Yesterday was a genuinely dispiriting day for me, because for the first time I discovered I'd been blocked by an SNP parliamentarian - in spite of the fact that I hadn't said anything remotely abusive or insulting towards him. I suppose in a way it was a useful moment of clarity, because it gave the lie to the notion that Pete Wishart has been merely trying to promote a constructive debate on the timing of an independence referendum. Clearly the function of the rest of us was just to dutifully agree with his verdict that the SNP's mandate for a referendum should (probably) be allowed to expire.
Having been blocked by Pete, it's hard not to feel doubly cynical about Andrew Tickell's piece in The National yesterday, which lauds Pete's contribution as some kind of breakthrough in thoughtfulness and nuance. What particularly raises a hollow laugh is when Andrew quotes one of Pete's straw men in its entirety and then says without a trace of irony: "Wishart doesn’t accept this view. Neither do I." Let me just reiterate as the person who Pete was nominally "replying" to in his letter that the view I actually expressed is the opposite of the one he ascribed to me. I do not believe, and have never claimed, that calling a referendum will automatically create a majority in favour of independence. What I do believe, on a solid evidential basis, is that any significant changes in public opinion (which could be in the direction of either Yes or No) are far more likely to occur when a referendum campaign is actually underway. That's one of the reasons why it's such a mistake to base decisions on referendum timing on minor changes (or lack of changes) in opinion poll results.
In truth, it's no surprise whatever to see Andrew backing the best available voice of caution in the SNP (or, to be blunt, the voice of indefinite inaction). Practically the first thing Andrew did after the 2014 defeat was lecture Yes supporters on how they shouldn't even be openly referring to the possibility of a second referendum. "Stop it" he said bluntly. He had previously given the impression that he felt that even the 2014 referendum had been called very prematurely - which raises an intriguing question. Are we closer to victory, or further away from it, as a result of the first indyref being held? It may seem obvious that we're closer, because opinion polls show that most people who were won over to Yes during the 2014 campaign have remained rock-solid in their support. But if we choose to take the view that suffering a first defeat means that the threshold for calling a second vote must be much higher, and that some kind of near-certainty of victory is now required before pulling the trigger, then it follows that we're much further away from independence simply as a result of having held a referendum in 2014. A Yes vote of 48% in 2018 makes independence far more distant than a 33% Yes vote did in 2013. That's perverse, upside-down logic, but it's absolutely the position unless we banish the doctrine of "a first defeat was thinkable, a second defeat is not" - which if left unchallenged will ensure that in all probability a second referendum is never held, because guarantees of victory will never be available.
I think we should come back to the light. Calling a referendum in 2014 was not a mistake. The converts we won over back then were not worthless. We're closer to independence than we were five years ago, not further away. All of those statements can be true as long as we're not hellbent on making them untrue. There's a line from an early 1980s Doctor Who story that keeps popping into my head: "The weak enslave themselves." We're in danger of enslaving ourselves to the fear of defeat. The one thing that will genuinely guarantee that Scotland remains part of the UK indefinitely is an indefinite failure to hold a second independence referendum.
Of course Andrew Tickell would regard what I've just said as macho posturing. This is the sneer with which he ends his article: "Demand as many referendums as you like. Extol courage. Blast faint-hearts. Shout and thunder at folk like Wishart raising their experiences of the communities they serve and know well."
Well, it cuts both ways, doesn't it? Say that the time is never right. Suck the life out of others at every available opportunity. Tell them to pack up and go home. Lecture them on how they should leave the grown-up stuff to their betters. But at least take ownership of the fact that to all intents and purposes you are arguing that Scotland should not become an independent country at any time in the foreseeable future, along with all of the consequences of that in respect of a Hard Brexit and the undermining of devolution. Andrew and Pete Wishart both describe Scotland as "weary of big constitutional choices" - but it is a simple fact that the rejection of making a choice is a conscious rejection of independence, and an embrace of a Hard Brexit. That is not what I joined the SNP for.
I see that Jason Michael of Random Public Journal is saying that if the SNP allow their mandate for a referendum to expire, he will look away from the SNP and find another vehicle for independence. I don't take that view, because I don't think there will be another credible vehicle. But being blocked by Wishart simply because I refuse to abandon my support for an independence referendum is perhaps my lowest point since joining the SNP, and I'm beginning to understand how people's enthusiasm is going to just wither and die almost overnight if the party leadership allow fear to win the day and let the hard-won mandate expire. I'm still hoping and praying that doesn't happen. Over to you, Nicola.