“YOU play the ball where it lands,” is a phrase Stephen Noon picked up when he worked with Alex Salmond from 1994, until taking the position of chief strategist for Yes Scotland in 2012.

Noon called it “probably” the best political lesson he learned.

The former adviser has been back on the political scene for a couple of years, offering his analysis and suggestions on the state of the independence movement since he left his official role in it.

Some of his advice hasn't been met so warmly by Yes supporters. For example, his suggestion to put independence supporters in the House of Lords caused fury online. His calls on campaigners to have patience have sparked debate too, with dedicated activists feeling an independent Scotland has never been more urgently needed.

"We play the ball, but when it lands we're honest about the reality of where we are," Noon said. "And we then seek the best opportunity to move forward from where we are.”

In other words, Noon explains, that means you can't wish for different circumstances.

“You just accept how they are, and you work on the basis of ‘this is what we have to deal with’ - and that applies when the situation is good and when the situation is bad," he said.

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To Noon, this metaphor applies when working within this new phase of Scottish politics - away from SNP dominance towards a competitive political landscape - with pro-devolution Labour and LibDem politicians.

With Labour on track to win the General Election, as predicted in a recent YouGov poll, the former strategist urged the Yes movement to play this ball.

The social movement

Last year, debates over the route to independence dominated grassroots and pro-independence political party circles for months.

Noon told The National that while this contributed to healthy debate, there hasn't yet been a single perfect plan put forward.

He said: “We’ve always been pushing in this direction and pushing in that direction and just trying to find the right way forward across multiple paths.

“We should be relaxed once again about just making progress in small ways across the path because that's the history of the movement.

“Progress is one more power that's been delivered or gained and it's also one more person who's been persuaded."

The National:

Since 2022, Noon has argued that the movement has an opportunity - “breathing space” - to focus on a broader view for Scotland, with several attainable goals rather than one “narrow” referendum aim.

“I think we've got into the mindset that because of the 2014 referendum, progress was securing a referendum, and we'd win the referendum and that would be the deal done," the former adviser said.

“But that is no longer the situation we're in. So, we're back into the place where there are multiple paths, multiple opportunities and we just keep pushing forward - on them all.”

Noon painted a picture of a football team on the pitch, people positioned in different parts playing their roles.

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He said: “So, SNP are doing their job, the Scottish Government doing its job, all the different Yes organisations playing their roles.

"In 2014, we were comfortable enough to have socialists on one side making the case for a socialist Scottish republic and Business for Scotland on the other side making the case for an enterprise Scotland.

“We should be comfortable once again about having different voices deployed on the pitch, making the independence case in slightly different ways. That for me is a strength of the movement.”

'Progress is one more person persuaded' 

The strength of 2014 Yessers peer-to-peer campaigning was described as its “superpower” by Noon. He argues that it’s needed more in the 2024 movement.

“It's right back to what we did in 2014 and we did it through a range of different means, some of them political, and having conversations with our pals, with our family.”

Despite telling BBC Scotland that “the age of the referendum” is over, Noon explained there will be one in the future – and that is what the movement should be ready for.

“In order to get to that point, we have to go back to the old approach - moving forward on a broad front and taking whatever opportunities we can in progress, whether big or small, and being quite comfortable with the fact that we have to push in different directions.”

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While it will be a frustrating prospect for many activists, broad, patient progress over narrow, impatient arguments is what Noon envisages.

Does he recognise that as a difficult thing to tell a movement which previously felt so close to reaching that goal?

"Yes," he said.

“I keep on saying to people we are so far forward compared to where we were. We are closer to this than we have ever been. We shouldn't forget the degree of progress we've made."

Noon went on: “When I started in 1992, the disappointment of the 1992 General Election made it seem like we were never going to get a parliament. We've now got a Parliament.

“So, it'll come when it comes.”