DOES the independence movement generally, and the SNP in particular, have an issue with industrial action by trade unions?

Is a new and stronger relationship needed, bridging all those struggling for Scottish self-government and working people demanding transformation of our economy  and public services through trade unions?

I would answer a strong “yes” to that second question, and part of the reason why is the lingering question mark around the first, which it is now time to tackle head-on.

It is certainly true that whenever accusations are made about unions somehow being in the pocket of Labour, or when the Scottish Government and local authorities are under pressure from demands over pay, conditions and funding, a vocal minority claiming to speak for independence appear on social media claiming that strikes are some sort of Unionist plot.

More recently, an anonymous “SNP source” made an outrageous accusation of manipulating union sentiment for political ends against a senior Unison figure who also happens to hold a senior position in Scottish Labour.

But as both depute convener of Unison Scotland Stephen Smellie and SNP Trade Union Group convener Bill Ramsay have amply demonstrated, this conspiracy outlook is manifestly untrue.

READ MORE: It’s nonsense to suggest Unison school strike is linked to party bias

Trade unions are democratic organisations, the threshold for industrial action is very high under Tory anti-strike laws and it costs workers a lot to withdraw their labour. In the face of cutbacks and the cost of living crisis, they do so collectively (and with a significant majority) only when pushed to the brink personally and economically.

There has been some debate about whether the original unfounded allegation should have been published in The National.

But the deeper issue is whether it does indeed represent an unpalatable anti-union tendency within the SNP and the independence movement, and if so, what can be done about that?

My own experience as an active trade unionist is of broad sympathy towards trade unions within the party and the grassroots movement, but also a degree of ignorance or confusion about how they work and take decisions.

The irony here is that, with nearly 13,000 members, the SNP Trade Union Group is the party’s largest affiliate, and vocal within its counsels. It organised the only independent husting for the SNP leadership election, partnering with The National.

READ MORE: 2014 independence vote proved trade unions are not Labour sock puppets

Indeed, at last year’s SNP national conference, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer and a panel of senior trade union officials were cheered to the rafters by delegates at a packed fringe meeting. Yet none of those speakers held back from legitimate criticism of the way devolved powers are currently being used, or from calls for a more radical approach to tax and economic issues.

The fact is that trade unionists within the SNP believe that the full powers of independence needed to transform Scotland must be prefigured by bolder, more redistributive action by an SNP-led Scottish Government, starting now.

This is because any winning political case for independence is inseparable from the case for a transformation of the Scottish economy in favour of working people, families and communities.

That must go alongside high-quality jobs and well-funded local and public services, a strong NHS free of the threat of privatisation and a just transition towards a sustainable green future for us and our children in the face of climate catastrophe.

The role of trade unions is absolutely central and crucial in achieving all of that.

At present, the SNP as a whole do not seem sufficiently conscious of that, and education within the party about the importance of solidarity with and among working people as the means of building a new Scotland is insufficient.

READ MORE: Roz Foyer: Debunking this week's poisonous, nonsense attack on Unison

With more focus and resources on this, the kind of ignorant, kneejerk responses to trade union action for better pay, conditions, services and public investment could be addressed far more thoroughly.

We also need to understand that the workplaces, communities and industries where trade union membership is highest in Scotland are among those where many people still need to be persuaded of the case for independence in relation to their own need for economic as well as political leverage.

An “are you Yes or No?” approach will not work. That is like a tired game of chess in which many players will make their moves almost without thinking, and in which a larger number have become disinterested because it does not seem to connect with the material realities of their lives.

Instead, the whole conversation about Scotland’s future needs to be transformed.

If we are to achieve the better nation we all need, where do specific powers need to lie, who should decide, and if not independence, what?

Those are the three crucial questions.

Trade unions already favour the Scottish people deciding our own future. They are therefore one of the key places where that different approach can be developed.

Crucially, this means that independence voices need to be seen to stand in solidarity with union demands for change that starts now (not just “jam tomorrow”), and a far greater engagement with the sources of scepticism among some working people towards the case for Scotland deciding its own future outside the crumbling wreck of the UK.

Collaboration and persuasion go together.

Simon Barrow is national secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group. He is director of the think tank Ekklesia, and has co-edited and co-authored five books on Scottish politics