IF you believe some of the hype following Thursday’s English by-election results, the Labour Party already have the next election in the bag.

Certainly, the Tories will lose. But it’s a bit early to be popping the champagne corks in Sir Keir’s office.

Granted, Labour’s lead over the Tories south of the Border is impressive. It has rarely dipped below 20% for over a year. Predictions are of a landslide bigger than 1997. If you fancy a bet, you’d have to put six quid on to win one back, so convinced are the bookies of the outcome.

Can this last until the election? Probably not.

Eventually the Tories will bury the hatchet and pull together. And Labour will have to say what they’d do in government. Both will narrow the lead.

And we should never underestimate Labour’s capacity for self-harm. Thursday’s by-election results were actually something of a mixed bag. Why is it that Labour couldn’t win in Uxbridge while overturning 20,000-vote majorities in the English shires?

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Manufactured Tory grievances about Sadiq Khan’s ultra-low emissions zone is part of the answer. But equally to blame surely was Labour’s refusal to defend and promote their London mayor’s policies.

The constant reversal or abandonment of Labour policies means they cannot mobilise their own core vote – much more important in a place like Uxbridge than in places where Labour never had much of a vote share to begin with.

The National:

As John Curtice put it, this will “raise questions about the potential fragility of support for Labour more broadly.”

That said, the idea that the Tories will win looks far-fetched. People are just sick of them. Those Red Wall seats are already toast as Brexit voters return to a Eurosceptic Labour party. They are on the run in the shires and suburbs too.

So, Labour will most likely win in England. But Scotland will also be heading to the ballot box.

So, what happens here?

Labour will tell Scottish voters that they have a simple choice to make: a Tory government or a Labour one. They will say that they are in with their best chance in nearly 20 years. It’s a seductive message.

I remember in 2017 Labour being boosted by young supporters attracted to Corbyn’s radical message. I remember too older former Labour voters who hated Corbyn but were enthused by the prospect of winning and wanting to be part of it.

Scotland is different. About half of the population want it to become an independent country. The SNP only exist to be the political representation of that aspiration.

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Without doubt, independence has to be page one, line one of our next manifesto. We need to persuade Scottish voters that the choice is not between getting rid of the Tories or voting for independence. We can do both.

So, how do we motivate people to vote SNP? To answer that, we need to know how strongly people feel about independence and how much it will influence their vote. The most recent detailed research on this was undertaken by YouGov who interviewed 2800 people over a three-month period earlier this year.

They asked people to select the three most important issues that the Scottish Government should be working on, and then compared Yes and No voters. It’s not quite the same as the top issues for a Westminster election, but it affords some insight into what motivates people.

The National: FIRST AND LAST? Yes and No voters in Glasgow a few days before the independence referendum in September, 2014. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Among people who voted Yes in 2014, independence ranked third, after health and economy. YouGov then asked people how they would vote in a Westminster election.

Here’s where it gets interesting – 90% of those who voted Yes and who identified independence as a priority issue said they’d vote SNP. But when Yes voters who don’t currently have indy in their top three issues were asked who they’d vote for, only 59% said they would back the party.

Overall, 31% of 2014 Yes voters do not intend to vote SNP. And that’s our problem right there.

We need not only to make independence central to our campaign, we need to persuade people that is what the election is about.

If they are smart, Labour simply won’t mention it

They know that more than a third of their current supporters favour independence, and the higher their vote goes, the bigger that number gets. So, their best tactic is to insist that this election is only about kicking out the Tories, and we can all return to indy once that’s done.

It’d be a lie, of course. Labour have no intention of returning to the question of independence. They are just as much into denying Scottish democracy as the Tories. But in the heat of an election campaign, they will try to ignore the question.

We mustn’t let them. For anyone who believes in independence, there is one overriding truth in the next election: if the SNP win that objective gets closer, if the SNP lose it goes off the agenda.

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More than anything else, we need to change the narrative on independence. We must insist that it is not just another area of policy; an abstract notion separate from the social and economic problems people find important.

Pretending that the way we are governed and the policy outcomes of that governance are disconnected is a nonsense. They are two sides of the same coin. Independence is the power to change or it is nothing.

So, we need to illustrate what independence means for the NHS, the cost of living crisis, the climate emergency. And we need tangible examples.

Independence means having our own electricity distribution system, bringing down bills forever, so that energy-rich Scotland doesn’t have its citizens living in fuel poverty. Independence means control over corporate taxation so that the big companies who make money here are obliged to put something back.

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It means control over employment rights so we can abolish poverty pay. It means control over immigration so we can encourage the brightest to come here and grow our economy.

However, even if everyone agreed, it would take time for Scotland to become independent. We shouldn’t be content to wait until that happens to alleviate the condition of our people.

This means we should also demand emergency devolved powers from a new UK administration to enable our Scottish Government to accelerate action.

Things like corporate windfall taxes and scrapping the two-child benefit cap. But also, drug reform, energy regulation and employment law. Demanding the ability to go further and faster in tackling poverty and inequality will highlight Labour’s timidity on all these fronts.

Labour have never been so lacking in ambition. Starmer seems content to continue Brexit isolation, nuclear rearmament and corporate deregulation.

Hoping Labour deliver is forlorn. So, give us the tools to do what needs to be done

First by the immediate devolution of power and then the choice to make that permanent through independence.

This approach will remind previous Yes voters why independence matters.

But, of course, there are still people who need to be won to Yes in the first place.

Serendipitously, defining indy as the power to act on everyday issues is exactly how to convince them too.

There are a big number of people floating between Labour and the SNP.

As well as asserting our right to make our own decisions, we must tell them that if they really want policy shaped by old-fashioned Labour values like equality, redistribution and public provision, the last thing they should do is give Starmer’s Labour a blank cheque.