THE next few months are vital for an independence movement champing at the big to begin campaigning in earnest – after other matters have rightly had to take precedence – but are not entirely sure where or when to begin or what form that campaigning should take.

Just look at the current state of the UK Government … up to its neck in sleaze, the architect of a so-called trade deal with Europe which has brought disaster upon disaster on our economy and our international reputation, led by a Prime Minister in turn shambolic, scheming, incompetent and determined to reconstitute the Union to strip the Scottish parliament of even the very limited powers it has.

Boris Johnson is today caught like a rabbit in the headlights trying to formulate an adequate response to a tide of sleaze engulfing his party, some of it the result of his own ham-fisted actions. His reaction to Conservative MP’s Owen Paterson’s clear and disgraceful breach of Westminster lobbying rules has been nothing short of inept.

First, he took Jacob Rees-Mogg’s advice and backed a move to block Paterson’s suspension from parliament, whipping his MPs to vote in support of changing the rules Paterson fell foul of after pocketing £100,000 for lobbying.

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Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng even want as far as suggesting the parliamentary commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone should lose her job for finding against Paterson in her ruling on his actions.

Even the Prime Minister’s U-turn from that position was incompetent, putting forward a ban on MPs earning money from advising firms on how parliament works but adding an incomprehensible plan to make sure any outside role should be “within reasonable limits’’.

Add this mess to controversies over party donors being sent to the House of Lords and the picture emerges of a corrupt Government and a number of MPs more interested in lining their own pockets than helping their constituents.

All this, of course, is played out, against the backdrop of a Brexit in meltdown. The departure from the EU was always going to go badly, but it’s impossible to imagine a worse version of Brexit than that brought into play by the dog’s dinner of a trade deal agreed at the last minute by the Prime Minister.

The litany of disastrous consequences was extended even today by layering peers’ fears over NHS charges being pushed up and food standards being pushed down over the continuing nightmare of food shortages, staff shortages, lorry driver shortages and tumbling exports. Earlier this week, a Channel 4 documentary revealed that more than a quarter of SMEs who do business in Europe are considering moving at least part of their operations out of the UK.

The current UK Government are incompetent, rudderless, without scruples or principles and morally bankrupt. Scottish Tories are also significantly failing to cover themselves in glory either. Yesterday, a former Tory MSP argued in the Herald that “politicians should have second jobs and multiple incomes’’ … as if representing the best interests of the voters left plenty of time for other business interests.

Given all the above, it’s more than frustrating that the most recent opinion poll showed support for independence rising by just 1% and the No option still leading by 2%.

There are a number of mitigating factors. With such a small gap the margin of error can make a big difference. It’s not so long ago that Yes was consistently ahead in opinion polls. Before the 2014 referendum support for independence was sitting at less than 30%. It only moved when the campaign got into gear and support rose to 45%. We have to grow that figure by far less to win. I’m sure you know these arguments and more. They all have elements of truth within them. But they’re not enough to inspire confidence.

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IT’S also worth considering that, while this Tory government is appalling, that’s not enough in itself to stand as the big reason for independence. This government will one day fall. Recent poll rises aside, it is still looking like a fair bet that the Labour Party will not get its act together and unseat the Tories at the next general election. But one day it will. And one day it will form the next UK Government. And when that day comes independence will still look like the best option for Scotland, simply because it will be better to have our own future in our own hands. The people who live here will generally make the best decisions for our wellbeing.

The campaign for independence has been on the back burner for some time now and it is right that this has been the case. During a pandemic is not the time to argue for a decision that will change our future for ever. People had other, more immediately pressing matters on their mind. Matters which were often, quite literally, about life or death. The pandemic is not over but I think it’s fair to say we are at the beginning of the end of severe lockdown restrictions. There are no guarantees and it will not be a linear transition back to “normality” but it’s no longer the only or the most important matter on everyone’s mind.

Similarly, COP26 did mean that the question of Scottish independence couldn’t and shouldn’t impinge on the main matter at hand.

Of course discussions on Scotland’s future were entirely appropriate when Scotland was the host country, which is why the SNP’s “nation in waiting” advert made a valid and reasonable point to at least make sure that visitors to our country were aware such a debate was going on. And in any case, the advert was paid for by a political party rather than the taxpayer via the Scottish Government and last time I looked that’s still completely legal in a free country. But COP, to all intents and purposes and whether you celebrate or deride the decisions it made, has pulled out of town.

So if we’re going to have a referendum before the end of 2023 – and I fervently believe we are – now is the time we need to start devising and enacting the campaign which will target and win over those who need to hear arguments which speak to their hopes and ambitions before making up their minds to say Yes.

Some pro-independence groups – including Business for Scotland and Believe in Scotland, which in the interest of transparency I should say I work for – have never stopped campaigning. But it’s time now to join forces in new and interesting ways with those we consider to be allies and start supporting each other to capture hearts, minds and imaginations for our common cause.

That’s why I’m so excited about the eight-page newspaper written, put together and printed over the last few weeks in a joint project by Believe in Scotland, The National, the SNP and also supported by the Scottish Greens. In a monumental effort it will now be distributed to a million hopes all across Scotland.

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It’s full of exciting, positive reasons for voting Yes in the next referendum and I’m confident that it will encourage a significant number of wavering voters to believe that Scotland should take its place alongside those successful countries all over the world for whom independence is entirely normal.

But more than that, it is an inspirational example of different parts of the movement joining forces to prioritise gaining converts to indy rather than simply preaching to the converted. Hopefully the joint project will emerge as something more powerful than each of the constituent parts and encourage other Yes organisations to launch or join similar projects.

When I look back on the best times of the 2014 referendum campaign – and there were many – they were when people from different backgrounds teamed up in unexpected ways. If we can capture that same spirit in the year ahead the momentum will be with us.