YESTERDAY’S march and rally for an independent Scotland fired the starting gun for the autumn campaign. The summer is well and truly over. It’s time to get back on the streets. More rallies are planned in the coming months in Glasgow, Falkirk, and Edinburgh.

Public demonstrations are only one element of the campaign for independence – but they are an important one. They build confidence amongst supporters and provide a physical manifestation of the popular ambition for independence.

This winter will be the last before the next UK General Election. The long campaign for that election has already started. It will end sometime in the next nine to 14 months. It’s not a long time. In the next six weeks, those of us who want Scotland to become an independent European nation need to decide how that election can advance our cause.

Although not the only player, the question of what the SNP will do is central. As we prepare for next month’s conference in Aberdeen, regional assemblies and local meetings are dominated by one thing above all else – what is our pitch in the UK General Election?

It’s not straightforward. Some still argue that the election must be turned into a referendum on independence and nothing else. I disagree.

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The SNP’s central purpose is to make Scotland an independent country. It’s true therefore that in any election, at any time, the number of votes cast for the party will be a barometer of support for political autonomy.

At the next election, this will be the case more than ever. But to win votes, the SNP must give independence supporters a reason to vote in an election that is about the government of Britain.

The reason is that we will use every means at our disposal to pursue independence, but crucially we will demand that the decision rests in Scotland. This means that consulting the Scottish electorate on how they are governed, and what their constitutional future should be, must become the responsibility of the Scottish Government.

The law should be changed to legislate for the Claim of Right for Scotland. To give to our parliament the very authority the UK Supreme Court has ruled it does not have.

When I’ve argued this before, some have told me it’s not our job to fix a broken British constitution. That’s true, it’s not. But it is our job to point out its inadequacy in providing (or rather, failing to provide) for a so-called voluntary union in the UK, and its total inability to allow the democratic voice of Scotland to be heard.

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Others have told me there’s no point in asking because we know the answer will be no. Even if true, that’s not a reason not to make the demand. But, of course, none of us know if it is true. Will the same level of belligerent denial continue after the next election? That very much depends on the outcome of the ballot.

A change of government in the UK will create a new dynamic and unleash new expectations. If that happens and support for Scottish independence is seen to remain firm and rising, who knows what will happen? What we can certainly say is that if the election results in a Labour government in London without a mandate in Scotland, that would be an unprecedented outcome, the consequences of which are completely uncharted.

It gets even more interesting if that Labour government depends on SNP votes. Again, there’s a lot of negativity in our own ranks on this. I’ve had people tell me that since Labour know we’d never vote for the Tories, we have no leverage. They’ll just take us for granted. But we don’t have to vote for the Tories to cause problems for a Labour government. If they want a smooth passage of legislation, there’ll be a price to pay. They can make it easy for themselves or hard – their choice.

Now, even with all of this, a new administration in the UK could just say no. But we can already be preparing Phase Two. Within 18 months of the next UK General Election, there will be another election. This time only in Scotland. For a Scottish parliament. Where the entire focus will be on the government of this country, not the UK. If our mandate continues to be denied and they refuse to give the Scottish Government the power to hold a referendum, then we can repurpose the 2026 Holyrood election as exactly that. There are a number of advantages to doing this.

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Firstly, we will be seen to have given the British state every opportunity, including changing its own management, to respond to the democratic demands of the people who live in Scotland. This will not be lost on international observers, and it will not be lost on our own people. Their continuing denial will have decreasing legitimacy with every month that passes.

Secondly, we will contest that election against a Labour Party not only demonstrating contempt for Scottish opinion but shown to be unwilling or incapable of making any serious changes to Tory Britain.

Thirdly, if we were to win that election with a majority of the votes cast, it would result in a huge pro-independence government majority. That Scottish government might not yet have the legal authority to organise a referendum, but it would have the legitimacy to press for independence regardless and to use every legal means at its disposal in furtherance of that aim. This includes spending money to press our case, fighting in the courts at home and abroad, building international support, and exerting serious administrative pressure through the interstices of devolution.

A 2026 plebiscite also of course engages a bigger electorate, doesn’t disenfranchise many sections of our population, and gives us time to organise and consider joint slates and campaigns.

We should be building a strategy that uses both the election campaigns over the next two years to advance our cause, demonstrate majority support for independence, and define how we will execute the mandate we are given.

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In contrast, trying to run the General Election next year as a referendum poses several problems. It will be harder to make the vote about how Scotland is governed when we are bombarded nightly with London media telling Scots it’s about Starmer versus Sunak. Many people who would support independence will not vote for it then because they want the Tories out.

The SNP have never achieved 50% of the vote. It came very close in 2015. But that was when we explicitly said voting SNP was not a vote for independence, but to defend Scotland in a post-referendum Union. Getting more than 50% is challenging, to say the least. But we owe it to ourselves – and to the people – to give it our best shot. To fight at a time and on a terrain of our choosing, not that of our opponents.

There is now a pretty firm gap of around 10% between those who support independence and those who support the SNP. Understanding that gap is crucial to our campaign. Some have told me it’s because the SNP don’t talk enough about independence, so if we talk more, we’ll gain support.

But might it not be that 10% of the population want independence but it’s not the only thing they will be voting on? To get their votes, we need a clear vote in Scotland where everyone agrees that’s what’s on the ballot paper. We get that either from a Scottish referendum – or a Scottish parliamentary election.