IT is, perhaps, a patience bred from a lifetime of being involved in what initially seemed a cause so lost it could not have been found by a mountain rescue team with a pack of St Bernards.

But half a century and more of a closeness to the nationalist cause has rendered me less than frantic over the precise timing of the second referendum on independence.

My childhood years were spent in the Glasgow equivalent of Charles Dickens’ blacking factory. This episode as a child worker is thought to have imbued the great writer with his passion for equality and his fear of poverty. My period of delivering nationalist leaflets up the closes of Ruchill, where my father was endeavouring to be elected as the local councillor, did not give me such profound values, merely sore feet and a realisation that nationalism in Scotland was always going to be a long-term project.

It was then the early 1960s, when the Scottish National Party were regarded as an irrelevance at best and castigated as fascists at worst. One could take the abuse, but it was the hopelessness of the venture that could occasionally sting. Election success was regarded as achieving enough votes to save deposits. The notion of achieving an SNP MP was regarded as far-fetched.

Two years ago, I spoke to Winnie Ewing, first SNP MP of that era (Robert McIntyre was elected briefly for Motherwell in 1945). She won Hamilton for the SNP in 1967, when my sore feet had been exacerbated by excursions up various closes and down myriad lanes in a series of lost causes.

In that beautiful September morning in 2014, as Scotland voted on its destiny, Ewing expounded eloquently on a theme that nationalism in Scotland was a process and a No vote would only delay, not derail, self-government. It was a sentiment shared by my father who spent 70 years of his 84 on Earth welded to the idea of self-determination. Before his death in 2013, he was sanguine about the referendum, believing that it was unimportant if he lived to see what he regarded as the inevitability of independence.

Both Ewing and my dad were not being arrogant in proclaiming that their view was right or must prevail through a strength of self-will. Rather their certainty was born of a study of history and a close observation of how the arc of nationalism had risen in their lifetimes. They had observed what they saw as an irresistible tide. But how strong is that force and should it be surfed now?

There has been a cacophony of advice and appeals to the SNP leadership to go for a quick referendum in the wake of the Brexit vote, but nary a whisper of the reality that history can march at a slower pace than the most committed want.

There has, too, been a concerted call to forget all about this independence nonsense and move on in the wake of the 2014 vote and a demand for the SNP to concentrate solely on the matter of government. This is invalid on two grounds. Firstly, the SNP seem to be doing all right at this government thingy. The administration has received the sort of approval figures only previously attained on Britain’s Got Talent by a talking dog who could predict the winner of the 3.45 at Wolverhampton. Secondly, it may seem at best hopeful to expect

a party formed for the sole reason of achieving independence to abandon, even temporarily, the means of achieving it.

So, this leaves the question of how and when a referendum will be called. My preference for the long game is the product of two factors. The first is the obvious one that the SNP should only go into a battle if they are certain of winning. Consecutive polls showing

60 per cent backing for Yes would be a minimum requirement.

This would allow a margin for those who change their minds on the day of polling. This figure is some way off. The vote for Brexit has not been followed by an overwhelming lurch to Yes. But, of course, Britain has not yet left anything yet.

And this leads to the second factor. The fallout from Brexit will be dramatic as Theresa May is discovering in her early days as Prime Minister. This is the phoney war on Britain’s relationship with Europe. Increasingly, despite the protestations of some who should know better, the effects of a withdrawal are looking catastrophic. Those who doubt that should have a keek at the Japanese response to Brexit in all its horrific detail.

There may also be a growing realisation that Scotland is not best served by a Government and Prime Minister this country did nothing to elect. This disenchantment with the political process is sometimes over-stated, ironically by those expecting people to vote, but it exists and it acts against the status quo.

But the best reason for adopting the long game is that the argument has not yet been won and there is a constituency that has to be convinced. There are the no, nay, nevers, but there are also those who voted No but are open to argument.

It is highly likely, given the SNP’s professionalism in running elections, that there are already plans to identify precisely who these people are and what moves would change a No to even a possible Yes. This requires strategy and cleverness in argument but it also demands patience.

But nature may play a part. There are three certainties in life and politics: taxes, sex scandals and death. The last weighs heavily in favour of the Yes camp. In the 2014 referendum, 56.3 per cent of those aged 60-69 voted No, as did a whopping 65.7 per cent of those aged 70-plus. It may be macabre, but the conclusion is unavoidable: the No camp has a substantial cadre of those who are vulnerable to the great inevitability.

Independence may thus be a journey that takes longer than some of the party members might want or even demand. A wait of five years might seem almost unbearable to the activist, but it is a mere blip in terms of history and a short interval for those who toiled more in hope than expectation in the early 1960s.

There are those who are calling for a sprint to the polls but a long march to independence is the more likely option, though it might provoke in some a wince in remembrance of closes, stairs, bags of leaflets and the consequent sore feet.