THE second Scottish independence referendum will be next year, and my greatest worry is that the independence movement is not ready. Look, it’s not going to happen in 2022, get over it. The health crisis has limped, rather than charged, into the new year and although the odds are we will be either clear of Covid or that people will have accepted we can live with it by spring – starting a full-blown independence campaign before autumn 2022 just isn’t on the cards.

Some of the most passionate Yes supporters seem to have lost sight of who the only important people are in the indy debate. It’s not the 40% that are guaranteed to vote Yes, it’s not the 30% that are guaranteed to vote No, it’s the 30% in the middle. That middle group splits fairly evenly between soft No voters, the undecided and soft Yessers. It’s this 30% who will decide if Scotland becomes independent – not you or me, not SNP members and certainly not Unionist politicians.

In 2021, we saw the Yes vote start at 58% in one poll, fall to 47% halfway through the year in another poll and then end at 55% in the last poll of the year. Those poll figures are based on the path to independence being a Section 30 agreed referendum, and you can knock 10% off the Yes cause if we tried to hold a non-Section 30 referendum without first having exhausted all routes to an agreed plebiscite.

READ MORE: Former SNP policy chief backs three-option referendum to break indyref 'logjam'

This may be frustrating, but the middle 30% feel scunnered by Covid and Brexit. Naturally amongst the most risk-averse in society, they are prone to over-thinking, else they would have committed to one side or the other now. Their hearts may already say Yes to independence (most do), but until their fears over adding more change on top of the current chaotic mix of Brexit and Covid recede, they don’t have the courage to vote for it – for now.

So where are we regarding indyref2? I think autumn 2022 is now impossible. The middle 30% will need a summer free of Covid restrictions to recuperate mentally, to see the economy recover and for business owners to see their customers come back before they will support the positive change that independence requires. That doesn’t mean Westminster could call its own referendum, the middle 30% will severely punish anyone who upsets their apple cart.

We have the Scottish council election in May 2022 and a referendum can’t legally be held on the same date. We have the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and a lot of the propaganda... err, I mean celebrations... will happen in the summertime, with Friday, June 3 being the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday.

Call a referendum for September or October 2022 and Westminster could find an extra £100m to celebrate the jubilee and insist to the Electoral Commission that the leaflets they send to every house in Scotland are about the Queen and how Great Britain is, not anything to do with the indyref, spending which will be limited to £3-£4 million max.

So, May 2023 is feasible, but autumn 2023 (September/October) looks more likely. The prospect of an early General Election is declining with the polls suggesting that Boris Johnson won’t win by a landslide. I don’t bet, but if I were to put money on it I would probably go for Thursday, September 21, 2023, as the date for indyref2 – but the movement needs to be ready for May 2023 and that’s a tough ask.

The SNP have dragged their feet on preparations and the fact that the Equality and Social Justice Commission recommendations as well as the wellbeing economics approach – as outlined in the one million copies of the newspaper the SNP partnered with The National and Believe in Scotland to bring – are incompatible with the now outdated Sustainable Growth Commission means they will need time to finalise the socioeconomic offer for indyref2.

Senior SNP insiders have told me that the third and final part of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill will go to Holyrood in early spring and that the referendum question (same as last time), and the suggested date options (in 2023) will be included in the bill. In my humble opinion if SNP can’t deliver on its referendum mandate before the next General Election, then the party will split.

I think the SNP’s leadership are aware of this and the First Minister did say “I would like to offer that choice (indyref2) in the first half of this term of our parliament, which is, you know, by the end of 2023.” She formed a Yes majority government with the Scottish Greens to ensure it passes the bill. She will then be able to demand a Section 30.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon praises Covid vaccination effort in Christmas address

If Westminster refuses then Holyrood, empowered by the bill, can hold an advisory referendum on the date of their choosing and Boris Johnson will have to go to court to try to stop it. I hope he is that stupid as it would add 10% to the Yes vote and he would likely lose in court anyway.

Westminster can however ignore a Yes result in an advisory referendum and refuse to negotiate the terms for independence but then UDI becomes an option. Plan B should Holyrood’s referendum somehow be stopped in the courts will involve the Genral Election in May 2024. The SNP will have to stand in that on a manifesto commitment of declaring independence if they achieve a majority of one.

The Unionist parties would almost certainly field only one candidate per seat or be wiped out. A Section 30 referendum in September 2023 is not only the most likely outcome it is the path most likely to deliver. So it’s time for us to put our frustrations behind us, to stop complaining and start campaigning.