I'm about as likely to listen to or read a whole party conference speech as to read a party's manifesto. However, you don't have to read much reportage and analysis of Alex Salmond's effort to the SNP's spring rally yesterday to notice his attempts to re-characterise the concept of independence.
Of course, in today's world of globalisation, supra-national institutions and what Gerry Hassan refers to as "post-nationalist politics" and "shared, fluid sovereignties", classic 19th century-style definitions of independence are increasingly impractical, and thus the term itself progressively redundant.
Not necessarily in the more idealistic world of politics, however, and obviously the SNP's basic aspiration is still posited as 'independence', and no self-respecting Scottish Nationalist would suggest otherwise.
Nonetheless, beyond the level of political rhetoric such a simplistic notion requires to be addressed with some nuance, as indeed Gerry Hassan's quotes above ably demonstrate.
Thus some formerly on the fundamentalist wing of the SNP have long since lost faith in the party's commitment to independence in view of its long-standing (if not quite the mantra it once was) aim of the oxymoronic 'independence in Europe' - why repatriate sovereignty from the UK Union only to cede it to the European Union?
Of course, mainstream SNP opinion sees no obvious problem with that, fuelling, naturally, the accusation that many in the party have a problem with England and the English rather than pooling sovereignty per se. Indeed, to the extent that there seems more Nationalist antipathy towards the likes of retaining sterling, the Bank of England and the Queen in the UK context rather than regarding a nascent European superstate, then this perhaps lends support to accusations of Anglophobia.
On the other hand, Alex Salmond knows that as things stand he has to water down the concept of independence to that extent because otherwise he has little chance of delivering it when the day of reckoning comes. Hence also the fact that the fundamentalists often lament the SNP's reluctance to even mention the i-word.
But while retaining the comfort blanket of aspects of the UK may help sell [whatever] to the Scottish electorate, it does little to endear Alex Salmond to mainstream Nationalist opinion, however much the movement generally has been impressively successful in maintaining a relatively united front.
Hence, perhaps, Alex Salmond's attempts yesterday to associate the idea of independence with any repatriation of powers from the UK to Scotland. Therefore in his speech he referred to "progress that has been made in those areas where our nation already has some independence", "the independence we have over the NHS", a "taste of independence", "another area of public life where we have independence", "a measure of independence" and "A LITTLE INDEPENDENCE HAS BEEN GOOD FOR SCOTLAND" [SNP's emphasis]. And that's not to mention his reference to the ostensibly paradoxical "home rule with independence".
Thus the concept of independence has been watered down to encompass, er, just about anything that's associated with any measure of devolution.
Which of course is consistent with the idea of national sovereignty amounting to a question of degree - or points on a continuum - rather than anything more absolute. But which, on the other hand, perhaps amounts to an inappropriate attempt to redefine political ideology for those of an objective disposition, or indeed a corruption of language for nationalist adherents to the more classic idea of independence.
But Mr Salmond is clearly attempting to associate independence with any further devolution of powers, and to the extent this is successful then this will help him sell his diluted 'indy-lite' to the SNP faithful, or even characterise the achievement of devo-whatever as a success and another step on the gradualist road to the real deal. In short, as in the world of retailing, if you can't get people to buy something then a rebranding often helps; never mind the substance, just concentrate on the marketing.
On the other hand, to the extent that the mere mention of the i-word seems to scare the horses of Scottish voters more generally, then presumably Mr Salmond won't be using the same tactic in relation to the great unwashed, as opposed to in a set-piece speech to his party acolytes.
In the aftermath of last May's SNP landslide I was one of the few who questioned whether in fact an independence referendum would happen. Well it now certainly seems likely that a plebiscite will take place, but I may yet be vindicated - whatever it's called, will it really amount to 'independence'? Indeed, will the i-word even appear on the question paper?
Of course, the nature of the 'independence' option offered to voters may well depend on whether a 'third way' appears on the ballot paper. If there's a devo-whatever choice then there's no real reason to water down independence, because it's obvious which option will win. However, if it's a straight status quo/independence choice then the latter will probably have to be watered down for Mr Salmond to have any chance of delivering. Hence retaining the Queen, sterling, Coronation Street and the Bank of England as the lender of last resort.
Thus it may be 'independence', Jim(my), but not as we know it.