MEMBERS of the SNP have started voting for the individual who will become Scotland’s next first minister following Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation last month.

Over the past few weeks, the hustings – either for party members or broadcast live on television for us all to watch – have given us a lively debate. Though at times fractious, at least people were given a choice – and nobody will be able to complain that politicians all look and sound the same.

Not that I want division for the sake of division, but activists got to choose between three very different views on how to take Scotland forward.

The priorities of ordinary citizens in Scotland are, unsurprisingly, the cost of living crisis, the state of the NHS and public services in general.

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This is what we all discuss at the dinner table and what we talk about with our relatives back home – at least for those of us who do not have most of our loved ones here. They too struggle with soaring energy and food prices, but at least they can buy as many fresh vegetables as they like. I might bring back some tomatoes and cucumbers the next time I visit my family in France!

But the focus was, quite logically, on independence as well – after all, this is the raison d’etre of the SNP. But there are more important questions at large.

How does the next party leader intend to take Scotland there? What would be their strategy to get more people on board? When would be a good time to take that big step and when could the country consider it is ready to go?

Kate Forbes, Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf have different strategies, all with interesting aspects. Should we have a First Minister who appeals to people from all sorts of political backgrounds? Should they concentrate on governing on progressive values instead of spending so much energy on process? Should they consider that a vote for the SNP is a vote for independence and work to prove to voters that certain boxes have been ticked to show Scotland’s readiness for independence?

The National: SNP leadership candidates Humza Yousaf, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan taking part in the SNP leadership hustings at the Town Hall in Johnstone, Scotland

In the end, the main question has to be how to build a majority for independence and how to convince people who are undecided – or opposed to independence at the moment – that independence is the way to go. Successive polls show that public opinion on this question has been fluctuating a lot.

For example, in the most intense months of the coronavirus pandemic, support for independence rose sharply to the mid-50% and remained at that level for a few months. Yet more recently, it has fallen, with a majority of voters backing the Union in most recent polls.

However, polls rarely if ever show a sustained and decisive majority for independence that would make everyone think: “Yes, there is no doubt Scotland has made up its mind”. Like it or not, it is not yet the case.

It is true that pro-independence parties have won election after election for several years. They have a majority in the Scottish Parliament and hold the majority of Scottish seats in the House of Commons.

Even though voters cast their ballots with different parameters in mind, it is fair to say that to vote for the SNP, a voter would need to have at least some sympathy for independence.

Despite all these facts, opinion polls still show that Scotland is pretty much split down the middle when it comes to leaving the UK and being a sovereign country again.

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Attracting and convincing new Yes voters is of course a major way for Scotland to open this new chapter in its history – but it feels to me that in this conversation, we tend to forget Yes voters. They believe in independence and want to see Scotland arrive there some day.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that if there were to be a second independence referendum tomorrow – or indeed a de facto referendum via a Holyrood election or a General Election – they would vote for it without batting an eyelid.

It is a very conflicting place to be – voters are claimed by Unionist politicians who think they are proof that the debate about independence needs to stop, which is absolutely not what these voters are saying. While at the same time, pro-independence parties think they are anchored to the cause forever. In reality, the last thing these voters want is to be taken for granted.

Indy politicians and activists need to realise that for the majority of voters, independence is not a sacrosanct ideology for which they will vote blindly whatever the circumstances.

Independence for the sake of independence is not what appeals to them – they want a vision and reasons why it is worth the move.

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It is, for a lot of people, an inclination, and inclinations are not absolute. We forget it in the age of social media where everyone must choose a side and stick to it, ride or die – but the majority of people are more nuanced than that.

Of course, especially if a voter has made the journey from No to Yes, really engaged with the arguments for independence, they will probably have a harder time changing their minds again in the opposite direction.

However, those voters also have the gift of understanding other perspectives and why people hold the views they are now opposing. They don’t regard them as people who live on a different planet and “how the heck are you not Yes yet, you need your eyes checked”, but just like just ordinary people who are yet to be energised and enthused about what Scotland could be. Only through respect and broadening perspectives can this happen – not name-calling and diminishing other views.

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There isn’t much that is as off-putting as being taken for granted as a voter – this can lead to very slippery slopes, as we see in France.

More and more left-wing voters who voted for Emmanuel Macron in their droves in 2017 as he appealed to them with a progressive stance on social issues only to row back from the get-go, are now downright furious and say that there is no way they will ever support him again.

Even worse, many say that even in a scenario where the far-right would have a chance of winning an election, they would sooner abstain or pull a spoiled ballot than support anyone who is not left-wing.

This unfortunately comes from a misguided belief that left-leaning voters will always automatically block the road to the presidency. While that used to be true, it turns out that progressive voters lose patience too.