I'm not generally in favour of referendums. My understanding of representative parliamentary democracy is that we elect politicians to represent us and take those decisions on our behalf. I'd actually go further. Any politician who asks the voters to decide something instead is abandoning their responsibilities and guilty of dereliction of duty: they should be debarred from holding public office.
But if you're governing a country and you know that the referendum will produce a clear, overwhelming result in your favour, then a referendum can bring a country together and heal divisions rather than create them. The referendum to create the Scottish Parliament in 1998 achieved that for sure. Nicola Sturgeon must therefore set hers up in such a way that she can persuade the great majority of the Scottish public to back her. So how is she going to do that?
- She should promise that, if there's a Yes vote, the voters will get a chance to ratify the eventual deal when it's been thrashed out. Doing so will allow swithering voters to take a chance, and at the same time will answer all the "how are you going to?" questions, such as on currency, the EU, the economy and so on. It will also claim the moral high ground: it's what the Brexit vote should definitely have offered. (Make no mistake about it – pro-Brexit opponents of a second ratifying referendum are simply afraid of losing. End of story.)
- She should portray a vote for independence as a chance to renegotiate the Union, not to end it. She can present it as a chance to freshen up the UK constitution generally. That way it can't be portrayed as anti-English. The object should be to create a new Union where no individual nation can ever again be dragged into a situation the great majority of its citizens oppose. At some point in the future that individual nation might even be England.
- She should avoid aligning Scotland with the EU. That sounds counter-intuitive, but I'm not sure that the separatists are actually that attracted by taking power back from Westminster – and then handing it straight over to the EU. It might even be that a higher percentage of 2014 IndyRef Yes voters opted for Brexit in 2016 than IndyRef No voters. (It must have been very close to say the least.) I see no evidence that typical SNP voters are more European in outlook than other party voters. Scotland might need immigrants even more than the rest of the UK, but immigration manages to be an issue here, too: we Scots have our fair share of racists and xenophobes in our midst.
On that last point, there's something else to bear in mind. The views of the great majority of Scots, and 48% of the UK as whole, are clearly being utterly ignored – but it's unarguable that public dissatisfaction with the EU was sufficient that something has to change. We in Scotland have to recognise that, whether or not you wish us to leave the EU, the referendum result was a statement of complaint that could not be ignored.
So Nicola Sturgeon has to play this IndyRef2 card very carefully indeed. It's an opportunity, sure, but the price of failure is potentially enormous. She herself would be gone within hours, but – much worse – she would be seen for ever as the politician who set back the cause of independence for a many years. I suspect 'a generation' would be a little bit of an understatement this time.
Nicola needs to win her referendum with a very clear majority, then, perhaps 70%-80%. She needs to win big, or forget it. She needs to win over a lot of people who voted No in 2014. That includes me. I'm listening to her, and am really open to supporting independence this time. I wonder if she's really listening to the likes of me?