You may have seen that Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp's column in The National today sets out what he believes is the most likely timetable for seeking a mandate on independence. As you know, I entirely agree with him that the mandate must and will be sought in the near future, and it's great to see that point being made unapologetically by such an influential figure. However, I do disagree with him about a number of the specifics.
First of all, he thinks Nicola Sturgeon may not renew her request for a Section 30 order until April or May of next year - by which time, of course, Scotland will already have been dragged out of the EU. (That will be the case unless the exit date is extended by mutual consent, which is theoretically allowed under Article 50 but seems unlikely at the moment.) I believe it would be a great mistake to let Brexit become an established fact on the ground before any action at all is taken. The referendum itself may or may not have to wait until after Brexit, but the public should certainly know long before 29th March that an alternative choice is coming. In any case, Nicola Sturgeon has been consistently saying for the last year that she will make her judgement this autumn, and if she were to backtrack on that, it would play into the London media's preferred (bogus) narrative that a referendum is to all intents and purposes off the table for the foreseeable future. I do expect the announcement could be delayed until the tail-end of autumn, though, and I would just note in passing that Scotland's national day happens to be 30th November - the final day of meteorological autumn. (Mind you, that choice of date might be just a little too obvious!)
Secondly, Gordon argues that when the Section 30 request is made, there is only a 50% chance that Theresa May will refuse it. I would say the chances are more like 99% or higher. The Tories have put all their eggs in the "now is not the time" basket, and nothing will change on that front until one of two things happen: either a) they suffer the shock of losing a significant number of seats in a Holyrood or Westminster election, or b) Nicola Sturgeon sidesteps the Section 30 problem altogether by calling a vote against Westminster's wishes. That does not mean, however, that a Section 30 request should not be made - quite the reverse. But when the moment comes, it should be made abundantly clear to Theresa May that "now is not the time" is not an acceptable answer - we will require either a "yes" or a "no", and if no such answer is received by a specific date, a "no" will be assumed and we will move on to other options.
Thirdly, Gordon believes that if a Section 30 order is refused, the alternative option should not be a consultative referendum. He thinks there would be a danger of a unionist boycott which would remove legitimacy from the vote. As I've said before, I don't understand that argument, because a consultative referendum would be an each-way bet - the unionist parties might not boycott it, in which case it becomes binding to all intents and purposes, but if they do, a Yes vote becomes inevitable and the anti-independence mandate of September 2014 will no longer be uncontested. Either way, it's a major step forward.
Nevertheless, there is of course the possibility that a consultative referendum may not be possible if the Supreme Court strikes the legislation down, in which case we would need the Plan C of using a scheduled election as a de facto referendum. Which brings me to the fourth of Gordon's points that I disagree with. He thinks that the Westminster election of 2022 should be used as the mandate vote, and that the 2021 Holyrood election should merely be used to establish a mandate for using the Westminster vote to seek a mandate. There are all sorts of problems with that idea, not least the fact that we don't even know whether the next general election will take place before or after the Holyrood vote - it could be any time up to 2022, including even this autumn. But the biggest issue is that a Westminster election will be a British contest in which media coverage will be dominated by British issues, and in which the independence issue will be treated as a colourful sideshow. It's plainly far more appropriate (and more strategically promising for that matter) to seek a mandate in a Scotland-only election. Given the first-past-the-post voting system, a Westminster election also carries the significant risk of a contradictory mandate - one where pro-independence parties win the majority of seats but anti-independence parties win a majority of the vote, as happened last year. The proportional representation system used at Holyrood doesn't eliminate that risk altogether, but it does reduce the risk significantly. There's no way, for example, that either pro-independence or anti-independence parties could win a majority of seats at Holyrood on less than 40% of the vote.