IT'S hard to believe that only a few months ago the SNP sat on 52% of the vote, support for independence was regularly over 50% and we had an emerging policy of a de facto referendum which at one point commanded the support of 54% of the Scottish people.

We were in pretty rude health and everything seemed to be onwards and upwards to the next General Election with the opportunity to once again offer the Scottish people the option of becoming an independent nation.

A few weeks later we lost our first minister followed by a divisive leadership campaign.

Our problems were then compounded by the series of difficulties precipitated by the arrest of our former chief executive.

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If only we could go back to where we were only a few short months ago…

But we are where we are, and where the political situation and general environment is tough our current difficulties are not unsurmountable.

Who knows, they may even present an opportunity if we have the confidence to grab it and the vision to see it.

In situations like this, we have to be politically nimble and consider properly options which might have seemed impractical or even unpalatable a short time ago.

Following the effective closure of the referendum route to independence (for the meantime anyway) I suggested we recalibrate our independence strategy by standing on a platform that proposes that if the SNP secures 50% of the vote in any future election it would constitute a vote for independence.

The National: The Scottish Independence Convention has the chance to re-galvanise the appetite for a new vote

Copies of The National at an Independence Convention in 2017

I now want to look at how the mechanics of this can be designed and how the whole movement can be involved in this mission.

What I believe we should now do is convene an independence convention and invite representatives of civic Scotland, campaigning organisations and other independence parties to come together to consider how we move forward in a common endeavour to secure independence for our nation.

This convention should be charged to assist in the organisation of an independence campaign, prepare materials and build support and capacity. It should elect an executive committee and select a leader who would have the responsibility to convene the convention.

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I don’t believe that a convention would necessarily be a panacea to all our independence issues but what it could do is offer a helpful impetus to independence campaigning and help bring a fragmented movement together.

To achieve that there is one key thing that would have to be put in place and that is a code of conduct. This would be required to ensure the highest possible standard of democratic engagement and outline the basis of joint working.

This code must enshrine the best principles of respect, dignity and equality. It should also outline the values of the convention and be a safe place for all those who come under its umbrella.

The National: All Under Banner march for independence, Perth. The start of the march on Newhouse Road. Pete Wishart MP and John Swinney MSP pictured...  Photograph by Colin Mearns.7 September 2019..

There would be no place for the intemperate language of "traitors" "sellouts" or attempts to "destroy" indy colleagues. It would also mean we would pledge to treat opponents of independence with the respect their point of view deserves in an open democratic debate.

Without this code of conduct in place, it is impossible to believe that any convention would have even a remote chance of success. It is an opportunity to put behind us the hateful language of the past and offer a clean slate.

Those that felt they could not sign up to such a code would be free to campaign on their own in line with their own values and terms of engagement.

But what should a convention do?

Well, in Scotland we are quite familiar with the concept of constitutional conventions and in recent memory we have had one that achieved its objective and created the foundations of the Scottish Parliament.

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We should look at that example as a basis of what we would hope to achieve.

There are many reasons for the success of the last convention but essentially its success was based on a meaningful partnership with civic Scotland and the resonance it had with the general public. Where political parties still continued to compete with each other they were united in the mission of securing constitutional change.

The current partnership of the two elected parties of independence in Government also demonstrates how independence parties can work constructively together whilst continuing to compete for votes.

With the agreed referendum route to independence closed it is the election route to independence we are now obliged to pursue. This through necessity will have to be contested by political parties.

What a convention can do is to formulate a means of how independence elections could be fought by political parties and how they could ensure their votes count for an independence result.

By far the most efficient way, considering its size and support, is for the SNP to be the flag carrier for the independence vote. I, however, appreciate and understand why other parties might not share that suggestion and would want to contest any election under their own banner.

What definitely would not work is the idea of joint ‘Yes’ candidates. This would only confuse the public and it would get in the way of the usual means to engage at election time. There would also be questions concerning the broader conventions and regulations around contesting elections.

Most importantly the SNP secures well over 90% of the independence vote in First Past The Post elections making it by far the most popular independence party by some length. The SNP is also the party that is most associated with independence in the mind of the general public and without its brand at an election, there could be issues in motivating turnout.

Where elections are fought by political parties campaigns are won by the people on the ground and the strength and quality of the case. This must be the main focus of the convention.

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It should use all its might to build up the relationships with civic Scotland and make the compelling case why we should be an independent country.

We lost an independence referendum less than 10 years ago because our case simply wasn’t good enough to convince a majority of our fellow Scots.

Because of that loss, it means our journey to independence is now all the harder.

A convention will offer the opportunity to reset and inject impetus and momentum. To wipe the slate clean and to come together united in our independence cause.

We can use it to reach out, to persuade, to build the support, and to restate the case.

We are in new terrain and we must use this period as an opportunity to come together, put in the hard work and deliver the result.