SOMETIMES in politics you have to go back to square one. Strategies need reassessed, ideas require interrogation, and built-up preconceptions need challenged.

This is surely the case when it comes to the campaign for Scottish independence. Many point to the continued strong polling for “Yes”, but the more discerning also ask why support has effectively flatlined. That this should be the case during a period of unprecedented turmoil in the British state adds an exclamation mark after this point.

So does another development: the projections for Labour in the coming General Election. For the first time since 2014, YouGov reports that the party is ahead of the SNP in the polls.

Of course, the SNP evolved from a united, disciplined and hegemonic party, into one riven with factionalism and very public crises.

That said, the SNP vote should not be underestimated – it may turn out to be more resilient than many expect. But it is striking, given that independence remains the major fault line in Scottish politics, that Labour are in the ascendency despite maintaining its opposition to Scottish self-determination.

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This crucial fact, unthinkable in 2015, requires much consideration.

The 2014 referendum became a lightning rod for a series of issues. The working-class character of the pro-independence movement drew on a politics based on opposition to the Conservatives, to austerity and the failures of New Labour. It entailed, at its core, a powerful democratic impulse.

Control, taken away in workplaces and communities, and wielded by Tory governments without electoral legitimacy, could be reasserted in the context of independence.

In other words, the concept of Scottish autonomy could coalesce with social and economic concerns, beyond a dry and legalistic debate about constitutions. People, becoming involved in the political process for the first time, discovered a sense of agency which had up until then felt elusive.

What we know, therefore, is that given the right opportunity, a great many Scots are willing to engage in high levels of activism and campaigning.

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The quest for a new referendum quickly followed September 18, 2014. But just as quickly, the SNP leadership were able to cannibalise the movement. This provided a powerful social force, offering numerous electoral advantages to a centralised party leadership.

This new base, heavily composed of former Labour voters, could be kept on tenterhooks with promises of a fresh referendum. Or to be more precise: hope that real democratic agency might be experienced again.

This approach, essentially a public relations operation, held until it didn’t. Once the Supreme Court – itself a misadventure – delivered its verdict on the Scottish Government’s ability to hold a referendum without Westminster consent, the SNP were caught out. The truth is, de facto referendum or not, the party didn’t have an answer

But neither did the movement, in the form of street demonstrations or public gatherings. These were – at any real scale – absent.

Little wonder then that the whole project feels jaded and almost akin to a 2014 re-enactment project.

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There is a lack of intellectual life around what independence actually means, and how it will affect people’s lives. There are dogmatic approaches too. Independence is “inevitable”. Is it?

At the core of the prospectus are glaring contradictions. How can a country claim its independence, for example, if it doesn’t control its own monetary policy? Is it really wise to continue to talk about a “Yes” movement when a whole generation of people don’t have much of a clue what the “Yes” refers to?

It’s not that challenging questions are not being answered – the trouble is they are barely being asked.

All of these factors – the lack of strategy, the defenestration of the movement, the confused prospectus – mean that the salience of independence has gone into decline. We are entering a period now where people’s constitutional preference does not dictate how they will vote.

The SNP hope this can be arrested, given they have little to brag about in relation to domestic policy.

But that in itself is tending towards further confusion as to how to run the election campaign. Is it about independence, or ousting the Tories?

The National: Scottish independence supporter

And if it is about independence, why are there various interpretations of how this should be enacted? This leaves the remnants of the movement in a state of disorientation, abandoned over a period of critical years, without the means to prosecute its key objectives.

When I hear about a pro-independence demonstration or event, it evokes an odd feeling. Formally, I support them. But speaking frankly, what are they for?

Without a strong sense of purpose and a clear idea of how independence can be achieved – or even what it means in practice – it feels like the point is being missed.

We are not “on an unstoppable journey”, nor was 2014 a “stepping stone” to an independent future. It was a defeat, and independence is in retreat.

Treading out the latest poll confirming stable support for independence doesn’t answer the question about how important it is to people, or if they see it as a political reality.

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Thus, Scottish Labour are able to regain ground without having to alter their position on Scotland’s right to decide, never mind independence. That should set alarm bells ringing for independence supporters. Yet it is largely ignored.

So, we are at square one. Maybe that sounds provocative. But the concept, organisation and leadership are in need of complete renewal. And that will take time. A long time – by which I mean decades. In the intervening period, the constitutional silos are being broken down, whether anyone likes that or not.

Independence activism is already a husk of its former self. The idea that it can be rehabilitated without asking the big questions will only condemn it further.

In this short article, I have asked just a few, and would be interested in your thoughts.