PERHAPS we can all agree timing is of the essence in politics. So it is mandatory that we read the runes carefully and choose a propitious point in time for launching the next Scottish independence referendum bid – or risk seeing our chances of creating a new nation consigned to the proverbial (and rather full) dustbin of history.

For the record, I come down on the side of pushing the independence red button now, rather than leaving matters in further limbo. I don’t contend this is a majority view. In fact, I think most of the Yes movement is in agony over what is the best thing to do. Some of those advocating caution deserve to be listened to.

Joyce McMillian – arguably Scotland’s most perceptive political columnist and a declared independence supporter – wrote a compelling piece following the Commons defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Joyce described her “despair” (a strong word) when, after the vote, Yes supporters took to social media to demand Nicola Sturgeon “seize the moment” and call a second independence referendum now. Joyce contends this “understandable” reaction is ultimately “useless grandstanding” and futile because the embattled Tory government would surely refuse a Section 30 order approving such a referendum, while a Catalan-style, unilateral poll would “set back the cause of independence by a decade” because most Scots “like to see constitutional matters dealt with legally and calmly”.

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Andrew Wilson, author of the SNP’s draft Growth Report, lauded Joyce’s article as “brilliant” and castigated “the tub-thumping populism of too many clever people in leadership positions playing to their own side” by calling for an immediate indyref2. Andrew dubbed this position “patently risible” and suggested: “Nicola Sturgeon needs backed not barracked.”

I’m not certain Wilson’s tone helps the discussion, nor am I aware of anyone in the movement barracking the First Minister. But I take McMillan’s arguments seriously and will try to answer them logically. Let’s begin with the elementary but crucial point that the British state, the British ruling establishment and the two main Unionist political parties are now enveloped in the worst internal political crisis the United Kingdom has seen since at least the early 1900s. To recognise this crisis is hardly “grandstanding” – most of us are scared witless by it. Brexit, of course, is only the proximate cause. The ramshackle British state and economy have not been fit for purpose since the Second World War. Matters have been brought to a head by the 2008 bank crash, austerity, and the growing realisation that Europe is being crushed between US populism and a resurgent China. If a hard Brexit transpires in only 70 days, and given the prospect of economic mayhem, I believe the only plausible course of action in Scotland is to trigger an independence referendum immediately. I’m not against a second EU vote but focusing the SNP’s energies on trying to save an un-saveable UK is – at this historical juncture – a dangerous diversion. Besides, if a second European vote secured a Remain outcome, does anyone seriously think the Unionist establishment would reward us with independence?

The National:

There was little sign of resignation among Scots at Ravenscraig steelworks during the miners' strike

In cautioning patience, McMillan contends that middle Scotland will only embrace constitutional change if it is consensual. She argues the Scots “waited patiently through the Thatcher years” until 1999 to get a devolved parliament “without a pane of glass broken”. But my memory of those years is different from Joyce’s. I remember (as an economic adviser to the National Union of Scottish Miners) the miners’ strike of 1984-85. The mass picketing of Ravenscraig steelworks saw 300 trade unionists arrested in a single day – I don’t call that resignation. I remember the mass civil disobedience against the hated poll tax when fully 1.5 million Scots refused to pay and 700,000 summary warrants for non-payment were issued in a single year. Arguably, it was this civil disobedience, which spread to England, that eventually brought Thatcher down.

Even if Scots had sat through the Thatcher years with patient resignation, that is hardly a reason to do so now. During her first two years in office, Scotland lost 20% of its industrial workforce. As the Proclaimers sang in Letter from America: “Bathgate no more, Linwood no more, Methil no more, Irvine no more.”

But the cruel legacy of Thatcherism remains with us.

A report published only last year by Glasgow University and NHS Scotland found that rising inequality and “erosion of hope” during the Thatcherite 1980s increased the risk of drug and alcohol-related deaths among Scots men who reached adulthood during that lost decade. It is these men, now in late middle age, who are dying prematurely today.

I am not prepared to sit idly by and let a hard Brexit kill off another generation of young Scots without at least asking Scots to vote on it.

But surely opinion polls show the proportion of Scots wanting independence is stuck maddingly on 45%, despite Brexit? True, but the core message here is the intransigence of that 45% – including a majority of the young – who proclaimed in September 2014 that they had left the UK in their heads and hearts – forever.

One-third of Scots will never abandon the Union, either out of fear or sentiment. It is the middle ground we need to win over. And they will only shift if they have to take sides in a referendum.

And what better time than now to ask them, when the option of an independent, social democratic Scotland in Europe is a powerful alternative to Brexit chaos and Little Englander attempts to relive the fantasy of the British Empire.

Yet what if the Tory government refuses us a Section 30? Then we must march in the streets to demand our democratic rights. When was democracy won without a struggle?

In his new column for The National, Wilson wrote a moving elegy for his late mother, Dorothy. It referenced her upbringing in working-class Possilpark in Glasgow in the post-war years – a hard time. The import of Andrew’s column is that we must think in terms of generations: “Nothing can or will drop in our lap overnight”.

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I, too, was born and bred in Possil in the early post-war era. I remember playing soldiers in the backcourt middens and the neatly torn newsprint that served for toilet paper in the communal staircase loos. Nothing in that working-class experience made myself or my family believe in humble resignation. Instead, we opted for politics. My uncle Robert, an anarchist militant on the railways, organised the systematic “appropriation” of coal to distribute to local OAPs.

Wilson is correct in this. Nothing can or will drop into our lap overnight. But that’s not the same as waiting for change to come about slowly. There are decades where nothing happens politically, and weeks where decades of progress can occur. We are living at such a moment. Let’s not fumble our chance. Scotland will not forgive us.