RECENTLY I have been visiting Yes groups across Scotland and the questions I always get asked are: “Can Brexit be stopped?”, “Will it be a hard or soft Brexit?”, and “When do I think the Scottish independence referendum will happen?”

Let’s combine those three questions into a timeline in the hope that it may offer some clarity.

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This September
The UK Government will publish its immigration paper and that will set the UK’s negotiating position on immigration. That will restrict the type of trade deal the UK can do with the EU as freedom of movement is one of the four freedoms that define trade relationships.

September 30 to October 3 The Conservative Party conference, where May will say “here is the deal we are asking for” and they will back it or face a General Election.

October 7 to 9
The SNP annual conference in Aberdeen and a lot of people think that this might be when Nicola Sturgeon announces a referendum, but I think it’s way too soon as the EU won’t have delivered its verdict on May’s proposals yet.

The FM will, however, have an opportunity to demonstrate comparative competence, outline how to save Brexit/end it in a credible way and just look much more stateswoman-like than May will have done at the Tory conference. She will issue an ultimatum though: Scotland in the single market and customs union or else. She will also be mindful of a potential government defeat on the Brexit Implementation Bill and another snap General Election (once bitten twice shy).

October 18 and 19
EU Council meets in the last scheduled council of the year (all the leaders of the EU members states except the UK) and they could ratify the deal there and then, but I would bet that they will flex their muscles and demand more from the UK Government.

Expect the agreement to be signed at an emergency EU Council summit in November. A bit of brinkmanship, good negotiating tactics on behalf of the EU and too good a PR opportunity, sticking it to the Brits – unless of course the UK Government has completely capitulated, which would create its own problems in the UK.

This could be the date for the Article 50 withdrawal agreement to be signed by the members of the Council of Europe.

Jan/Feb 2019
Theresa May will present the Brexit deal and a Withdrawal and Implementation Bill to Westminster for a final vote. This will be Nuclear Button Day for Brexit – failure to ratify means a no-deal Brexit and most likely General Election. It is also when we will know enough about Brexit to start pulling together an alternative offer of independence and compare and contrast. The type of Brexit will define the message of the next independence campaign.

Early March 2019
Assuming the UK Government has voted through the Brexit bills, the EU Council will meet to ratify the deal. It’s worth noting that the council can only ratify with a super majority of 20 of the 27 members states. Then the EU Parliament must back the deal with a simple majority.

March 29, 2019
Brexit Day – we are out at 11pm but it doesn’t end there. There will be a 21-month transition period and things like free movement and trade in goods and services, etc, will continue mostly unchanged – unless there is no deal of course. This is also when the UK and EU can begin trade negotiations based on limitations of the withdrawal agreement. Twenty-one months is just not enough time – it won’t take the seven years a trade deal with the US might take, but under than two years to reach agreement with the EU is a pipe dream.

April or May 2019
Under the right circumstances it could be sooner but I predict that Nicola Sturgeon will (assuming we are not heading to a snap UK General Election) ask for a Section 30 Order to hold an independence referendum in September 2019.

It’s 50/50 whether May will refuse a Section 30 and overrule the mandate of the Scottish Government, but by then with Brexit damage to Scotland at the forefront of the minds of Scottish voters, glib “now is not the time” statements will no longer wash.

If May refuses a Section 30, the FM will then have the choice of calling an advisory referendum which No voters could refuse to take part in, damaging it’s legitimacy, or she could state she will use the accepted legitimacy (on constitutional issues) of Westminster and announce that an SNP simple majority in seats in the next Westminster General Election would give her a mandate to begin negotiations with the UK Government for Scottish independence.

December 31, 2020
The transition period ends and in my humble opinion, chaos will ensue.

May 5, 2021
The SNP will be in a far better position in the polls to win a Holyrood majority than current polls would suggest, as independence support will have risen to above 50%. The SNP manifesto, and hopefully the Green one, will have a rock-solid commitment to a Westminster majority in 2022 giving them a mandate for independence negotiations.

December 31, 2021
The Brexit backstop period ends and no trade deals will be in place.

May 5, 2022
The UK General Election delivers an easy majority of SNP MPs with a detailed independence prospectus including a road map to prosperity with the new powers of nationhood that offers an antidote to austerity and Brexit trade woes. Soon after independence negotiations begin, because any doubt about Scottish independence will stop the UK agreeing trade deals.

However, let’s remember that a Section 30-enabled referendum in September 2019 is the most likely and most desirable independence referendum scenario.

So to conclude, it’s a terrible time to support independence if you are prone to over-thinking. You see, all the problems go away when independence support hits 55% or more, and that’s only going to happen if the grassroots independence movement actually campaigns and raises support to game-changing levels. Maybe someone (not the SNP) should announce a major grassroots, well-funded campaign in August and give Yes groups the campaigning materials and messages they need.