WHEN you are chronologically gifted (like what I am!) you have been to a lot of party political conferences. Usually they reflect the personality of the party concerned.

Tory Party conferences, which don’t feature anything as vulgar as delegates, strive for deference and hero/heroine worship in equal dollops.

Labour Party conferences specialise in backstage plotting, this year excelling themselves by having the latest plot entirely overshadow its policy pronouncements.

The Liberals, of late, have found the best way to freshen up a message hitherto stubbornly resistant to electoral sales, is to keep changing the leader.

(Some English Labour folk look on with undisguised envy, though not in Scotland where the Labour leader is now routinely ousted before the nameplate requires its first polish.)

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And so to the SNP which meets in Aberdeen in a high state of emotion, a condition which has alarmed those who feel at all costs no horses must be frightened, or the smallest of boats rocked on the long and winding road to the promised land.

The First Minister has been at large managing that most difficult of businesses – expectations. There are no short cuts to independence, she says. And nothing sustainable which is not the product of legally and constitutionally watertight processes. She is a realist, a pragmatist, she tells her troops in advance of tomorrow’s speech. There is no future in telling her audience only what they want to hear.

I’m not going to come over all Kellyanne Conway here and suggest there are alternative facts. But I do think realism comes in different interpretative shades. The killer argument has always been that if you don’t play by the rules, if you don’t go by the book, then no amount of raw passion or electoral success on its own will bring you legitimacy. Especially with outfits like the European Union for whom the rule book is the very bible.

The problem is, almost the opposite is true of the current Westminster administration. The Johnson Cummings combo revels in tearing up the rule book. Never meets traces it doesn’t want to kick over. Regards the rule of law as an inconvenience only the little people need observe.

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Trying to play footsie with this lot is a surefire route to broken toes (and broken dreams). Waiting for their agreement on section 30 makes hanging about for Godot a bit of a doddle. And for all the current chat about dealing with a future Labour government, the breath is not being held for Corbyn calling in the removal van.

To say such things out loud is to get your wrists well and truly slapped in the Twittersphere and elsewhere. The mantra is that such “disloyalty” is meat and drink to “the enemy”. With the finishing post in sight this is not the time to sow dissent and divisiveness.

But while there is no good time for the latter, honest debate is what keeps politics alive, and political conferences from morphing into sedentary rows of quiescent supporters awaiting delivery of the next tablets of stone from the mountain top.

It’s way past irritating to have commentators intoning that today sees a fresh battleground opening up between the “gradualists” and the “fundamentalists”. For one thing the wider Yes movement is about more than one party. For another it’s not about whether you pick open the remaining locks with a claymore or a nail file. The discussion – discussion not division – is about tactics and chronology.

Since the 2017 election, people have been told that to do anything before the “fog of Brexit clears” would be premature and very possibly counterproductive. This has been one hell of a stubborn fog. Moreover, regardless of what happens in the tiny window between now and October 31, we will merely be swapping fog for incoming mist. Entering into years, perhaps decades, of attempting to build new trade relationships. If, that is, we are still part of a Brexit backing UK.

That is fertile territory for those of a Unionist persuasion. How can you possibly be talking about independence referenda when the country is in such turmoil will be the cry once more. And they will have a point, as people fearful of what Brexit will mean for employment and social security will be even more risk averse than five years ago.

That is why there is impatience for moving Scotland’s cause visibly on, not least at a time when there is more than something rotten in many parts of the UK state. At a time when we can demonstrate to Europe and beyond that popular movements towards independence need not be about right-wing bigotry.

That is why, far from trying to undermine the current Scottish Government, many honestly believe this a perfect juncture to remind the rest of the world that our small European nation has given birth to many enlightened policies, and, unlike its neighbour, rolls out the welcome mat to migrants.

The author James Robertson and I took a fair number of pelters for the Declaration of Independence we encouraged people to sign last week. Mostly along the lines of it being a glimpse of the bleedin’ obvious to argue for a country setting a civilised, internationalist and equitable tone in all its dealings. But at a time of rancour and racism in many other quarters, it seemed an ambition worth restating.

Nicola Sturgeon is much admired in world politics for being, as the cliche goes, one of the few grown ups in the room. That means she has political capital to spend way beyond what Johnson can muster. She has proved a canny leader, but good leaders listen as well as lead. And, to coin a phrase, not just to what they want to hear.