It’s a strange thing to start a new column amidst an old political battle.

There are a hundred things I’d rather probe in the months and years ahead than Scotland’s long-running constitutional impasse – land reform and the rural housing crisis, inequality, community ownership, new energy systems, the case for kindergarten, electric bikes, ultra-local government, the climate crisis and a changing world of work, leisure and location.

Any Labour or Tory politician who declares these things to be more important than a precious party-political project is absolutely right.

But – without the prospect of independence – they are also bereft of any mechanism to deliver effective change.

And that stalemate faces everyone – citizens included.

A unique opportunity to rebound from Covid and fix long-standing problems will pass us by (again) unless new systems are reshaped to fit small, northern, energy-rich and relatively progressive Scotland, not our large, conservative, market-led southern neighbour.

History, accident, Brexit, Covid and the electoral cycle have brought us to this moment and it is a point of no return. We know what we know about the two parliaments that govern us, so the forthcoming Holyrood elections offer a moment of choice. If there is a big enough SNP majority, Scotland will have a second indyref despite internal SNP party squabbles, scare stories about economic dangers and sabre-rattling about past “pledges.”

No matter.

Do most citizens believe Scotland can progress while most of our economy, welfare system and tax base is decided in London? That question is for us to decide or duck. And we know it.

It’s clear the small country we inhabit needs more than small, superficial repairs – patch jobs which ignore the profound structural problems beyond. Even before its Brexit mauling by Westminster, the devolution settlement had sidelined the Scottish Government leaving it unable to control our energy future, broadband rollout, benefits system, Trident procurement, drugs policy, trade with Europe or even our borders during a pandemic. Twenty-odd years of devolution, one year of Covid and two months of Brexit prove that Scots have different outlooks on all these issues. Do we care enough to act on them?

Or put it another way.

Can Scotland really "build back better" when new priorities must fit an old balance sheet, drawn up by a party we haven’t backed in almost 80 years? Can a Green Revolution rest on a broken energy market run by companies regularly fined for "mis-selling", which have failed to connect Scotland’s energy-rich islands to the grid or end their status as fuel poverty hotspots?

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Without our hands on all the tillers, how can Scotland break the cycle of hopelessness and disempowerment that fuels drug and alcohol misuse and leaves new generations to face poverty and under-achievement? How can we do more than offer a few extra pence to key workers, mitigate the cruellest benefit "reforms" and provide slightly better conditions in a working world based on competition and undercutting?

How do we do more than fiddle while Rome burns?

That’s not just a question for politicians – it’s a moral challenge for all of us.

Scotland cannot "build back better" under such constraints.

We cannot have proper opposition, cannot refresh Holyrood voting systems, cannot garner the majority that exists to tackle stuck problems like wealth inequality and quasi-feudal land ownership.

We can only pick at the workings and Scots are thus dangerously accustomed to half-hearted problem-solving – like car mechanics who can’t get beneath the bonnet. Independence doesn’t automatically fix the car – but it does pop the hood and give every part of Scottish political opinion an opportunity to re-engage.

The question is whether we have the energy and belief to try.

Covid has seen confidence in the Scottish Government rise as Scots have compared Westminster and Holyrood on a daily basis. Crony contracts, Chumocracy and Dominic Cummings – a few proper nouns suffice to summarise Westminster’s performance.

And never mind complaints about Nicola Sturgeon’s unfair daily press briefing. Regular exposure hardly helped Boris Johnson – and if the public felt the pandemic was being weaponised every day by a cynical First Minister, Ms Sturgeon would currently be toast.

Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme hasn’t wiped the slate clean. After all, European neighbours had furlough schemes too, plus sickness benefits up to eight times more generous than Britain’s.

Has the EU-beating speed of the vaccine programme restored faith in the British body politic – who can say?

And what about Sir Keir Starmer? Now that Gordon Brown is (again) advocating for a federal system and the Labour leader is just points behind Boris Johnson, surely Britain cannot be dismissed as an irredeemably busted Tory flush?

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Perhaps not, but to win by just one seat in 2024, Labour needs 124 seats won on a swing greater than that which carried Tony Blair to victory in 1997. Quite a tall order.

Meanwhile Trident goes ahead (opposed by 70 per cent of Scots) the House of Lords keeps swelling, Brexit keeps unravelling and First Past the Post keeps ensuring that the next UK Government – like each government before it – can do what it likes with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote.

The union has been stress-tested by Covid and Brexit – we’ve all seen what we’ve seen and now know what we know. The Union is not the safe haven it seemed to be.

Where does that leave Scotland?

My guess is that most voters are betwixt and between – detached from any belief in the fixability, fairness or benevolence of the UK by Covid, Brexit and austerity. But not yet attached to the case for independence.

Perhaps that’s why the "don’t knows" are currently so numerous in opinion polls. Perhaps that’s because Nicola Sturgeon has not yet laid out a new case for independence – informed by Brexit, the climate crisis, lower oil price, new currency policy and improved prospects for swiftly re-joining the EU. Until then, canny Scots are reserving judgement.

Not yet marching off in a new direction but changing weight imperceptibly from one foot to the other.

Not as riveting as political personality clashes, admittedly.

But perhaps more significant.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.