IT was in January, 2013 that I first began seriously to consider independence as the best way forward for Scotland.

I remember the exact date because The Observer newspaper, for whom I was then a columnist, published my thoughts on the upcoming constitutional question.

Like many others who had been reared in a Labour tradition, I was becoming daily more sickened by the way extreme right-wing ideology had begun to hold sway in the UK Government.

I was also despairing of the way in which the overwhelming majority of English newspapers, stealthily assisted by the BBC, were bringing some of these attitudes into the mainstream of English public opinion.

And so, for the first time in my adult life, I began to move towards the idea that only by gaining our independence would Scotland be able to avoid what I felt were the inevitable outcomes of unopposed, hard-right Tory doctrines.

Here, I should mention that although The Observer elected not to support Scottish independence (no UK national title did), they understood and acknowledged why so many Scots wanted to leave the Union.

A decade later, the fears that led me to back self-determination have all been made flesh. The hardest of hard Brexits, fuelled by racism and English exceptionalism, has come to disfigure UK public life and undermine the fragile peace that has existed in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.

A level of Tory entitlement and callousness not seen since before the 1832 Great Reform Act characterised the UK Government’s strategy for leading the country through Covid-19. Self-denial, personal discipline and being mindful of how your conduct might affect others during lockdown was strictly for the scum punters. The Tory government, as we have come to learn, fostered an environment where profiteering, greed and self-gratification held sway over the general wellbeing of the populace.

Keeping the rest of us safe was discussed within the context of how many deaths they could get away with and what was deemed to be acceptable collateral damage. Electronic messages sent by the former UK health secretary, Matt Hancock have since revealed he wanted to “scare the pants off us”

as a strategy to ensure compliance with restrictions.

The UK Tories, sensing that their time is almost up, seem to have embarked on a psychotic, wreck-the-joint strategy that routinely plumbs the depths of fascism. They have put in place one of the world’s most pitiless and wicked policies on curbing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. And they are launching an all-out attack on working people by criminalising their right to strike – the only tool they have to fight back against ruthless and brutal employment practices.

This Tory journey into the heart of darkness has provided the impetus for 10 election victories by the SNP at Westminster, Holyrood, council and European level. Unforgivably though, the SNP high command has singularly failed to use these to advance the cause of independence one inch.

At this moment in time, with this most reactionary of UK governments, the case for independence should have become unquestionable. All that was required was for the SNP to have devised a strategy for making independence – or at least a second referendum – happen.

Instead, we now find that in her eight years leading the party, Nicola Sturgeon and her team have dropped the ball and squandered every opportunity they were gifted to formulate a plan that went beyond the tired and predictable choreography of asking meekly for a Section 30 order.

Of the three candidates contesting the right to succeed her, only Ash Regan has a detailed plan to bring the UK Government to the negotiating table. Yet she is currently seen as the rank outsider in the leadership race. This tells you all you need to know about the SNP and their priorities.

REGAN also wants to power up the wider Yes movement to campaign as it did in 2014, and has admitted what the rest of us have known for a long time: that Sturgeon and the SNP executive class had effectively dismantled it.

They chose to marginalise the wider Yes campaign by using the SNP NEC as a private army fit for nothing other than hunting down malcontents or those who were asking uncomfortable questions.

The enemy wasn’t the Tories or Scottish Labour, but those in the party who defended women’s rights against the dangers of self-ID to their safe spaces (a threat that has since been wretchedly borne out) or tried to chivvy the party’s high command into adopting a referendum Plan B.

This is the reason why these wage thieves have all flocked to Humza Yousaf’s side in the leadership contest. He’ll look after them and ensure their nose-bags are always topped up and no questions asked.

Yousaf has sought to divert attention from his abject failures in every Cabinet position he’s ever held by portraying himself as “progressive”. But he and his identity cult followers are about as progressive as Nigel Farage. He’s become censorious and sanctimonious by saying, for instance, that he’ll ban conversion therapy.

But he’s had nothing to say about the practice of targeting vulnerable young gay people and inducing them to agree to invasive, non-reversible surgery. Nor has he had anything to say about the hundreds of complaints from rank-and-file female SNP members who have encountered threats and intimidation for stating the scientific truth that sex is – and can only ever be – binary.

Sturgeon guaranteed that there would be a referendum by 2023. Thank God she’s several years out in her false claim. The SNP have neither the will nor the finances to fight a referendum any time soon.

The First Minister has bequeathed to her successor a divided party, hollowed out by a nasty, vindictive and misogynistic sect – led by the Scottish Greens – who care little for independence.

Instead of trying to reconcile the opposing groups on the trans debate, Sturgeon chose a side and refused to listen to the reasonable warnings about what self-ID might entail. This led us directly to Isla Bryson and Cornton Vale women’s prison. It was a gross failure of leadership.

Before we can seriously consider independence, the SNP must be healed. But for that to happen the next leader must be strong enough to jettison all those whose complacency, arrogance and self-entitlement have brought us here.