Despite 800 people crowding a Glasgow hotel for the launch of the Radical Independence Campaign he co-founded in late 2012, the Left's history of bruising defeats and "the might of the British state and the media" made him think RIC would "influence the debate" rather than the outcome.
But at the start of 2014, his confidence started to grow with the Yes campaign's more generally, and so in its mission to popularise the radical left and put class at the heart of the referendum, RIC kicked it up a notch.
A social movement of Greens, socialists, trades unionists and veterans of Iraq war demos, it started canvassing working-class areas ignored by mainstream parties to try to awaken the "missing million" - the fabled non-voters who could prove the key to September 18.
Starting in Glasgow's Easterhouse, RIC blitzed housing schemes with leaflets stating "Britain is for the rich, Scotland can be ours", determined that full-on "anti-austerity, anti-imperialist politics" would get an airing.
It was a calculated rebuke to the SNP's unthreatening elevator Muzak approach.
The exercise was also such a success - in a back-handed compliment, Glasgow East MP Margaret Curran described the incursion on to her turf as "appalling" - RIC now mobilises 1000 activists for national mass canvasses.
Its latest findings put Yes two-to-one ahead of No among decided voters in target areas.
The message is simple: Scotland should be run for the sake of the people, not elites.
Shafi, 28, from Glasgow, explains: "We don't have to be run in the interest of the richest 1% who saw their wealth grow 15% last year while the number of people using foodbanks reached one million. It doesn't have to be like this.
"We want to make it clear that the political and economic system that emanates from Westminster does not work in the interests of the people, and that a Yes offers progress."
He says the idea of Yes as permanent sanctuary from Conservative rule is "hugely appealing".
Some voters cite the 1980s and the miners' strike, others the "stench of privilege" and Eton coming off David Cameron's government, while for younger people it's a sense that despite a good education their prospects have narrowed and careers stalled because of a low-pay economy and rigid social strata.
Does his doorstep pitch also include Alex Salmond's 3p cut in corporation tax?
"There are a number of terrible mistakes that the SNP has made in this campaign," Shafi says. "One is Nato membership. You can't have one foot in and one foot out the imperial system. It's got to be one or the other. We say out.
"The second is corporation tax. People from a Labour tradition raise this, ask if we support a cut in corporation tax. Of course not."
He says even a close No would be "a loss ideologically for the British state, because basically half the population had voted to leave, a huge crisis for the UK".
But his sense is that it will be a Yes.
"I think there is a peaceful, democratic rebellion going on across Scotland and I think that will manifest itself on September 18."
However, a Yes vote is only half RIC's plan.
There is nothing automatic about a Yes vote creating a new kind of country, Shafi says. There's always an establishment waiting in the wings ready to capture the political process.
"If there's a Yes, there will be huge pressure on the SNP to assimilate with the world system as we know it. Corporate power is not going to leave Scotland. It's planning for both scenarios. And if it's a Yes they plan to be in charge and to make it business as usual.
"As soon as there's a Yes, as soon as people reject the neoliberal austerity consensus, there's a contest between establishment interests and the interests of the people."
It's a clash he clearly relishes - perhaps too much, as if independence is more about ideological duelling than people's lives.
But he denies he wants to go back to "the bad old days" of grinding Left-Right conflict. He says RIC would influence talks between Edinburgh and London and decision-making in the Scottish Government to stop the usual suspects - big business, big finance and the lobbying fraternity - taking over the shop.
It's hard to imagine the SNP welcoming this with open arms.
Shafi says RIC want to "pull the country as far to the left as we can", with a republic, a new currency, nationalised oil and renewable industries, and "no cuts whatsoever", yet massive investment in public services.
What are the tax implications?
"We want the rich to pay more. There will be some people, particularly the wealthy, who will be horrified.
"The establishment have ignored the working class, they've ignored the democratic will of people on the Iraq war. The establishment deserve everything they get. Everything."
After our talk he is off to protest against Cameron, who is in Glasgow that night for a CBI dinner.
"Think about it. The Prime Minister of the UK will not debate the question of independence. So three weeks before the referendum he comes up to a self-selected champagne reception at the CBI. He'll be whisked in and whisked out.
"What that tells you about modern politics is that people are taken for granted. We're not going to be taken for granted any more."