and future alternatives may emerge which could draw from this past.

Some of Noon’s thoughts will make for difficult reading.

But it is salutary to, on occasion, tell difficult truths.

Independence post-2014, for all the breadth and depth of its support, has avoided – in too many places – having difficult, honest conversations.

There was, unfortunately, no post-mortem in the SNP or wider currents after the 2014 defeat. If people think this was just some aberration, there has been no real strategy for building independence post-2014 and even more since the 2016 Brexit vote. This has been the decision of Nicola Sturgeon and SNP senior figures who have chosen to concentrate on motivating and mobilising the base and keeping the activists and supporters on side.

In this context, there has, over the last eight years, and particularly since 2016, been a kind of political vacuum and chasm at the heart of politics for all the noise, charge and counter-charge. There has been a missing dimension to independence. Into that void has come an element of hubris on the side of independence and even the belief in betrayal in 2014.

In such a climate, it is even commonplace for prominent independence supporters to score own goals. Rage against the Tories is understandable but to march and protest with a “Tory Scum Out” banner as evident at Perth and countless marches up and down the country is not helpful.

On a different level, Kevin McKenna the other day chastising Nicola Sturgeon for acknowledging the relevance of British identity to her and many Scots is not very edifying. Most Scots continue to see themselves as Scottish and British, and, in any independent Scotland in the real world, British identity will play a part and should do if people want it to.

What the above activities in different ways have in common is that they are talking to the echo chamber of independence, and mistaking their own moral indignation for that of the nation.

Calling Tories “scum” in public or saying British identity has no place in a future independent Scotland is not making it one iota easier to win independence or win converts. Rather, it is about luxuriating in moral superiority while passing judgement on others.

Post-2014, Yes has had no story or strategy for people who voted No – except to declare “we told you so” about the state of Britain and “when will you admit you were wrong?” The first sentiment is understandable, given everything, but is not attractive or desirable politics, and the evidence has shown that neither sentiment is ideal for winning over converts.

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Independence needs a different mindset and has to understand and empathise with people who are No. They are, for the most part, not diehard Unionists, British nationalists, “yoons” or other dismissive terms. Rather, they are a mix of people who think the best option for now is the UK, see downsides and risks with independence, or regard the entire question as so enormous and challenging and take an apolitical “no thank you for now” approach.

Independence needs more work, strategy, insight, honesty and empathy. All of us have to ask – pro-independence and against – how we build consensus and alliances for change in Scotland. As Noon says, citing an African proverb quoted by Pope Francis, “If you want to go fast, you travel alone. If you want to go far, you travel together.”

Rather than engaging in empty rhetorical gestures, how do we advance nation building and society healing – after Covid, the cost of living crisis and all the anxieties people are facing? That is integral to the future of Scotland. This is a mission for all of us, and to be the Scotland of the future, we have to think and relate to the Scotland beyond our own opinions.