THE last time I ran the Glasgow Women’s 10k race – quite a few years ago, admittedly – I finished in 52 minutes.

So, let’s imagine I got myself back to that level of fitness, and then some – and shaved a couple minutes off my time. I would be chuffed. But I wouldn’t be parading around claiming I had won the race, especially if the winner had just finished 20 minutes ahead of me.

Yet that’s what the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party has been doing for the past three days. “There is only one winner today,” tweeted a triumphant David Mundell on Friday afternoon, redefining the word “winner”.

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Aberdeen FC have had great season – but I’d doubt their manager Derek McInnes would even dream of proclaiming his side the champions of Scotland.

The Tories were runners-up last week, increasing their number of councillors on the back of Labour’s continued collapse — but they were a long way behind the SNP. If I was a Unionist strategist, I would be seriously worried. First of all because, for the Tories, last Thursday was about as good as it’s ever likely to get, barring some unforeseen sensation.

Local council elections have a notoriously low turnout – and abstentions are never spread evenly across the board. Young people abstain in droves because many see local politics as boring, parochial and irrelevant to their everyday lives. Pensioners, by contrast, vote en masse either at the polling station or, increasingly, by postal ballot.

The gulf between people on low and high incomes is perhaps even wider. In four Glasgow wards, fewer than one in three registered voters filled in their ballot papers. All were in the poorest, most run-down parts in the city. In three wards, almost half the electorate turned out to vote. These areas all included the most affluent parts of the city.

That differential turnout has always helped the party of the right. In the late 1970s, for example, the Tories led Glasgow City Council as the biggest party. But come the General Election of 1979, despite its disastrous overall performance, Labour won 12 of the city’s 13 constituencies – in all but one with a commanding majority.

I don’t yet have the figures for all of Scotland. But in all 21 Glasgow wards the SNP were comfortably ahead in first-preference votes. And in the other Yes city of Dundee, the SNP won resoundingly in seven out of eight wards. This is despite the fact that in both cities the turnout was less than half that of the independence referendum, with a quarter of a million fewer votes cast compared to September 2014.

I had some friends from England wondering what on earth was going on in Scotland because they had heard crude and sensationalist reports on BBC of “Tory victories” in some of the poorest parts of the west of Scotland such as Calton and Ferguslie Park. Some UK journalists seemed oblivious even to the basic fact that councillors in Scotland are elected under STV rather than first-past-the-post as in England and Wales, leading to some incredulous reporting.

So, for the record: in Glasgow’s Calton, a Tory councillor did manage to scrape into fourth place with just 11 per cent of first preferences – just one-fifth of the combined SNP and Green pro-independence vote. And in Ferguslie Park in Paisley – which is not actually a ward but part of a ward which includes affluent areas where houses change hands for £350,000 – the Tories managed to get a less-than-impressive 13 per cent of first-preference votes.

As a general rule, incumbent governments see their vote haemorrhaging badly in local council elections. After ten years in power, administering Westminster-driven austerity cuts, and bringing in some highly controversial legislation, the SNP should really be licking their wounds right now. Instead, they have left their Unionist opponents lagging way behind, battling it out for second and third place.

Far from being downhearted, the broad independence movement can be optimistic. In the past few weeks we have been under bombardment as never before from the Tories, Labour, and most of the mainstream media. Oh yes – and from Willie Rennie too.

And we haven’t even revved our engines up yet. The SNP, the Greens and smaller independence parties concentrated on local services. The positive campaign for an independent Scotland is still to come – and for that matter the negative campaign against the hard-right, Tory-dominated, isolationist, backward-looking, chauvinistic, xenophobic UK state.

Yet we remain in a powerful position to deliver a decisive vote for independence within the next two to three years: as the consequences of Brexit become clearer, the civil war brewing within the Labour Party explodes and the carefully restrained Theresa May reveals herself as yet another cold-blooded right-wing fanatic in the mould of her hero, Margaret Thatcher.

But there can never be room for complacency. The next big test is on June 8 and I would hope the entire independence movement will strive to maximise the pro-independence vote and minimise any Unionist comeback. Energy has to be focused on getting the younger, less affluent electorate to the polling stations.

IT also means, in a first-past-the-post UK election, overwhelmingly backing the SNP. Until we get independence, we will not be able to have the diversity of political representation a lot of us aspire to.

If the Unionists were to win even just a third of the seats, that would be seized upon by sections of the media to spread demoralisation within that half of the population that support independence. If the combined number of Tory, Labour and LibDem MPs remains in single figures, the momentum for independence will be powerful.

Beyond that, whatever the result on June 8, we need to stop and think rather than rush into a rerun of 2014. The world has moved on, Scotland has moved on and we won’t win this time round just by repeating the same messages, chanting the same slogans and waving the same flags.

There are entrenched Unionists out there who will not be shifted, most of them now aligned to the Tory party. There are many, many others, tens of thousands in every region, who can be won over provided we don’t treat them as enemies to be vanquished – particularly in urban, working-class communities. We need open, respectful conversations, which involve listening rather than just talking. The perpetual round of tribal electioneering hasn’t helped organisations such as Women for Independence to carry out broad, inclusive work on the ground.

Thankfully there are no more elections scheduled until the Scottish Parliament election in May 2021. That’s great. It allows us a long breathing space to concentrate on the building of a grassroots, non-party-political pro-independence movement. And, at the next Scottish election, the independence question hopefully behind us, we will be free to choose the representatives we believe can build the sort of country we want to live in.