The campaign for independence has cause for optimism

We are in a tunnel, apparently. The Brexit tunnel refers to the period in which the external noise recedes as the EU and No 10 get down to finalising key decisions on the Brexit deal.

Except it’s anything but quiet. Tory cabinet ministers are (ahem) revolting. Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt are reported to be ready to stage their own exit. The DUP is letting it be known that £1 billion is not enough and that a backstop means the bucks stop and all bets are off.

Brexiteers are fuming loudly at reports – from the tunnel of course – that the customs union may continue in some form indefinitely. And the Irish are expressing increasing doubts about the ability of the Prime Minister to deliver a pizza, let alone a deal that sticks.

Against this background a confused Labour Party relishes its irrelevance, spurning any chance for influence in order to avoid any accountability.

Step forward, Nicola Sturgeon. Her measured and effective speech to SNP conference was lauded by supporters, many commentators and even some opponents, for its consistency and coherence. Not qualities often attributed to May or Corbyn.

On a possible independence referendum, she remained consistent with her stated view that clarity over Brexit is required before any decisions on a future referendum can be considered. However, work on building the case for independence must continue and expand.

I am delighted to be taking that challenge on. Since being elected as SNP depute leader I have been working to ensure that the party uses the current period to increase support for independence, and getting it above 50% seems like a good place to start.

The SNP’s Day of Action, supported by activists across the country, will be followed by another on November 17. The hugely well attended Edinburgh march for independence helped to galvanise and affirm support in the wider Yes movement.

All these are signs of hope. And there are more concrete signs too.

The polls have been moving. Between 48% and 52% support for independence now seems the baseline, depending on Brexit scenarios.

No wonder then that we have seen a circling of the wagons from the old Better Together buddies, each pleading with Westminster to block any future Scottish referendum.

However, polling also suggests that they are seriously out of touch on this issue too, with 59% of people in Scotland saying the Scottish Parliament should decide and only 30% saying it should be Westminster. Ignoring – or worse still, denying – that is an early and crucial misjudgment from the London-based parties.

These signs of hope, backed up on the ground by real action by a growing number of committed activists, inspired my old friend Mike Russell to quote Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy, during an excellent speech to conference in which he dissected the shambolic Tory handling of Brexit and its implications for Scotland.

Mike is perhaps an unlikely comrade of the revolutionary socialists more usually associated with Shelley’s rousing words, written following the Peterloo Massacre 200 years ago.

Nonetheless he highlighted the need for people to realise that they – the many thousands of ordinary men and women in the cities, towns and villages of Scotland now convinced of the need for independence – and not the tiny cabal currently working in the distant Tory tunnel will decide Scotland’s future.

Rise, like lions after slumber In unvanquishable number! Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you: Ye are many -- they are few!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Masque of Anarchy