‘WEARY of big constitutional choices.” That was how Pete Wishart characterised his electorate this week, reflecting on his experiences of clinging on to his Perth constituency by a nail-biting 21 votes after a gruelling General Election campaign dominated by opposition to a second referendum on independence.

But Wishart’s point is wider. The SNP and its leadership now finds itself in a tough political spot. The can was kicked down the road in the wake of the 2017 General Election. But now? Pick your favourite metaphor. Frying pans and fires, Scylla and Charybdis – for Nicola Sturgeon, squeaky bum time is approaching. The FM will either attempt – successfully or unsuccessfully – to call a second independence referendum, or she will have to explain to her supporters why she will not do so. I do not envy her the responsibility. Neither route is unbumpy.

Pete Wishart’s public intervention is helpful, not least because his description of the lie of the land better reflects the ambivalent conversations between independence supporters you hear behind closed doors than the noisy certainties which dominate pro-indy debates in public about where Nicola Sturgeon should turn from here.

“There are those who say that a referendum should be held just because we have a mandate and we can,” Wishart writes, and “that we should proceed regardless of any solid evidence that it can be won”. This argument, Wishart suggests, is too often accompanied “by a firm belief that simply holding a referendum would somehow encourage a majority in favour”. Wishart doesn’t accept this view. Neither do I. You can’t win independence without arguing for it, but you can only win one by persuading your opponents.

The March 13, 2017 doesn’t rank as one of the red-letter days in Scottish politics, but in retrospect, perhaps it ought to. On the morning after the Brexit referendum, Nicola Sturgeon pledged “to take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted” in the 2016 poll “to secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market”. She cautioned Westminster and Whitehall: the option of a second independence referendum “must be on the table. And it is on the table”.

On March 13, the First Minister took the plunge, announcing she intended to “seek the authority of the Scottish Parliament to agree with the UK Government the details of a section 30 order – the procedure that will enable the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an independence referendum”. It was a fateful commitment, and at the time – even for an independence supporter – a baffling one.

At the time you could only scratch your head at the SNP leader’s sudden initiative. Why this, First Minister? Why now? Until this point, the SNP had carefully positioned a second independence referendum as a backstop which would only be activated if all other efforts to resolve the Brexit impasse had been exhausted.

By any reckoning, it was impossible to say on the morning of the March 13 whether this was the case. In her defence, the First Minister might argue she was attempting to establish a legal apparatus for a second independence poll which could be activated if necessary. But this argument was too clever by half. It was not how her announcement was perceived by the First Minister’s supporters and her critics. The Government forgot one critical dramatic lesson. As the scriptwriters always say: “You must show, don’t tell.” For many Scots, it felt like the First Minister wasn’t prudently stocking the lifeboat as a contingency in case HMS Britannia hit the rocks – but jumping the gun.

As Pete Wishart writes this week, the call had considerable political consequences, handing Ruth Davidson and her colleagues a Lambeg drum which they battered loud and long during the subsequent General Election campaign.

Some three days before Nicola Sturgeon took to her lectern in Bute House, the Faculty of Advocates held a Brexit conference in Edinburgh. Its most memorable aspect was the performance of Sturgeon’s Minister on Scotland’s Place in Europe.

Mike Russell was on imperious form, slamming the brick wall of Whitehall’s intransigence. He received a sympathetic hearing, deftly dodging queries about independence from the floor, and insisting that his immediate priority was achieving some recognition for Scotland’s predicament in Theresa May’s Article 50 letter about Britain’s Brexit priorities.

Just three days later, a second look at independence didn’t appear to be a remedy of last resort, but the new priority.

Before Sturgeon’s March announcement, there had been a month and a half for the UK Supreme Court’s Miller judgment to sink in. Westminster handed Theresa May the legal authority to trigger Article 50 on March 16 – three days after Sturgeon’s speech calling for the legal apparatus to be established for a constitutional re-run. The Prime Minister wouldn’t exercise her powers to serve notice on Donald Tusk until two weeks after Sturgeon left the podium.

Only then did we know for sure that no special accommodation was envisaged for Scotland. We had to wait another month for the Prime Minister to call the extraordinary General Election which was announced to headlines of “May heads for election landslide” and “crush the saboteurs”, and mourned by the PM’s disappointed cheerleaders when she blew David Cameron’s slender majority.

And so yet again, we find ourselves snarled up in a process story. indyref2, yes or no? The ultimate challenge to the SNP remains more fundamental and runs against process-oriented instincts of both the leadership and many of its supporters.

Independence may be “on the table”, but Brexit runs a coach and horses through the independence case presented to the Scottish people in 2014. The idea of leaving one union and remaining in another wider common European community was an essential part – substantively and emotionally – of the SNP’s account of how we would live together on these islands after independence, along with a currency union which sits extremely uncomfortably alongside the idea that Scotland will be in – and England out – of the EU.

Demand as many referendums as you like. Extol courage. Blast faint-hearts. Shout and thunder at folk like Wishart raising their experiences of the communities they serve and know well. The challenge to the SNP remains this: explain to the Scottish people how – and why – a second referendum would answer the challenges of Brexit. Explain why they should care. Explain how it would address the problems of trade, of free movement, of imports and exports. The lessons of March 13 must be learned. Show, don’t tell.