THE SNP is in conclave in Glasgow, debating its (and Scotland’s) political future. First the bad news: at the June General Election the SNP mislaid nearly half a million votes compared to the post-referendum ballot of 2015. That electoral wallop – plus the loss of 21 MPs – caused Nicola Sturgeon to “pause” plans for a second indyref at least until after Brexit. I say “pause”, but the impact on the party and its activists was more akin to slamming the brakes hard. Some of us weren’t wearing our seatbelts.

The good news is that the SNP government has been getting on with the day job in spectacular fashion. The Tories have sunk into terminal civil war and the pugilists of “third place” Scottish Labour are pounding each other into the canvas, but the Scottish Government has been busy opening bridges, banning fracking, creating a National Investment Bank and scrapping the public-sector pay cap. Whew!

OK, there are issues to be dealt with. I think we are getting our knickers into a proverbial twist over Air Passenger Duty (APD). Frankly, guys and gals, there is absolutely zilch evidence the level of APD is hurting passenger demand in Scotland, so why reduce the tax income when we badly need the cash? We don’t need to tie ourselves in knots regarding EU rules on state aid. Fess up: the Greens are right on this one. But only the professional sectarians in Scottish Labour can blind themselves to the fact that – even after more than a decade in power – the SNP hasn’t run out of ideas or energy.

Yet I have a caveat. The SNP government’s resolute focus on the day job is ignoring one obvious elephant in the room: our strategy for independence. True, Nicola has said that a second indyref has not gone away but is premised on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. And both the SNP government and our team of MPs at Westminster, now led by Ian Blackford, are fighting tenaciously to get the best deal for Scotland in those negotiations. Implication: if Brexit goes pear-shaped (which it will), Scotland will be in a position to steer its own course.

Here’s the problem. SNP activists were led up the hill – before the June election – with a plan to call indyref2 before Brexit became final. A great “national conversation” was launched in which SNP members knocked on doors to mobilse public opinion in favour of another referendum, to keep Scotland in the EU.

A high-powered Growth Commission, chaired by Andrew Wilson, was initiated to plan the post-independence economy, complete with a separate Scottish currency. In other words: there was a plan, and activists knew what it was.

Then bang! Everything stopped dead in its tracks. The views of the two million Scots garnered in that great “national conversation” exercise lie uncollated and uncounted – surely somewhat disrespectful of those who shivered on their doorsteps to record their views, or to the activists who did the door-knocking. As to the Growth Commission, the silence is indeed deafening. Those of us who were told to move heaven and earth to produce data by the start of 2017 are none the wiser.

I’m not saying this to be uber critical of the SNP leadership, which I admire. Events move on (ie the General Election) and facts change. But it cannot be gainsaid that we no longer have clarity on what happens next. The SNP membership is suddenly left waiting for a clue as to when – or if – the next referendum will be triggered. The political initiative lies with ministers and senior party bureaucrats. The rank-and-file are feeling frustrated. And that is not a good sign.

Cue lots of MSPs, MPs and senior party figures offering their own interpretations of what should happen. The redoubtable Tommy Sheppard, in his bravura Thomas Muir memorial lecture in September, argues for seeking a fresh indyref mandate via the 2021 Holyrood election. He rejects the idea of holding another vote prior to the completion of Brexit. Says Tommy: “If we can’t win a majority in 2021, out of a range of pro-independence parties, under a system of proportional representation, then we will not win a year before anyway.”

Fair enough, it is good that we are having a bit of a debate. And truth told, the precise timing of indyref2 is surely a tactical decision – it makes infinite sense to call it when we think we can win. However, prior to the tactics comes the strategy. And our strategy – as a party and as a movement – has to be crystal clear.

THERE is no alternative, in short order, to calling a second independence referendum. Time is running out for the Scotland we cherish – for its liberal and internationalist values, for its economy and for its precious environment. Instead we risk become relegated to bystanders as Brexit and the rise of a shrill new English nationalism (thinly disguised as “global Britain”) condemn the UK to inevitable, long-term political and economic decline.

Unless Scotland creates its own future, it will not have one – except as a forgotten province of Greater London. For we no longer live in the cosy, post-World War II era of continuous economic growth, rising expectations and conflict safely confined (for myopic Westerners) to the poorer parts of the Earth. We live now in an era of incipient nuclear war, ruinous economic competition between the power blocs, planetary environmental disaster and a crisis of political institutions (internal and external).

The response of the Tories to all this is a retreat into imperial nostalgia. These Colonel Blimps bemuse themselves with notions of free trade deals while Trump slaps on gigantic tariffs to kill the aircraft industry in Belfast. Corbyn’s Labour seemingly has won over English youth. But every other reforming Labour administration – several were actually well to the left of Corbyn – was instantly doomed to impotence by the City of London and right-wing ministers anxious for their eventual seats in the Lords. Corbyn won’t fare any better.

Which means Scotland must go it alone. Now – not a decade hence, when it will be too late. We need to draw the lesson of the Catalans. We have a mandate for calling a second independence referendum – we should use or lose it. I’m all for the Scottish Government doing the day job, but the global era of retail politics is nearly over. We won’t persuade the majority of folk to vote for independence by promising them piecemeal reforms and modest increments in their living standards. Post-Brexit, the UK will be hard-pressed to deliver economic growth at all – witness the sudden collapse in British productivity.

We need to explain that there is an emergency called Brexit and independence is the escape route.

What the Catalans have shown is that you make your own history. Immediately, once the final Brexit outcome is known, the Scottish Government should use its mandate to call a referendum. There should be two questions: (1) do you are or disagree with the Brexit settlement negotiated by the UK Government? And (2): if no, do you agree to the Scottish Government proceeding to negotiate immediate Scottish independence?