As those of you brave/foolhardy enough to read the comments section of this blog will be aware, I'm becoming ever-more exasperated with the cheap debating tricks being used against those of us who are open - merely open - to the idea of an early second independence referendum. Let's just run through a few of them...
1) "We only get one more shot at independence." This is utter rubbish, and nobody that I have challenged to justify it has been able to. In fact, so far nobody has even bothered attempting to justify it (other than falling back on a couple of logical fallacies that I'll come to later), which is a sure sign of how weak the case is. But it's nevertheless a clever line, because it plays on a primal fear that many SNP supporters (and people in the wider independence movement) have about throwing away the chance of independence forever. It 'feels' all too plausible to someone with that fear, and therefore critical analysis isn't applied to the claim.
So what would actually happen if there was a second referendum defeat? It would undoubtedly be a severe setback, but one thing we can be sure of is that the SNP would not shut up shop, or reinvent themselves as a pro-union party. Independence would remain the ultimate goal, and the only question mark would be over the timescale for pursuing that goal. The likelihood is that two defeats (especially if they came within a few years of each other) would make it extremely difficult to justify a third attempt within the fabled "generation" unless there had been a material change of Brexit-type proportions. In a nutshell, a relatively early repeat referendum would remain a possibility, but the threshold for it would become significantly higher.
After fifteen or twenty years have passed, though, the fact that the previous referendum was the second and not the first becomes much, much less significant. A more powerful argument by that point is that it's been a very long time since the public were consulted, that the world has moved on beyond all recognition since then, and that nobody under the age of 31 or 36 has ever been asked the question. The claim that "sorry, you've already had two goes, and that's all you get" won't cut a lot of ice.
Much would also depend on whether the Yes vote went up or down in the second referendum. Quebec voted No for a second time in 1995, and what happened afterwards is rather problematical for the "two is the limit" brigade. The widespread initial reaction was not "it's over forever", bur rather "the next referendum is only a matter of time, and a Yes vote is likely". That was because the Yes vote had increased nine points since the 1980 referendum to stand at just fractionally below 50%, and the momentum looked unstoppable. It hasn't proved to be anything like as simple as that, of course, because every time the Parti Québécois have tried to move towards a third referendum, they've failed to win a parliamentary majority. But they remain one of the two leading parties, with a leader who is more committed to early independence than any of his recent predecessors, and for as long as that remains the case a third referendum is more likely than not.
The lesson of Quebec 1995 is that if you lose a second referendum, it's extremely tough to get a third crack - but no more than "extremely tough". So rather than being paralysed into inaction by irrational fear, we'd be much better off calmly weighing up the timing that would maximise the chances of a Yes vote. If the optimal timing is early rather than late, it's perfectly possible that it will be over-caution that kills off the chances of independence for a prolonged spell, not rashness. With the benefit of hindsight, the best moment for the Parti Québécois to push for a third vote would actually have been as early as 1998, when they still had a popular leader and won their most recent overall majority. Instead, they passed up that chance because it was "too soon". Five years later the political seasons had changed, as they will for even the most popular party. As a result, the sovereignty issue has been on the backburner for two long decades.
2) "It doesn't matter that I can't explain why there is some supernatural limit of two referendums, because I once overheard a senior SNP person (who I won't name) make the same claim, so it must be true. Stop thinking for yourself, James, and bow to the superior knowledge of those with expertise!" Yes, I tried very, very hard not to giggle at this one. Substituting reasoned argument with an appeal to authority is of course one of the classic logical fallacies, so it falls at that hurdle. (Which is probably just as well if the supposed views of this nameless person are merely hearsay.) In any case, if anyone is really gagging to just submit to authority on this subject, they'll be spoilt for choice, because there is a whole range of diverging views on the timing of a second referendum within the SNP leadership. I'm also not entirely convinced there's any such thing as an "expert" on the chances of a third referendum taking place, because it's largely uncharted territory.
3) "If you deny the obvious truth that there can never be more than two referendums, you must be saying we can have as many as six, seventeen or fifty-seven referendums if needs be. There won't be fifty-seven referendums, James. Trust me on this. It's true." Well, yes, if the appeal to authority doesn't work, you can always try knocking down your own risible straw man. Back in the real world, any individual referendum will be hard-won. There was never any guarantee that even one independence referendum would take place. There is no guarantee now that a second will occur (and arguably those trying to close off the possibility of an early timing are making it less likely that it will ever take place, because the current momentum won't be sustained indefinitely). That's the reason why fifty-seven referendums will not happen. It doesn't even come close to explaining the curious belief that a second referendum is likely, but that a third referendum (even decades down the road) is literally impossible.
4) "We haven't even begun to understand why we lost last year. We need time to learn the lessons." Yes, of course we need time, but that's a point of very limited relevance, because nobody is actually proposing an immediate referendum. What the people pushing this argument are really saying is that there shouldn't be a referendum in the next parliamentary term - which means that it shouldn't happen by 2021, seven years after the first referendum. If they're genuinely saying that enough time won't have elapsed by then, they must believe that it will take longer for us to learn the lessons of our defeat than it did to complete the Manhattan Project. Is that really a credible position?
5) "We need people of quality as SNP candidates, not people proposing an early referendum." To which the obvious retort is that we just need people of quality, which is not necessarily synonymous with people who want to rule out an early referendum. This argument started yesterday because I mentioned I had voted to give a high ranking to an SNP list candidate in Central Scotland (James McGuigan) whose personal statement made clear that electoral success for the party next year should constitute an unambiguous mandate for a second referendum. I went on to say that this goes beyond my own position, but that I felt it was important to have balance within the parliamentary party, because there will be plenty enough MSPs (including others I gave a high ranking to) urging caution.
Apparently, though, it's mature for me to vote for quality candidates who diverge from my own position in one direction, but not in the other. Does that make sense? In a word, no.