THERE is a new pessimism abroad in the independence movement. Since the fall of Nicola and the wobbly succession of Humza, folk across the movement and the commentariat have been queuing up to read the last rites over Scottish independence.

At best, they claim independence has been kicked into the political long grass. For others, indy is off the agenda totally and it’s time to dig up the rotting corpse of Scottish Labour.

Meantime, I hear on the grape vine, SNP MPs at Westminster are burnishing their CVs. Oh ye of little faith!

Those of us who lived through Westminster dumping the Scottish Assembly in 1979, followed by the loss of most SNP seats at the subsequent election, capped by Thatcher entering Downing Street, are no novices when it comes to weathering political storms.

As for the SNP being divided, today’s ructions are kindergarten stuff compared with the bitter faction fight between the 79 Group and the party old guard, during the 1980s. Yet the indy movement not only recovered, it re-emerged stronger than ever.

And the rollercoaster has never stopped rolling. Remember the bitter SNP disappointment at the poor results achieved in the first post-devolution election in 1999.

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Or the tetchy party squabbles during John Swinney’s brief, unhappy period as leader in the early noughties, when the risky notion of an indy referendum was first mooted as a way of proving the fundamentalist credentials of the parliamentary team.

And while the SNP membership has preserved a vow of omerta in the face of an ever-hostile Unionist media, few activists inside the party were particularly enamoured by the Murrell HQ machine.

How many times did HQ send us boxes of unwanted leaflets or unsaleable merchandise – only days before the election, and thus too late to be of use?

No wonder so many activists of the pre-2014 era quit to join Alba in 2021, while the Ancien Regime was still very much in charge.

The independence struggle is not going away, despite the delusions of its detractors. The real issue is the need to take stock and reorient the movement, not to retreat into despair.

The truth is that the movement had already lost steam around the start of the pandemic, in early 2020 – not after Sturgeon resigned last month.

We need to understand why

First came a tide of anger after the English vote for Brexit in 2016 that created the political pretext of a second independence poll. Sturgeon immediately launched a call for a fresh referendum, SNP members were sent to collect two million affirmative signatures and a war chest of £600,000 was raised.

But the snap Westminster election of 2017 saw the SNP lose seats and a rattled FM took fright. The pro-referendum signatures collected by activists were never counted and you can tell me where the £600,000 went.

The SNP parliamentary leadership retreated into routine government by press release.

In response, the activist base restarted Yes groups across the land and All Under One Banner emerged to organise increasingly bigger demonstrations the length and breadth of the land.

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Here is the problem: marching eventually runs out of steam unless it has a political direction.

Sturgeon was careful not to attend AUOB marches pre-Covid, but she kept the movement alive by promising – endlessly – there would be another referendum.

This year, next year, every year. Emboldened, the AUOB marches swelled to 200,000.

But in the end, they became simply a way of channelling activist energies while letting Sturgeon get on with the day job. The effort put into organising the marches was magnificent.

But marching proved a dead end because the whole indy project was geared simply to asking Tory governments at Westminster for another referendum, in the certain knowledge they would laugh in our faces. When life got back to normal after the pandemic, the heart went out of the marching strategy.

So what now?

Not calls for more marches (not that I’m against marching). Not fixating on process, be it referendums or plebiscite elections. Nor is the problem reducible to calling a convention or assembly of the movement separate from the SNP government – though that is a necessary start.

Rather, the new priority has to be to put a bit of politics back into the movement, especially given the cost of living crisis and the Russo-Ukraine War. And given that the SNP under Humza Yousaf are light on any political project, leaving themselves wide open to a Labour counter thrust.

By politics, I mean we need to refocus the Yes movement around some concrete demands that build public support, put pressure on the SNP government and wrongfoot the Unionist parties.

This is not mere propagandism. Unless the movement takes the political initiative, Labour and the Unionists will.

My suggestion is that we revive in some form the demand for fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

In other words, that the Scottish Parliament has complete control over raising taxes and public spending in Scotland, including borrowing; and that Holyrood pays into the UK Exchequer for defence and UK requirements.

The demand for fiscal autonomy for Holyrood is concrete and avoids the waffle about “modern Home Rule”.

It focuses on money and taxes, which everyone can understand. Money, at root, is where the power is. The demand for fiscal autonomy can be linked to the policies necessary to combat inflation and poverty. An SNP administration that does not want fiscal autonomy is hardly going to fight for outright independence.

If Scottish Labour oppose fiscal autonomy, then their demands for more devolution are exposed as the waffle they are.

Demanding the Tories grant Scotland the right to keep its own money is a different kettle of fish from begging for a second referendum.

Does Douglas Ross think Whitehall knows better than ordinary Scots how to spend their own cash?

Of course, the Unionist media will demand to know how Holyrood would spend the taxes. But that’s maybe a better terrain to fight on than abstract discussions regarding the post-independence currency.

For instance, Holyrood with fiscal autonomy can re-engineer our taxation system, including creating a land value tax and a wealth tax. We could more effectively tax foreign multinationals and internet companies. (You do it by taxing a proportion of their global earnings, so they can’t cheat.)

As for spending, with fiscal autonomy we can provide decent state pensions. With fiscal autonomy, Westminster can’t wreck the national finances then blame Scotland for the Tory deficit.

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I’m not suggesting we retreat from independence towards supporting some form of devo-max. Rather, I want us to escape the trap of having politics separate at Holyrood while the rest of us are getting sore feet marching for a second referendum the Unionists are not going to grant.

We need to campaign in the streets and the doorsteps for something concrete.

Demanding we keep our own money in Scotland, to spend on our own NHS and our own pensioners, is as concrete as you can get.

If we get fiscal autonomy, we have the power to quit the UK when we want. If we don’t get it, then the Unionists have made the case for Scottish independence for us.

“Politics not process” should be our watchword from now on.