WOULD Scotland be independent by now if Alex Salmond remained at the helm after 2014? Has Nicola Sturgeon’s unexpected resignation torpedoed the SNP? Does Humza Yousaf have what it takes to square the circle and come up with a new independence strategy on Saturday?

Leaders, leaders, leaders.

They’re important – but what about the people who would become sovereign in the new written constitution launched this week?

If the people are about to do some long overdue heavy lifting in the running of our centralised, top-down wee country, isn’t it time they got some practice? And can that happen if Indy Leadership Wars continue unabated?

Is it conceivable that some person exists, who can appeal to all the mixed constituencies in this nation of 5.4 million people? Is it likely that any figurehead can “command” an independence movement that has long since jettisoned the British preoccupation with personality?

Or is time for the rank and file to make themselves heard?

Scotland will be free, said the historian Tom Nairn, when the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.

Since sales of the Post remain relatively buoyant, it may be time to adapt that saying.

Scotland will be free when SNP members take back their party – challenging conference timetables if they feel excluded instead of complaining on social media or sitting politely on their hands come the day.

Not as succinct a slogan as Nairn’s I’ll grant you.

But with all sorts of criticism already being lobbed at the SNP’s Dundee convention this weekend where non-members like myself have been invited to speak, it may be timely.

To be perfectly clear, I would happily be “scrapped” and listen instead to actual party members talk, if there’s a desire for that and a challenge to the order paper. And whilst encouraging a wee mutiny may not endear me to SNP organisers, the flexing of membership muscle at key events is precisely what the SNP has needed for years.

Some folk will doubtless be offended by the idea the SNP needs “taking back”.

Well, let’s put it this way.

I imagine the transformation of the annual conference into a corporate love-fest over the last decade was not the idea of the membership. I imagine pricing out movement organisations by charging tens of thousands of pounds for a stall or fringe venue, was also not a rank-and-file decision.

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I imagine members did not opt to overlook motions, critical of timid SNP policy, which had the backing of many branches. I imagine ordinary members did not dream up HQ micromanagement of local candidate selection. And I’m pretty sure restrictions placed on MPs that made it hard for them to “switch” parliaments were not delegate-led.

If members want to change any or all of the above, if they want to change Saturday’s agenda to give more time for open debate or to end the day with a vote on General Election strategy – then it’s up to them to do it.

After all, it is your party.

Now of course, there are caveats.

Folk who join parties generally aim to support not disrupt them.

Many don’t fancy an immediate run-in with the “new” management.

Members may want the summer to mull over options and vote on election strategy in October – hoping Rishi Sunak doesn’t surprise everyone with an autumn election to avoid another miserable winter with sky-high energy prices and record inflation.

But whatever people fancy regarding timescale, here’s the rub. If Yousaf is planning a robust change of strategy to turn the next General Election into a vote on independence – whether in tandem with other Yes parties or solo – a ferocious amount of planning, connecting and delegation will have to begin right now. Not mid-October.

Polls suggest Labour and the SNP may be neck and neck, so this is urgent. And if SNP members feel a lack of urgency permeating Saturday’s event, it’s up to them to act and challenge it.

Right then and right there.

Not for disruption’s sake but because a lack of grassroots control may be stifling support for independence. Look at the small Nordic nations who’ve made a success as independent countries and you’ll see they all have something in common.

Local independence in the form of vigorous and truly local government has let citizens run things for decades and centuries – raising confidence and competence levels, developing skills of compromise and joint working and diminishing petty outbursts of “my way or the highway’” behaviour in politics.

Local control via town and village-sized councils has allowed people to model independence for their country through their own local, personal, direct experience.

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Thus, today, Norway has 12,000 councillors in 380 councils while Scotland has 1227 in 32.

That’s way too thin.

Real democracy arises from many hands on the tiller.

But Scots simply haven’t had that deeply empowering experience.

Not as citizens within our massive, regional-sized councils.

Not as trade union members – we have 540,000 members, whilst same-sized Norway has two million members.

And not with land ownership.

Norway has 15,000+ individual landowners. In Scotland, 432 people own half the private land.

All of this means that decisions in Scotland are generally made somewhere else by someone else, encouraging passivity and reservations about the capacity of Scots to run our own country.

Despite a gratifying reverse tide created by the 350 community trusts who own and run islands like Eigg, estates like Assynt, wind farms like Westray, schools like Strontian and business units like Lochgelly, this pattern of exclusion from everyday decision-making has continued under the SNP, with no-shows by the previous leadership at movement events only strengthening the impression that “professionals” in the Scottish Government, the SNP and every walk of life feel that the “little people” are not to be trusted.

All of this passivity, listening, and “remote control” has to end. And what better place to start than within the centralised, top-down SNP?

Everyone expects a classic “sit and listen “event on Saturday. Of course, no other party would be any different – indeed New Labour invented the stage-managed conference. But life’s not fair – and the simple fact is that everyone in Scotland expects better from the SNP.

Thus, it’ll be great if Humza Yousaf appears at Believe in Scotland’s first rally in September. But unless he spreads himself around, that will only serve to emphasise his non-appearance at other movement events.

All Under One Banner will have more marches and rallies after this Saturday’s missed event in Stirling. The SNP leader could end residual bad feeling by speaking at the next one. Two Highland women have almost 20 thousand folk signed up for the Chain of Freedom – a bold plan to link hands across the central belt via its canal network on October 14th, in support of independence. But they need 70 thousand people. Will Humza and his family attend – and confirm attendance soon enough to encourage SNP members still wary of gigs without the official seal of approval?

So many questions.

Here’s hoping the SNP makes time for answers on Saturday – and a vigorous members’ debate.