FOR me, two words sum up Alba's party conference this past weekend: Scottish independence. However unsurprising as that might seem, in the years since the 2014 referendum it’s a topic that has been conspicuous by its absence from other party’s conference agendas.

As Alex Salmond has often said, the Declaration of Arbroath and Scotland’s Claim of Right weave a golden thread through constitutional thought and sovereignty that endures to this day. And while their continuing relevance is undeniable, they are neither perfect, nor some magic bullet that will reinstate Scotland’s rightful claim for independence alone.

In any democracy, it’s the people who decide, and the means to secure their support lies in discussion, debate, policies and an ability to make change happen. In short folk must believe things are possible, deliverable and that there is a real and tangible benefit for them, their family and the wider commonweal.

That’s why it’s no accident that Scotland’s independence is the common thread that runs through our conference agenda and our strengthening policy base. If Alba is concerned with securing Scottish independence for the purpose of improving the lives of our people, then it follows that our policy base must illustrate that ambition at each and every turn.

I had the great honour of being the first speaker to address our open session. The breadth of issues set out in my Westminster leader's report demonstrated that though we may be small in number, Kenny and I punch well above our weight on the issues we know matter to the people of Scotland.

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The National: Kenny MacAskill, MP for East Lothian

We’re leading on food and fuel poverty, the iniquity of prepayment meters and standing charges, the robbery of Scotland’s vast energy wealth while our people are cold and hungry, reinstating our maritime connections to Europe, and defending the health and safety of offshore workers who are being exposed to ever greater peril.

All of these issues matter in preparation for statehood, developing resilience and strengthening our case for independence, but two interventions I have made in recent months are entirely focused on independence. My St Andrew’s day debate and related Commons Early Day Motion 633 records Alba's St. Andrew’s Day Declaration into the parliamentary record. Meanwhile my Scotland (Self Determination) Bill merely seeks to secure parity with the Good Friday Agreement’s constitutional provisions of a meaningful vote no more frequently than every seven years, and should be uncontroversial if democracy means anything at all.

While I am deeply grateful for the support I have enjoyed from some SNP colleagues, I remain mystified why anyone who claims to champion independence would refuse to support these initiatives and by their silence willingly cede all authority to London. I have said endlessly that I will collaborate with anyone in common cause, and as we witnessed at the recent AUOB march and rally it is entirely possible to unite cross party. All it takes is a willing overarching commitment to our shared endeavour for the cause.

Of course we won’t agree on everything; as they say “that’s politics”, and that is unambiguously why Alba exists, why so many have joined and why our number and strength continues to grow. Just because I am critical of fellow independence-supporting parties takes nothing from my determination to deliver independence, but it says everything about the maturing polity required to win the day. 

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A good example of this is my concerns over the FM’s questioning of the need for free school meals and universalism more generally. He seemed to base his position on his own prosperity, but universalism is about so much more than arbitrary metrics of affordability. Setting aside the rights, wrongs and costs of means testing, in Scotland, right now, there are over 20,000 families whose children don’t qualify for free school meals - who owe £1,356,540 to local authorities for school meals they can’t pay for. My call from Alba conference for the First Minister to wipe this debt from local authorities books should be welcomed by anyone who seeks to build a better country through independence.

As the campaign kicked off in 2012 support for the SNP was at 45% and support for independence less than 30%. Now the position is reversed. A nation where half of the population supports independence has to be ready to seize political opportunity. The landscape may be in flux for political parties, but support for independence is now the leading ray of hope. For that to matter we must campaign as one united team Scotland so every single vote for independence can be cast with confidence in that purpose.

To be crystal clear. I will work with anyone, anyone who is genuine in their pursuit of Scotland’s independence, but the only time I will ever sit down with the Westminster establishment is the day we open negotiations on independence for Scotland.