PERHAPS the question I’m asked most frequently by people who stop me in the street to chat won’t come as a surprise to National readers. “So when do you think it’ll be? The next chance?” It’s a question still permeating Scottish politics, and while I’ve often expressed impatience at slow progress toward the next independence referendum, I’ve never thought the judgement call was simple and easy.

We don’t want to lose again. But we don’t want to let the right moment slip by either.

Some people think it’s complicated by disagreements within the pro-independence movement.

When Greens challenge the Scottish Government on issues from fossil fuel divestment to animal welfare, or from regulating AirBnB to the overdue progress on securing trans and non-binary people’s rights, we’re sometimes told “wait for independence!” as though every other issue must be permanently on hold. I’ve never believed that was necessary, or even possible.

Indeed the long, in-depth debate Scotland held during the run-up to the 2014 vote was high quality precisely because it allowed different visions of Scotland’s future to be explored with open minds. That kind of debate has the power to engage new people, who thought they knew what independence meant, but who are still there to be won over if we take the chance to think differently.

So given my impatience to get started, naturally I welcome the work now being undertaken. A Citizens’ Assembly will be formed to make sure that the agenda is set, at least in part, by people outside of party politics. The parties themselves will be asked to work together on all the constitutional options – not just independence.

The First Minister has offered a constructive challenge to those who don’t back independence to come forward with their own ideas about the way forward. Independence supporters shouldn’t feel threatened to debate those ideas, because some of them will still be relevant if Scotland does vote Yes – we’ll still need a close working relationship with the rUK, and we should be open to ideas about how that can work.

Another strand of this new work is the Referendums Bill. But it’s a very different beast to the bill which established the 2014 vote.

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This bill doesn’t set a date for indyref2. It doesn’t say what the question should be. It doesn’t even say it should happen at all. It’s really a framework bill for how referendums in general should be proposed, setting some rules about the administration, lead campaigners, finances and so on. It’s a framework that any future government will be able to use.

Unlike most countries with a tradition of using referendums, the bill gives the Government a power to propose all the details of a specific vote without any ability for Parliament to debate amendments. It’s not only the opponents of independence who should be worried – should a future government be able to choose their own wording for a referendum on tax, or a human rights issue, or on privatising public services?

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I think there is plenty of scope for improving this bill to make it clear that government power must always be accountable, ensuring that both sides in any future referendum are given a fair hearing and that details like the wording of the question are tested by a neutral, trusted body.

But there are deeper questions which need to be addressed too. There are lessons from 2014 and 2016 which need to be learned.

In 2014, we benefited from a long debate before the campaign itself. In 2016, we suffered from the shallowness of a short run-up. But the regulation of donations, campaign spending, and political advertising were also shown to be woefully inadequate.

We’ve seen dodgy money and dodgy data, illegal co-ordination between the Leave campaigns, and deeply misleading advertising directed into people’s social media feeds. It amounts to a hacking of the democratic system.

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We shouldn’t be satisfied with a legal framework for referendums which merely defines compliance; any issue serious enough to merit a referendum deserves the highest standard of debate, and we need a legal and regulatory framework that can help achieve that.

The lack of any regulation of political advertising is a particular worry, with millions having been spent in the final stretch of the 2016 campaign telling people that Turkey was about to join the EU, that Europe would put polar bears at risk, and even kill off the cuppa. Unlike ads that sell washing powder or car insurance, there are literally no rules against this kind of thing.

If referendums are going to be more common, on independence or any other issue, we need a legal framework that’s watertight against the kind of corrupt and dishonest behaviour which was at the heart of the 2016 vote. Any issue important enough to put to a public vote deserves this.