Alex Salmond pledges return to front-line politics”, said the headlines last week. In other news, the Pope is believed to be member of the Catholic faith and bears apparently defecate in the woods. I mean – did anyone think he had ever left?

The former First Minister and SNP leader is no longer an MP, but Salmond's “Morningside Declaration” was not the announcement of his candidature for a Scottish by-election. He was promising to devote his leadership skills to the next independence referendum campaign, which he believes is imminent. The Westminster power grab has, Salmond said, made the case for independence “unanswerable”. It has left the ball on the penalty spot “waiting for Nicola Sturgeon to kick it into the net”.

The First Minister doesn't go in for football metaphors, and she doesn't look quite ready to kick off that return match against the UK state, since she nearly got relegated last year. So what's going on? Was Salmond making a dig at Sturgeon for not getting stuck into the game? For hanging around on the touchline while the crowd want action? He never criticises Sturgeon, even privately. He remained loyal even when she refused to intervene in the extradition of the former Catalan Education Minister, Clara Ponsati.

Nevertheless, the Salmond declaration is clearly connected with the massive independence demonstration in Glasgow two weeks ago, the largest demonstration in the city since the Iraq War. This has revived the spirits of the campaign-that-used-to-be-called Yes. There has been frustration in the wider independence movement at the apparent failure of the First Minister to capitalise on it. As the veteran independence campaigner, Robin McAlpine, put is, people are “fizzing with adrenalin and have nowhere to put it”. The founder of Common Weal think-tank lamented the failure of the SNP to sponsor a professional “non-party independence campaign”, and says time is running out to build one. “It's an odd campaign for self-determination”, says McAlpine, “which isn't determined to determine its own future”.

But Nicola Sturgeon is being lobbied by equally determined voices in her inner circle who say that now is precisely not the time to be launching another independence campaign. And I don't just mean senior SNP MPs, like Pete Wishart, who warned recently that a premature referendum would be a “national tragedy”. Two of her closest former political advisors, Kevin Pringle, and Noel Dolan, have been urging the First Minister to go for another Brexit referendum, rather than indyref2. They say she should be giving leadership to the 62% of Scots who voted to Remain in the EU, and that an “exit from Brexit” could be won, whereas an independence campaign probably could not.

Arguments like this bewilder ardent nationalists, who wonder how anything could take precedence over Scottish independence. Anyway, a people's vote on the final Brexit deal would surely establish a precedent for a “think twice” vote after the next independence referendum. Defeatism feeds on itself, and you can't win self-government by assuming that you are going to lose.

Lots of SNP supporters agree with the former Minister, Kenny MacAskill, that the First Minister has already been getting side-tracked by unwinnable campaigns – like the opposition to the Westminster power grab - which many see as a diversion from the true path. “If she wins, all she has done is secure the devolution settlement,” says the former SNP policy wonk, Alex Bell. “If she loses, she looks too weak to fight her big cause, independence”.

The troops want a clear focus on independence – and they're not getting it. Instead, this week they're expected to get the long-delayed report of the SNP's Growth Commission, chaired by the former banker and SNP MSP, Andrew Wilson. It is expected to advocate a less “Nordic” approach to economic management, and look to a vigorous private sector to provide the engine of growth. This may seem to many to be a statement of the obvious. However, it will be objectionable to many in the Yes movement who believe Scottish independence and capitalism are mutually exclusive.

Is there any point in prising open this ideological division now? The Growth Commission is also expected to abandon the long-standing policy of a currency union with England after independence. It's not clear what variety of independent currency will be proposed, but the consensus in the party is that keeping the pound was a major defect in the 2014 campaign. How can Scotland be independent if the economy is still under the Bank of England?

However, it's not easy to address issues like currency while there is still so much confusion about Brexit. The obvious course might be to adopt the euro, on the grounds that when an independent Scotland is readmitted to the EU after Brexit we will almost certainly be expected to adopt the single European currency. But that would mean customs posts and a hard border with England, which is why Alex Salmond originally stuck with keeping sterling which, it was argued in 2014, belonged as much to Scotland as to England.

Again, is this debate really relevant right now? Monetary metaphysics may only add to the confusion of the independence troops, and bemuse Scottish voters, who are having enough trouble getting their heads around Brexit. It is not even clear, after last week's cabinet ructions, that the UK will be leaving the Customs Union. The First Minister has not given up on her call for Scotland to be allowed to remain in the single market, along with Northern Ireland. The UK government is all over the place; the Scottish government needs to avoid following it there.

Which is why the Mandate Tendency in the SNP want to clear away all distractions and focus on indyref2. Keep it simple. Two of the three candidates in the SNP deputy leadership race, voting for which begins this week, want a referendum before 2021. The Scottish government won its “triple lock” after the last election, they say, and has a mandate for a referendum that is time limited. After 2021 there may be no majority in the Scottish parliament for another Section 30. Ignore the faint-hearts, say the hashtag warriors, if you build a campaign the support will come.

Clearly Alex Salmond sees himself as having a key role in this, at least as an energiser. The truth is that Nicola Sturgeon is not a revolutionary or a populist people-pleaser. She is not even an “existential” nationalist. Nor does she like like taking risks – especially after last year's premature independence call. No way would she endorse an unauthorised referendum, still less declare UDI.

Salmond is an insurgent politician who only knows how to lead from the front. The prospects for Scottish independence seemed hopeless in 2012 when he signed the Edinburgh Agreement for a referendum. It still seemed a lost cause even two years later, but he never lost faith. The SNP street desperately wants Nicola Sturgeon to do the same; to defy the polls and pundits, banish negativity, and make history by sheer strength of will. But eventually they will have to accept that she is just not that kind of politician. No glorious-but-doomed Highland charges at the enemy lines. There will not be another referendum until she is absolutely sure she can win it.