Last week, I read a fairly depressing tweet from the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland presenter, Gary Robertson. Mr Robertson gave us an overview of his incoming messages after his three-hour show, which included his being called “scum” and a “traitor”, as well as being wished “a slow death”.

I know and like Gary Robertson. He’s a good presenter, and it seems clear to me that he provides politicians from all sides with a tough time. I don’t know how he would vote in an election, or indeed in a referendum. That’s a good thing, and frankly it’s not something I could say of all journalists.

For all those reasons, the abuse he received last week – which is daily rather than isolated – is all the more unwarranted. Aside from the personal nastiness, though, it says something about us as a country.

It would be easy to brush this aside, and say it’s the work of a few keyboard warriors. However I fear it is more than that. I fear that our constitutional "debate", which has been hanging around our necks for my entire life, and which has leeched on to us since 2012’s Edinburgh Agreement paved the way for 2014’s referendum on independence, has scarred us. It may be a moronic minority who tweet Mr Robertson, but the number of lives, relationships, friendships adversely affected is far greater.

Strange then, perhaps, that I am going to spend the remainder of this article arguing in favour of another independence referendum, as soon as possible after the SNP secures a mandate at next May’s election.

Scotland is abnormal. The structuring of our politics around nationalism rather than around ideology debases us. It acts as an invisible screen both preventing us from adequately discussing important issues, and providing an oven-ready excuse for poor performance. I have covered these in previous columns on these pages, but our schools and our economy are the most obvious policy areas in need of urgent and dramatic action, yet which show no signs of receiving it.

Our politics has neither the structure, nor frankly the headspace, to take these issues seriously. This policy neglect will never end. This political abuse will never stop. Never, that is, until we answer the question of our time – independence or not?

Unionists reading this column will yell “we already answered it”, and indeed by the time you read this my own inbox will be busy. However, what the vast majority of Unionists – angry and emotional – persistently fail to grasp is that the continuation of the independence debate since 2014 is their failure.

There was a roadmap to relegating nationalism to fringe status in 2014 – a firm, explicit, early proposal for a federal New Union, complete with a Treaty, as an alternative to the status quo – which would most likely have handed them a vote share deep into the sixties, but the Unionists crashed the car.

By the time they stuck a half-baked, ill-conceived, panic-ridden version of a deal on the front page of the Daily Record a few days before the referendum, it was far too late. Unionists need look no further than the mirror for who to blame for the continuation of this debate.

However just as Unionists should shoulder their share of blame for where we find ourselves, they also have the solution to it in their possession.

In May, Scots will go to polling stations with full awareness of what their vote means. This is not 2016, when the SNP’s manifesto pledge on a second referendum was caveated. This is not 2019, when the SNP’s manifesto was centred on Brexit rather than independence. This is 2021, when it is crystal clear that if you vote SNP, you vote for a second independence referendum, just as clear as it was in 2019 that, if you vote Tory, you vote for Brexit.

In the eventuality that the SNP forms the next government on the basis of that manifesto, which seems an inevitability, it would be as democratically illegitimate to deny Indyref 2 as it would have been to stop Brexit.

Should the UK Government grant a referendum (and for the record, I think it will), we move to a different set of issues. I have written often on these pages of the strategies that both Nationalists and Unionists should adopt if they wish to win Indyref 2, however as soon as the door is opened for a second referendum, an elephant walks into the room.

What about Indyref 3, or Indyref 4? The so-called "neverendum". How can I propagate the theory that Indyref 2 will heal our scars when the SNP could simply win again and open them back up with renewed calls for a third poll?

Well, there are no guarantees. However, there are reasons to believe that it would not happen. Firstly, whilst those on the fringes make a lot of noise and will march and march until there are no soles left on their shoes, the mainstream of the SNP are not rabid flag-wavers. Most of the sensible, centre-ground of the party would, after Indyref 2, and particularly if the No victory had been based on a federal-style alternative, say “ok, that’s enough”, and get on with the job at hand. Ideally, that would be accompanied by the dismantling of the SNP, along with the other parties, and a fresh start with ideologically-based political parties at Holyrood. This is made even more likely by the large generation gap emerging in the SNP’s group of MSPs at Holyrood and in the Scottish Government Cabinet, where there are plenty 50-somethings of substance, and plenty 30-somethings of promise, but precious few 40-somethings ready to carry the torch.

Secondly, and perhaps more meaningfully, the SNP’s ability to continue to agitate for referenda is in the hands of the voters. If you don't like it, stop voting for them, and that will soon end calls for a third independence referendum after we have the second one.

Of course, Yes may win, at which point Unionists must do what many of them have asked Remainers to do since the Brexit referendum, which is to get on with it.

Whether we vote Yes or No in Indyref 2 is less important, in my view, than that we must never do this again. We cannot afford it. It must end.

• Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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