AS 2022 comes to an end, independent circles talk of process politics. These include the “de facto referendum” election of 2024; a specially called Scottish Parliament election in 2023, and the forthcoming SNP conference on tactics in March next year.

This is understandable considering where independence finds itself after the Supreme Court decision and the attitude of the UK Government. But it is putting the cart before the horse, putting process above the substance of independence, and engaging in wishful thinking which could damage the independence cause.

Rather than concentrate on the process to win independence, serious attention and work need to be undertaken on what independence means, its choices and how it is effectively communicated. Focusing on process implies that the case for change has been won, and all that is needed is the right route to secure the prize – when that is not the case.

The argument for independence needs to be renewed. Difficult policy areas need work. The economic case has been barely developed since 2014 – beyond the SNP Growth Commission which was still shaped by the paradigm of the failed economic thinking of the past 40 years which dominated UK politics and is now massively out of date.

The independence offer has to confront difficult choices, challenges and risks. All of this must be brought out into the light by the SNP and Yes, rather than having faith in the politics of “one more heave”.

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This may sound obvious but has not happened in a concerted way since 2014. The SNP leadership under Nicola Sturgeon has tended to talk to the base of Yes, while many of that base assume the case for independence is self-evident and even won.

The case of winning people over to independence requires nuance, respect and intelligence. It demands more than hectoring, lecturing and an attitude of “we told you so” about the state of the Union.

It requires understanding why Yes lost in 2014, its continued weak points, why No won and the case for the Union today.

In this the absence of a proper post-mortem by the SNP or Yes after 2014 is problematic. Understanding why you lost is fundamental to any campaign. And in its absence, the myth of “The Vow” as stealing victory from Yes has grown, rather than looking at where Yes fell short and continues to.

A new book by University of Edinburgh academic Ailsa Henderson and her colleagues called The Referendum That Changed A Nation: Scottish Voting Behaviour 2014-2019 has just been published, addressing that historic campaign and its aftermath.

It is filled with insights about why Yes did not ultimately win and the contours of 2014. Yes found resonance with the arguments that Scotland’s problems are better decided here (69% agreement); without independence, Scotland will get governments it didn’t vote for (59%); and Scotland should be free to shape its own way in the world (58%).

Yet people were also open to points raised by No: thinking nations are stronger when they work together rather than going alone (58%); too many unanswered questions about independence (57%); and the currency question (52%). This all needs wider examination and debate.

There is a tendency among many independence supporters to think that democracy in Scotland is just about self-government and to pose the Scottish Government (good) versus Westminster (bad). This is a poor starting place, measuring Scottish politics against a broken political system while overlooking the shortcomings of our own home-grown democracy, which needs some urgent attention.

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Independence requires a mandate which overturns 2014 and is widely accepted. Talk of “de facto” elections will not do that. Basically, in 2014, two million people voted No (55%) after a three-year campaign; to overturn that, an SNP vote of 50% plus and one million votes plus in a Holyrood election would have little traction.

The way to reverse the 2014 result is through an independence referendum where Yes wins by a similar number. There are several forces that need to step up. One is the SNP leadership. Fifteen years of SNP administration and eight years of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership come at a cost. Some independence commentators have grown tired and bitter of Sturgeon and ignore her qualities.

She has had repeated electoral success, won successive elections and kept remarkably high poll ratings, which cannot be dismissed and has to be taken into account in any honest assessment of shortcomings.

During her tenure, Sturgeon has never really confronted the hard lifting that independence needs to carry out to win, there has been no consistent talking to the Scotland that still needs convincing (an example being her last keynote to the SNP’s autumn conference), and no real identification of what the priorities of government should be beyond soundbites.

These have been difficult times in government – Brexit, Covid, Ukraine, the UK Government’s meltdown as well as the cost of the Alex Salmond saga. But high politics and leadership are meant to involve multi-tasking and prioritising, and Sturgeon came to the SNP and Scotland’s leadership with enormous political capital and goodwill.

She could have chosen to address the need for independence to reset itself, to do serious work and understand the Scotland beyond Yes, while also navigating a course for government that prioritises solidarity and the social contact in difficult times.

She did none of this, and sadly, with all her undoubted qualities, she will be seen in hindsight as someone who managed the Government through tough times, but ultimately was a transitional leader. A different kind of leadership and independence will be needed in future.

There is a wider political environment. Part of independence refuses to listen or recognise the version and parts of Scotland which still needs to be won over. This tends to dismiss the argument for the Union as completely bust and does not hold out that it might change and adapt in the future. This mindset has to be challenged.

Pro-Union forces too often refuse to engage seriously with independence, instead misrepresenting it as filled with “Braveheart” and simplistic nationalist sentiments.

Step forward Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton who believes all independence supporters are nationalists.

A recent example was a review in The Times of my book Scotland Rising: The Case For Independence.

This was during the week of the death of Ian Hamilton who took the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950, the reviewer writing: “The argument for independence remains much where it was in Hamilton’s day – a great vision of the future, but still short on convincing evidence. Nor does Hassan’s book supply it.”

Whatever one thinks of Scotland and independence (or indeed even my book!), the worlds of 1950 and 2022 are very different.

Independence is in a very different place, and 1950s Scotland was a very British country with the two main parties, Labour and Tory, winning 96.5% of the vote in the following year’s election with the SNP polling a paltry 7299 votes.

There are politics of misrepresentation and caricature on both sides. Some of this is trying to frame the debate, but it also narrows the spectrum of discussion, reducing it to arguments attacking cartoon versions of each other. In this, we all lose.

In particular, independence needs to rise to serious, substantive levels of engagement to make the case for change, and to understand the pro-Union case and those who support it. Independence has to morph into its next stage.

This, of course, being after the rising tide of 2011-14 was part defined by insurgency; and the post-2014 period was shaped by the politics of the SNP as insiders. Insurgents cannot remain outsiders forever if they have a degree of success and should never fall for their own hype.

Meanwhile, all across the world of insider politics and managerialism underlines its limits no matter how good its intentions – Scotland included.

Independence’s next stage has to entail a new way of doing things, that is more serious, generous, honest and open. Political parties and movements get into difficulties when they tell themselves the stories they want to believe – just look at the present UK Tories. Independence needs to stop believing its own hype and clinging to process politics and “one more heave”. Substance will shape the future.