THE Christmas trees are down, the decorations packed away for another year, the houses last week festooned with fairy lights are shrouded in darkness once more and those not already back at work are contemplating their return next week. It’s time to roll our sleeves up and set about the tasks which lie ahead in 2023.

It’s an important year ahead for the independence movement as we look forward to keep building the momentum which has seen more Scots becoming convinced that our country cannot truly flourish as long as we remain in a UK left with no hope other than five futile promises laid out by a Tory Prime Minister unable to cobble together any sort of vision of its future.

Rishi Sunak has nothing to say to families in danger of being overwhelmed by rising prices, nothing to say to workers forced into strike action by intransigent managements unwilling to contemplate paying wages that keep up with inflation, nothing to say to NHS staff fed up with post-Covid platitudes when they need help putting food on the table.

The most depressing aspects of the five empty promises delivered this week isn’t his prioritising cutting debt and shutting the door on desperate migrants looking for a better life, although that is dispiriting enough.

It is that British politics offers nothing to counter the discredited myth that the benefits of economic growth will trickle down to the pockets of those who need it the most. Faced with Sunak’s vapid plan of inaction, Labour have looked for an inspiring and hopeful alternative and found their cupboard to be bare, the shelves stocked only with yet more tired cliches.

Keir Starmer yesterday urged a new type of British politics, an alternative to a Westminster which has been part of the problem rather than the solution, an end to what he described as “sticking plaster” politics. Starmer may be right in identifying Westminster as the source of the problem but he refuses to even consider the one solution which would really tackle that problem.

When he says Westminster must give power away, he does not mean to Scotland and its people and he does not mean real power. Scotland is increasingly expressing its support for independence but Labour’s response has been and still is to stick their fingers in their ears and keep them there.

Starmer’s inability to understand the message Scotland is sending was never more obvious than when in yesterday’s speech he somehow compared it to the message sent by Brexit voters in the EU referendum. If that’s his analysis, Labour have no hope of reconnecting with Scottish voters.

The 2014 independence referendum was an “entirely reasonable” (Starmer’s own words) bid for a nation to win the powers it needs to escape the dead hand of the UK and recreate itself as a progressive country built on the principles of equality, fairness and partnership with neighbours. Brexit, on the other hand, was a doomed attempt by a former colonial power to regain its status, withdraw from its neighbours and lift up the drawbridge to live once again in what it regarded as splendid isolation. The Yes and Remain campaigns could hardly have been more different.

Even if Labour win the next General Election – and the fact they currently enjoy better opinion poll results than the shambles that is the current Tory government isn’t exactly the cause for the celebration with which it has been greeted – Scotland’s position will be no better because Labour leaders fundamentally misunderstand the changes we want to see and why we want to see them.

Opinion poll after opinion poll have recently confirmed a swing to Yes, even as Westminster’s resolve to undemocratically block a second independence referendum has stiffened. The Yes movement needs to start 2023 as it means to go on ... by pushing independence to the top of the political agenda, by tirelessly explaining its benefits, by drawing up a convincing prospectus for an independent Scotland and by formulating and uniting around an agreed plan to allow Scotland’s wishes on its constitutional future to be articulated and acted upon.

That will take dedication and time. Thankfully there are already events in motion that will get the ball rolling. Here are three to look forward to:

1: The Business for Scotland annual dinner, Thursday, December 19

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is the keynote speaker at this rescheduled event, which was postponed last September following the death of the Queen. With 340 tickets sold, it’s one of the biggest Scottish business dinners of the year and it comes as Business for Scotland and its sister organisation Believe in Scotland are on something of a roll.

The second edition of Believe in Scotland’s excellent and extensive Scotland the Brief has just been published, packed full of fascinating and updated facts and figures which can be used as a campaigning tool in the months ahead.

The first edition sold more than 50,000 copies and the follow-up is already setting new sales records. The same organisation’s recent fundraising effort smashed its £100,000 target, allowing it to widen initiatives such as days of action, high-profile poster and billboard campaigns.

It now supports 129 local Yes groups and five national campaign organisations, providing them with messaging, campaign materials and funding-raising opportunities. It is moving forward with its stated aim of professionalising the Yes campaign by providing every local Yes group with access to a national network of databases to manage memberships, volunteers and canvassing information, as well as access to a mobile canvassing app.

The Business for Scotland dinner will provide insight into the current thinking within the biggest, best funded and best organised strand of the Yes movement.

2: Progress to Yes 2, organised by Aberdeen Independence Movement (AIM), Saturday and Sunday, February 25 and 26

Billed as the biggest grassroots independence conference ever, this two-day event follows AIM’s successful inaugural Progress to Yes event last May. Next month’s event brings together many of the biggest players within the Yes movement, including Business for Scotland, Believe in Scotland, Women For Independence, Bella Caledonia and the National Yes Network, as well as the newspaper you are reading just now.

It will kick off with interactive panel discussions, followed by discussions on mapping the way ahead for the movement and, that night, a Burns Supper. The big focus the following day will be the first Progress to Yes rally, staged by AIM in collaboration with the Sunday National.

The first Progress to Yes conference last May certainly laid the foundation for interesting initiatives on moving forward the independence campaign and the follow-up comes at time when we’re still considering the best response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Scottish parliament is not legally competent to hold its own referendum on Scottish independence, talking of which …

3: The Scottish National Party’s Democracy Scotland conference, Edinburgh, Sunday, March 19

The repercussions of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision are still reverberating but one thing is certain ... Westminster’s refusal to allow Scotland a say in its own future is profoundly undemocratic and cannot be allowed to stand.

The SNP’s initial response was to announce they will use the next UK General Election as a de facto independence referendum, with the party and their partners in government the Greens standing on a one-issue manifesto. Every vote for those parties should then be regarded as a vote for independence.

It’s not a perfect solution but it still seems to me to be the best available. Since Brexit, the SNP’s strategy has been to mitigate as far as possible the worst effects of the Tory Westminster government’s folly.

So while UK ministers ignored Scottish views on leaving Europe, kept Scottish politicians out of the decision-making process and dismissed every suggestion they made for a less hardline Brexit, the SNP did everything possible to keep channels of communication open.

But patience has its limits and if Westminster will not sanction the means to gauge Scottish support for independence we must now do it ourselves. This conference will discuss the mechanics of doing so.

These are historic days, and we are beset by many problems, not least of them the cost of living crisis which has still to do its worst in homes all over the country.

All the evidence suggests that more and more Scots are coming to realise that, far from being a distraction from these problems, independence offers the solution that neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer has the vision to articulate. It’s essential we use this year to grasp it.