VARIOUS obnoxious voices from the political centre-ground are calling on Nicola Sturgeon to “put country before party” and back the so-called “People’s Referendum”. Predictably, these calls are loudest from the exiled political establishment, the likes of Ian Murray, an anti-Corbyn Labourist, the various Liberal Democrats who signed up for a coalition with Cameron, and free-market Conservatives like George Osborne. Cannier nationalists are rightly wary, sensing a trap. But what’s really at stake in this argument?

Here’s a clue. The loudest voices for a “democratic second referendum” are precisely the people who hate referendums on principle. The people who believe that the public are simply too ignorant to intrude into real geopolitics. The people who looked on aghast at the levels of participation in Scotland’s referendum in 2014, seeing it as a xenophobic bloodbath of liberal values.

And here’s what I believe is at stake. By signing up to a second referendum, Sturgeon would accept the principle that national independence requires not one vote, but two: one on the abstract principle of independence, and a second to get public consent for whatever is agreed by the lead negotiators.

This sets a wonderful precedent for Unionists. If Scotland does have a referendum in future, then the UK state would do precisely what the EU has done: put the blocks on any trade deals, refuse to take anything seriously, ridicule the other team’s negotiators, and so on.

Unionists in Scotland would demand that any deal agreed by Sturgeon was put to a further referendum of the Scottish people. After all, wasn’t it Sturgeon who insisted on precisely this principle over Brexit?

But surely having more votes is more democratic? I’m trying to avoid an ad hominem argument here, but it’s surely notable that the people with the hardest views on a second vote are the people most determinedly opposed to democracy.

And here, pro-EU forces have form. Wherever people have voted against the EU’s wishes, they have been forced to re-run the referendum until they reach the “right” result. EU negotiators are determined to sabotage Brexit, at the risk of harming their own economies, for the sake of demonstrating that all dissidents will be punished and humiliated. Needless to say, if Scotland votes again on its future, Unionists will have taken note.

Don’t get me wrong, the 2016 referendum was no great boon for democracy. The public was misled in so many ways, all of them boiling down to this: nobody was actually debating the European Union at all.

The Remain team pulled together a re-run of the “Project Fear” campaign, tried and allegedly tested in Scotland in 2014, which basically painted economic doomsday scenarios to drum voters into line.

If they’d paid proper attention, they’d have seen that fear tactics were actually extraordinarily unsuccessful in 2014. But they didn’t. The Remain campaign was barely visible on the streets and gave off an overwhelmingly smug tone.

Leave and the right-wing tabloids focused on immigration and fear of economic change. Often, this had precisely zero to do with the EU. When they won, much to their own surprise, the Leave campaign were instantly exposed as manipulating voters and spreading lies. In truth, though, Remain weren’t much better. Both sides disgraced democracy.

Scotland voted to remain, whilst England voted to leave. A shallow reading of the results, therefore, says that Scotland is Europhile, whilst England is sceptical. But what the referendum really proved was different national views on who was to blame for a decade of austerity.

I am personally sceptical about the EU. I wasn’t sceptical 10 years ago, but one of the experiences that shaped me as an activist was visiting Greece several times during the hardest days of austerity. Under the EU’s guidance, the country was being forced into a terrifying social experiment in the limits of human economic endurance.

One in four is unemployed, wages have fallen and fallen again, and as the EU has met this with ever mounting austerity, so the situation has worsened year on year.

The toughest lesson for me came when Greece rebelled and elected a leftist government. For daring to vote in a popular referendum against the latest memorandum on austerity measures, the Greek people were subjected to new rounds of brutality, effectively an economic collective punishment.

It was the ruthless, high-handed behaviour of an imperial governor. Ultimately, the left’s only option was surrender, because they couldn’t see beyond the EU.

The Brexiteers are truly absurd. However, just as American leftists have forgotten the evils of the Clinton and Bush dynasties when faced with Trump, there’s a danger that we’ve lost our critical faculties on the EU. Like the Brexiteers, many leftists haven’t really got a position on the EU. They are debating English nationalism. I agree with those critiques. But the EU represents something just as dangerous: post-democracy, with imposed fiscal rules and technocratic governors taking over from (for all their flaws) elected politicians.

The panic about a no-deal scenario, manufactured by the exiled political establishment, has left the independence movement in a bind. “Put country before party!” they scream. The SNP, backed into a corner, say they have an “open ear” to the idea.

But if the SNP want independence in our lifetime, they’ll set a huge hurdle for themselves by signing up to this principle. Let’s say the SNP publishes a new White Paper, outlining their proposals for post-UK trading relationships.

Let’s say the country votes for it. Then let’s say the Tories, Labour and the LibDems put forward a blanket negotiating position of “no deal for Scotland”, which is essentially what Barnier is doing. Are we going to a hold a second second referendum? And even then, what if we win that one, and can’t reach an agreement on trade with our biggest partner?

The “people’s vote” principle makes any sort of national independence impossible. It puts all the negotiating power in the hands of the successor organisation. So think twice. This will set dangerous precedents for the sake of temporary electoral advantage. Signing up to the people’s vote would be to put party interest before Scotland’s long-term democratic future.