Unless there is some kind of split in the SNP hierarchy, it's very hard not to interpret Alex Salmond's comments on the Andrew Marr show this morning as a careful preparing of the ground for a relatively early second independence referendum - not necessarily in the next Holyrood term, but certainly with that possibility left open. The direction of travel seems to have spooked Andrew Tickell (aka Lallands Peat Worrier), who has written a blogpost begging people to be cautious. Essentially his argument is that if we rush into a second referendum and lose it, we'll destroy the chances of independence forever.
I'm not sure that's actually true - it might be a generational setback, but the experience in Quebec has been that the pro-independence movement can survive a second narrow defeat (the issue is still very much alive there, in spite of what some people would have you believe). However, I would agree that it's important to avoid a second defeat if at all possible. Where I part company with Andrew is that I don't think we will ever reach the point where a referendum can be held without the risk of defeat. The idea that opinion polls might show 70% support for Yes in twenty years from now is probably in the realms of fantasy - and even if that did happen, there would still be some risk in taking the plunge. Big and rapid swings in opinion are scarcely unheard of in referendum campaigns.
If our starting point is that we are aiming for a second referendum at some point, the correct time to do it is not when the risk of defeat has been eliminated (it never will be), but instead when the probability of victory is highest. Even if that probability is only 30% or 40%, it's still rational to take the risk if you've got reason to believe that the odds will lengthen in future. So there is in fact a perfectly respectable case to be made for an early referendum - it's hard to believe that the good will towards the SNP is ever going to be stronger than it is now, or that Nicola Sturgeon's personal standing with the public will ever be better. Furthermore, we have to remember that there needs to be a pro-independence majority at Holyrood for a referendum to even be possible, and we can't rely on that majority being there indefinitely.
I also want to take issue with a couple of points about polling that Andrew made in support of his argument. He's simply wrong to say that there was only one poll during the campaign that put Yes in the lead. There were in fact two such polls - the famous one from YouGov on the penultimate weekend, and one from ICM the following Saturday night. Martin Boon later regretted the methodology used for the ICM poll, but nevertheless it did exist, and it gave Yes a commanding 54% to 46% lead. There was also a TNS poll which showed a dead heat with Don't Knows excluded, and of course there were sensational telephone polls from ICM and Ipsos-Mori giving the No campaign a statistically insignificant lead of 51% to 49%. And those were just the public polls - it's an open secret that what really panicked the London establishment was a private poll giving Yes a 53-47 lead.
I presume what Andrew is getting at is that the YouGov poll gave a false impression that Yes were on the brink of victory, and therefore it's wrong to say, for example, that The Vow could possibly have had a decisive effect. But in fact the evidence that the Yes vote slipped back in the closing days is pretty extensive and compelling. The polls were probably slightly inaccurate, but it seems likely that Yes were at the very least on course to poll higher than 45% - before being thwarted by a combination of The Vow and the "shock and awe" culmination of Project Fear.
The second point Andrew makes is that "no poll has shown a sustained or substantial majority for independence" since the referendum. I'm not sure I understand what that means - how can any individual poll show a "sustained" majority? Some polls since the referendum have shown a Yes majority, others have shown a No majority, and there has been one dead heat. All of them have pointed to an incredibly tight race, mostly with a lead for either side that is within the margin of error. And every single one has agreed that the Yes vote is stronger than it was in September (even though most of them have been weighted by recalled referendum vote).
The existence of Andrew's post is in itself a vivid demonstration of how dramatically the debate has moved on. In the days after September 18th, he bluntly told people who even raised the topic of a second referendum to "stop it". It's got to the point where opponents of an early second referendum are having to engage, rather than attempting to shut down the whole discussion.