You may have seen earlier this evening that within two minutes of the Sunday Herald tweeting that they had a story about the SNP manifesto omitting a commitment to a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon had replied with the following denial : "News to me! Manifesto not finalised yet." Predictably, Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson went straight into all-out Brit Nat Troll Mode, describing Sturgeon's tweet as a "non-denial denial", and implying that the plan is to never hold a second referendum. In truth, though, it's the Sunday Herald report that is a non-story story. It simply states that SNP sources have indicated that there will not be a "firm pledge" for a referendum. I suspect there are more people who think Saddam Hussein is alive and well and ready to attack Britain within 45 minutes than who think the SNP are about to make an unconditional pledge for a referendum. The question at hand is whether the option of holding a vote before May 2021 will be left open, and if so, how strong the language is and what the potential triggers will be.
The Sunday Herald report doesn't have a concrete answer to that, although it hints that a significant shift in public opinion could be taken into account. It also suggests that Brexit could be a trigger. That's what we thought anyway, so Farquharson seems to be getting himself worked up over very little. (Incidentally, the article characterises the chances of a new referendum as "remote" in the absence of a "dramatic event" such as Brexit. In a two-horse race like the EU referendum, would it really be so dramatic if the side leading by 43% to 36% in the most recent poll were to win?)
Jim Sillars is quoted as saying he would prefer a "floating mandate", ie. a promise that a referendum would definitely be held if certain circumstances come about. That would be my own strong preference as well. It's not a million miles away from what is being hinted at anyway, because it would always be open to the SNP to decide for themselves whether the conditions had arisen. But it's not ideal if SNP sources are allowing themselves to be interpreted as saying that the wording being planned wouldn't constitute a clear mandate to hold a referendum, if that proved necessary. Hopefully, the effect of the reaction to this story may be to make the SNP leadership realise that they would be far better to upgrade the manifesto wording from "we don't rule out a referendum" to "we will only hold a referendum if X, Y or Z happens".
The danger of SNP supporters being seduced into "tactical voting" for smaller pro-independence parties may be rapidly receding, but there's still a chance that some of them might make a more principled switch if Nicola Sturgeon gives the impression (however misleading) that she is cooling on independence. I gather that RISE, for example, are making an unambiguous promise of a second referendum within the next five years, which is clearly a potentially attractive pledge for many Yes voters. There's a happy medium here that can easily keep the pro-SNP coalition united in May, and I would suggest the leadership ought to seize it with both hands.