Like most of us, I hold Michael Russell in the highest regard, but I'm rather troubled by his article over the weekend calling for "patience". Apart from anything else, it seems to rewrite history by suggesting that the only reason the 2014 independence referendum was ever held was because David Cameron agreed to it. What actually happened was that the Scottish government spent the initial period after the 2011 election planning for a referendum that it believed it could hold within Holyrood's existing powers, but eventually entered into negotiations with London to put the legal position beyond dispute and to ensure a direct question could be put on the ballot paper. The Edinburgh Agreement did not constitute some sort of acknowledgement from the Scottish side that London had been right all along and that there had never been any power to hold a referendum without permission. Given that we were never forced to concede that point at the time, it seems more than a touch odd that we'd be needlessly and voluntarily conceding it now.
Now OK, we get it, the current SNP leadership is not attracted to the idea of a consultative referendum held without a Section 30. That much has been plain for some time. But unless you can be absolutely sure that neither you, nor any leadership that succeeds you, will ever need to keep that option in reserve, why would you adopt unionist language by essentially saying that a referendum can only be "constitutionally" or "legally" held if it is approved by Westminster? I suspect the leadership are so preoccupied with curbing the enthusiasm of their own side that they're forgetting that others are hearing their words and are preparing to quote them back in future, in much the same way that happened with "once in a generation opportunity". The most important reason of all for not recklessly stating or implying that a consultative referendum would be illegal is the simple fact that it wouldn't be. The UK is not Spain, and people do not go to jail in this country for organising democratic consultations.
Russell's argument also drives a coach and horses through the principle of self-determination. It's rather reminiscent of the people who used to say that everyone in Britain should have a vote in the independence referendum because it was a matter for the whole UK, or the people who used to say that of course Catalonia could become independent just as soon as the whole of Spain voted in favour of it. The ultimate counsel of despair is to say that Scotland will be independent when the SNP gains control of Westminster.
Melissa Iacone pointed out on Twitter that there's a contradiction between Russell's stated belief that Theresa May is only refusing a referendum because she thinks Yes would win, and the apparent insistence of SNP strategists that an indyref cannot be held too soon because Yes would lose. Is Theresa May wrong to think there's a majority for independence? If she isn't wrong, why don't we get on with holding a referendum? And if a referendum can apparently only be brought about if there's a majority for Yes but without anyone in Westminster actually noticing, how is Russell proposing to thread that needle? If he wants us to be patient, I'd suggest he needs to offer us a means of achieving independence that has somewhat better odds than a lottery ticket.
I really fail to understand what would be so wrong with the clarity of the message that an exercise in self-determination is going to happen, we'd much rather it happened with London's agreement, but sooner or later it's going to happen anyway.