THE SNP conference has agreed its preferred process for pursuing independence. Well, it’s not exactly the preferred process – as Humza Yousaf has said time and again, the preferred process would be an agreed referendum which the UK Government has rejected.

But it is the preferred process in the circumstances. The First Minister also now emphasised that this draws a line under debate and discussion about process, allowing us to talk about purpose. He’s right to remind us that process never won a single convert to the cause; only purpose can do that. The purpose must be to offer hope, inspire confidence and to lift eyes to see a better future on the horizon.

There is plenty to concentrate the minds in Scotland right now, from the domestic challenges of the economy to the horrors unfolding in the Middle East.

At home, on the economy, there is some limited good news. Average pay has been growing faster than inflation for the first time in almost two years. In the quarter to July 2021, pay overtook inflation for the first time since October 2021.

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This is a pretty big deal, after months of relentless and stubborn inflation and years of stagnant wage growth. But it is an average figure – average figures usually mean that such good news isn’t true for everybody. And wage growth may fall back in the coming months.

Of course, certain sectors have seen much higher increases in pay than others. Those working in finance and business services have seen the largest rise in annual pay – note that it’s not carers, who arguably are one of the most essential workforces in this country and who received the loudest applause during the Covid pandemic. How quickly society has forgotten, and how quickly our country has returned to the “old normal” despite all the promises and pledges of building a better, fairer, more equal future.

Price rises are probably continuing to slow too, according to figures released today (I haven’t seen them in advance of penning this column). But if growth is starting to slow, it doesn’t mean it has reduced; households are still paying more for less in supermarkets.

At conference, the SNP’s Westminster group leader Stephen Flynn demanded action to cap food prices in supermarkets for essential items, as France has done. I know I’ve been tracking our weekly shop and something as basic as margarine seems to be getting more expensive even as the tub gets smaller.

And so the question is posed: if the cost of living is front and centre of everybody’s minds, in the run-up to another election shouldn’t it be front and centre of every manifesto?

What about constitutional change, like independence? The SNP conference agreed this week that independence would lead the SNP’s manifesto in the next election, to trigger negotiations with the UK Government on independence. Meanwhile, nearly all the polls illustrate that questions about the economy and public services are of most concern to the people of Scotland.

The critical thing here is these two issues aren’t at odds with one another. In fact, it is as part of the UK that we’ve seen such stubborn and damaging inflation. Some have argued that the cost of living crisis has been worsened by the added costs of Brexit – which adds time, bureaucracy and cost to imports from Europe.

The challenges in the labour market and the impossibility of recruitment for businesses are also bound up in decisions made by the UK Government to withdraw Scotland from the free movement of people – incidentally, something we were quite content with and very supportive of, if you look at how Scotland voted on Brexit.

Responding to these challenges have also been hampered and hindered by the ideological obsessions of the party in Government in Westminster. The Conservatives, who haven’t won an election in Scotland since the 1950s, have made choices – every political decision is a choice, nothing is inevitable.

Flynn also wants to see the UK Government reinstate the £400 energy rebate, and mortgage interest relief, along with price caps. He’s more a representative of the Scottish people than the current Tory Prime Minister is, but he’s left to call for a policy rather than implement a policy because of our constitutional arrangements.

The so-called strong and stable economy of the UK feels like it has been anything but over the last few years, so it’s absolutely right that the people of Scotland consider the evidence and come to a conclusion on where their best future lies. In every election, the people of Scotland are smart enough to weigh up their short- and long-term options. Indeed, that is what they should demand of their leaders.

All of us have a duty to consider the next generation. We are all responsible for making choices now that will make changes over the long term.

On one hand, they absolutely want to see policies and initiatives that will ease pressures and concerns immediately. It is critical that the SNP offer a bold prospectus which does exactly that.

It should promise ambition on truly reducing fuel poverty, on fair work policies and on turbo-charging our economy. It must do that, demonstrating it understands Scotland’s greatest needs, concerns and opportunities.

It must bring together the best brains, the most creative minds and listen carefully to what communities are really saying, the length and breadth of the country.

But on the other hand, at a time of profound challenge, when our economy has been rocked to its bones, when households are seeing some of the most painful impacts on their finances and when there is a level of instability and worry not seen for generations – at a time like that, the public are perfectly able and capable of thinking long-term, and asking what systematic changes are required to ensure we can respond better next time.

Every election includes an eye on the long term. Every political leader must offer their prospectus for real, lasting, profound change.

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For the wider Yes movement, that lasting change is one which, quite simply, brings power closer to home. It puts the mechanisms and levers of democracy and decision-making in Scotland’s hands.

That surely isn’t separate to questions about our economy, our society and our public services – the three priorities according to most polls. They are inseparable. If they aren’t linked in voters’ minds, the fault lies with political parties who have failed to draw a connection between the short and long-term choices we face.

It feels like we are in a permanent election period these days – and voters want hope, inspiration and confidence that better days are ahead. I strongly believe that is possible, but it has to be more than possible.

It has to be compelling, positive and believable.