THE pages of the right-wing press and the Tory back benches have been bristling with anger at the prospect of a Brexit delay – or worse. One word more than any other has resounded through this cacophony of rage. Mandate.

The Conservatives’ 2017 General Election manifesto pledged to “exit the single market and customs union”. So, when Theresa May asked to meet Jeremy Corbyn, she was warned in no uncertain terms that any compromise short of all-out Brexit would be tantamount to treachery. She would be breaking her mandate. She would be betraying her mandate. She would be reneging on her mandate. And the consequences would be dire. As one Daily Telegraph headline screamed, “In Years to Come, Lips will Curl at the Very Name of Treacherous Theresa”. We’ve always known that Tory duplicity knows no bounds, so it’s no surprise really that they demand that their own leader honours her mandate – then scream with fury whenever there is any hint that Nicola Sturgeon might honour her mandate to hold a second independence referendum.

The Tory Party has never been too keen on democracy. Two hundred years ago, when tens of thousands of people gathered in Manchester to call for the extension of the vote beyond the land-owning elite, the Tory prime minister Lord Liverpool sent in the cavalry – and the result was the infamous Peterloo Massacre. From then on, the party opposed every attempt to open up democracy to the wider population.

Even the 2016 Brexit vote was a distortion of democracy, excluding as it did two groups who were allowed to vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – a million and a half 16 and 17-year- olds, and three million EU nationals who lived, worked and paid taxes in the UK. The right-wing establishment will tolerate the people when the people do as they’re told. Its almost laughable to watch Jacob Rees-Mogg talking about “we, the people” while sneering at the elites who want to keep us in the European Union.

That’s the vast majority of the population of Glasgow, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Dundee, Belfast, Aberdeen and Cardiff he’s talking about. Yes, the old Etonian multi-millionaire who was raised in a 20-room stately home set in 200 acres of prime Somerset countryside. As we used to say in the Gorbals, if he’s one of the common people, I’m the Queen of Sheba. The Labour Party have, to be fair, a more democratic tradition. Except when it comes to Scotland’s right to self-determination. Many in the party now loudly proclaim their support for a second EU referendum. And simultaneously shout down any suggestion that there should be a second Scottish independence referendum. “There is no case for a second independence referendum,” said Richard Leonard recently. “We just had a referendum in 2014. We think that settled the will of the people of Scotland.”

Change just two words in that sentence and it could be Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Nigel Farage speaking about Brexit. Having ended up on the winning side on both referendums, the Tories can indulge themselves in the luxury of consistency on both sides of the Border. For Labour and the LibDems, however, democracy ends at Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Two weeks ago, all seven Scottish Labour MPs voted for a second EU referendum, as did every single Liberal Democrat. But democracy is not a game of pick and choose. The Scottish electorate is pretty sophisticated these days and will swiftly detect double-dealing. Demanding a second vote for the UK while denying a second vote for Scotland is unprincipled, self-serving opportunism. The timing of a second independence referendum is not in the hands of the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament – which itself underlines the difference between Brexit and national independence. Unlike the UK, we do not have the power to decide our own future. Westminster can call a constitutional referendum as and when it chooses; Holyrood needs permission.

That doesn’t mean we should hang around waiting for permission.

I have some sympathy with Patrick Harvie’s call this weekend for a second referendum before the 2021 elections. I’ve argued that position myself for a long time. But I don’t envy Nicola Sturgeon, who has to get the timing right. The reason why support for independence did not die off for a generation after 2014 is because the Yes movement won a moral if not a numerical victory. To narrow a 40- to 50-point gap down to

10 points against all the odds – and with the threat of being drummed out of the EU wielded as a key weapon of the No campaign – was no mean feat. However, if we lose this time round, then we really are faced with the dismal prospect of being locked in the UK for a long time to come. Two years ago, when the First Minister fired the starting gun, I was all in favour of going for it as soon as possible. But before the campaign got a chance to get under way, focusing minds on Scotland’s future, we were plunged into an unexpected and difficult UK General Election, which simultaneously set back the independence movement and turned Brexit into a much more complicated business by reducing the Tories to a minority government.

Had Theresa May not called that 2017 General Election, the UK would now be out of the EU and the pitch would be cleared for a highly-focused campaign and debate over Scotland’s future.

That’s not where we are right now. The UK is in a state of chaos. Maybe that’s a good reason to go for broke. Maybe an independence referendum would swiftly galvanise a mass movement to leave the mess behind us and allow us to sort out our own future. Or maybe the anxiety and uncertainty the Brexit debacle has produced will make it even more difficult to convince people to take a leap forward into new territory.

I genuinely don’t know.

I suspect we need to gather a lot more information over this summer – hard data that provides us with clear insight into where people stand right now, broken down into age, gender, geographical and socio-economic categories.

Activists, including myself, are quite impatient. But even if there are 100,000 of us, we still need to mobilise 20 times that number of people to vote for independence.

By the autumn, the timetable and the character of Brexit is likely to be clarified. Armed with that knowledge, together with a more detailed picture of the attitudes of people on the ground, then the First Minister might then be in a better position to make a momentous decision. There are no guarantees and there will be risks attached. But the decision does need to be hard-headed – and based on real evidence that we can win.