OVER the past year we’ve seen the tentacles of the British state penetrate in ways we couldn’t have imagined and well beyond what we witnessed in the final weeks of 2014. The cause of independence is under attack by an increasingly muscular Unionism and a drip-feed of negative press – the question is how the movement chooses to respond.

I believe the next six weeks are critical and could determine the fate of the independence cause for the foreseeable. The SNP’s Annual Conference, the Programme for Government and today’s independence march are three key moments that can help us fight back against the establishment – so let’s take them in turn.

Just yesterday a columnist for this paper played down the importance of today’s rally. They are wrong for a number of reasons – but the main one is this: divide and rule is precisely what the British state is betting on. We must re-ignite the hope and shared vision of 2014 that bound us together.

In 2021, I was invited to speak for the SNP at a rally outside Faslane. I was followed by an Alba spokesperson who spent their entire contribution ranting about the SNP, barely speaking a word about the obscenity of nuclear weapons – the reason we were there. It was incredible. My message to that vocal minority is simple: enough of doing our opponents’ work for them.

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Believe in Scotland, meanwhile, should be applauded for their efforts to bring the grassroots together and look to the future with some new faces at the helm. Its decision to partner with Yes to EU sends a powerful message that Scotland seeks to return to the heart of Europe as an independent country. I’ve been marching for Scottish independence since I was a student.

While it’s not for everyone, mass mobilisation plays an important role in energising our activists and demonstrating the strength of feeling on independence to our fellow Scots and to the world.

Let this be the turning point for the Yes movement – the moment we move forward as one. To succeed in 2024 we must build a Yes campaign and place the Yes brand front and centre of next year’s election – which is why I proposed adding the words Yes to Independence to the SNP’s name on the ballot papers.

We must elevate figures such as Brian Cox and other voices beyond elected politicians, precisely as we did in 2014, to demonstrate the breadth of support across Scottish society.

The second key moment is the Programme for Government (PfG) – potentially the last before the General Election.

What an opportunity for Humza Yousaf to set his policy direction as First Minister, take a distinct approach from his predecessor and set out an alternative vision for Scotland with independence.

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There couldn’t be a better time – as Labour have abandoned any notion of social democracy. Even the branch office is now mimicking the Tories – opposing progressive taxation, opposing a wealth tax, opposing the devolution of drug laws – and embracing Brexit. A vote for the SNP is the only alternative to the Tories at Westminster.

The PfG is also an opportunity to re-commit to the independence papers and answering the crucial questions on independence. I’ve been knocking on doors across the country – from Falkirk to Rutherglen and beyond – and the truth is – our activists are still not fully equipped with the arguments to confidently make the case for independence at the doorsteps.

If we want to increase support to well beyond 50% that groundwork can’t be delayed any further.

I have written to our new chief executive asking for accessible campaign assets to be produced at the earliest opportunity. The independence papers alone simply won’t cut it.

The third crucial moment will be SNP Conference. I was pleased that Conference’s committee accepted my recommendation to allow four independence resolutions onto the provisional agenda, in addition to the party leader’s motion, representing a broad spectrum of views that exists among our membership.

Whichever resolution is chosen by delegates will of course be subject to amendments.

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This must be a full, open and frank debate, and make no mistake – the stakes are high. We must chart a lawful course that facilitates Scotland’s accession back into the European Union.

Anything short of that would set us back. There are no shortcuts – it’s up to us to make the arguments with candour and conviction and take Scotland with us.

I’m grateful to SNP members for their contributions in shaping party policy – around 170 resolutions came forward for conference on a range of issues.

For the second year running we’ll have a grassroots-led agenda – with almost every motion coming forward from a branch or an affiliate. This is in stark contrast to just two years ago – the self-congratulatory motions in the name of parliamentarians are gone – and I’m pleased to have presided over that shift as policy development convener. 

Of course, there is a fourth key moment which I couldn’t miss – it’s called Rutherglen and Hamilton West. We can win this by-election – but only if we all get behind our candidate Katy Loudon, identify our supporters and get them out to vote. Labour have already popped the champagne – their arrogance is breathtaking. A win here would put independence firmly on the map – so if you haven’t been to lend a hand – I will see you in Rutherglen.

The next six weeks will be a defining period for the SNP and the wider Yes movement. The gift is in our hands to reclaim the narrative and build an alternative future for Scotland. We can find strength in unity. We can fight back with a credible strategy that wins trust and brings Scotland onside. So let’s do it.

Toni Giugliano is the SNP's Policy Development Convener