I had an exchange with Peter A Bell last night about his "#Referendum2018" hashtag, the frequent use of which he thinks is an important tool to establish support for an early independence referendum. I told him that I wished I could get behind that hashtag, but I couldn't, because I believe 2018 has already been timed out as a possible date for the vote, and that 2019 or 2020 are now much more probable. I suggested something like "#ScotRefBefore2021" as a better alternative. He replied (and this was not a surprise because he's said it many times before) that I might as well opt for #ReferendumNever, because if there isn't a referendum by the autumn of this year, the British state will take some unspecified action to make a vote impossible to hold, or unwinnable.
I think on its own merits the #Referendum2018 thing is harmless enough. It's pretty obvious that its adherents are heading very shortly for a 'Free by 93' moment, but that's not the end of the world. However, it becomes more problematical when anyone who doesn't sign up to the 2018 date is told that they effectively oppose an early referendum. That creates a needless split among people who are essentially on the same side of the debate about timing. The real debate is between those who think the SNP's mandate for a referendum before the May 2021 election should be honoured, and those who either don't think that or are extremely sceptical. A unity of purpose among the supporters of a pre-2021 referendum is important, because as we've seen, we'll need to make our case against at least a few well-known and influential people within the SNP who are minded to allow the mandate to expire. The last thing we need is some artificial division among ourselves over the exact date. I also worry that Peter is getting himself so boxed in with his insistence on the absolute necessity of a September 2018 vote that he might give up on campaigning for a referendum when he finally accepts his preferred timing isn't going to happen (and that moment can't be far off). He might even react angrily towards those of us who are continuing to push for an early referendum, which could be rather unhelpful at a time when the prize may be closer than ever.
#ScotRefBefore2021 is just a suggestion, and it may be too unwieldy. But please, let's come up with a more inclusive hashtag than #Referendum2018 - one that we can all get behind full-bloodedly, and hopefully get trending.