EXACTLY nine years ago today, it was reported that SNP membership had surged past the 75,000 mark, trebling in the wake of Scotland’s first independence referendum.

That number kept on climbing in the days and weeks that followed, eventually smashing through the six-figure barrier and ensuring the party were far and away the third biggest in the UK, and in proportionate terms, the biggest overall by a country mile.

Those were heady days, ironically, for the independence movement. The Yes vote falling short on September 18, devastating though it was to those who had campaigned so hard for a win, was not the nail in the coffin which opponents of independence might have hoped it would be.

What could have been a crushing reverse turned, in the weeks that followed the vote, into something of a moral victory for the Yes campaign.

There was, paradoxically, a renewed energy and spirit among those who supported independence, and the country as a whole felt profoundly changed as a result of the long 2014 independence campaign.

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It is worth pausing now to consider exactly where the independence movement stands all these years on. The next anniversary of the vote will mark a decade since it was held – scarcely believable in some ways and yet in others seemingly too short a time to encapsulate all that has happened since, in Scotland, the UK and globally.

In those early post-referendum days in the autumn of 2014, the word “Covid” was unheard of; “Brexit”, if it even existed as a term, was a Farageist pipedream; and Donald Trump was maybe best known here as the guy who had his flyaway hair teased by a balloon when he visited Holyrood – not a demagogue who posed an existential threat to American democracy.

The world around us has changed almost beyond measure in the near decade since September 2014, and yet independence remains the central driving narrative of Scottish political debate.

Indeed, it is striking how, in recent months, independence has remained rock solid at roughly 50-50 in the polls, even nudging ahead in some, at the same time as the SNP’s polling has fluctuated.

It suggests that whatever short-term difficulties may face the main party of independence, support for a Yes vote is now pretty much locked in at half the electorate. That’s not a bad place to start in terms of a campaign for winning the next vote.

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That’s the plus side. On the negative side of the balance sheet, there is the unavoidable fact of the Westminster roadblock that has been imposed.

It’s been almost a year since the UK Supreme Court ruled that Holyrood does not have the unilateral power to hold an independence referendum.

I sat in the austere surroundings of the London courtroom as the justices held their public deliberations on the matter. Amid the dry legalese and arcane references to case law, it was clear – as much more qualified observers than me have noted – that the court was taking a maximalist approach to things when it comes to Westminster sovereignty. Power devolved is power retained after all, it seems.

So that’s that then was pretty much the Unionist response – Scotland is boxed in and there is no way to a legal referendum. Except, of course, that is nonsense. There is a way, as the vote of 2014 shows; it just involves democracy being respected, and ultimately that is the course which must prevail.

If there is any silver lining in the UK Supreme Court ruling. it is maybe that it should allow the debate in the meantime to focus more heavily on the substance of independence rather than the process. Taking the Unionist interpretation at face value, we are told there is no point in even talking about the process anyway.

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I know from my own experience that concentrating on the substantive arguments instead of the process is much easier said than done when there is a near-permanent public focus from political allies, opponents and the media on the “how” of independence.

Ignoring that question is an impossibility, but in addition to addressing it, at least as much effort needs to go into the “why” of independence.

It's easy for opponents of independence – and tempting perhaps even for some of those who support it – to relegate the issue in importance in the face of what are seen as the more all-consuming global challenges of our time – climate change, the return of war to our continent and other geopolitical issues.

But independence is ultimately about more than regaining Scotland’s sovereignty. For the vast majority of those who pursue it, it is also about delivering a better nation in a better world. And the only way that any of these overwhelming global challenges can be faced and overcome is by localised action tied to international co-operation.

Although the phrase itself was not coined until much later, “Think global, act local” is a concept which has been attributed to the Scots polymath Patrick Geddes, and it perfectly encapsulates the way Scottish independence can and must be a means to greater ends. Not just in creating a better country here for everyone who calls this nation home but also as part of wider efforts by countries to address common global challenges.

Bluntly, there is zero hope of the UK, as currently constituted, being governed in a way which comes close to meeting that requirement – the actions of the Sunak government in rowing back on climate pledges is proof of that, while Labour as a pro-Brexit party under Starmer offer little different.

“Becalmed” is a word that is sometimes applied to where independence currently stands. It’s usually meant as a jibe, but in actual fact, maybe that is no bad place to be – calmly and steadily consolidating support and building on the substantive case so that when the choice comes again, as it must, the result is a resounding Yes.

Stuart Nicolson was the head of communications for former first minister Nicola Sturgeon