I SPENT most of last week in Bilbao, the largest city in the part of Spain known as the Basque Country. “Take into account that inhabitants of the Basque Country are divided between those who support independence from Spain,” warned the website Wikitravel, “and others who consider themselves primarily or entirely Spanish.”

There is no escape. Learning that I was a political journalist, some locals assumed I was there to cover forthcoming elections in the “autonomous community”. When I said I hadn’t realised these were taking place, one told me wearily: “We live in an eternal election.”

That’s how it also feels for many in Scotland, trapped in what the French historian Ernest Renan called a “daily plebiscite”, a seemingly never-ending campaign for or against independence. The anniversary of the first referendum – 18 September – has become an almost secular day of reflection for both sides of that debate.

Read more: SNP insiders urge Nicola Sturgeon to put brakes on second independence referendum

The day I arrived in Bilbao was also La Diada in Barcelona, Catalonia’s national day, which has become an annual declaration of intent from those who support independence for another autonomous part of Spain. It’s also a reminder that Scotland isn’t unique; its constitutional debate has echoes in Europe and around the world.

Last week the Canadian journalist Peter Scowen was in Edinburgh to give the inaugural Scotland in Union anniversary lecture, reflecting on two referendums in his home province and their economic impact. He spoke of Montreal, once Canada’s most vibrant city but now “a shadow of its former self”, economic growth having stalled in the late 1970s.

There are several explanations for this stagnation, but Scowen reckoned a key contributor had been what he called “the politics of separation”. His point was obvious and, while Edinburgh isn’t (yet) in a comparable situation, a sobering one. The Scottish economy has many other problems, but the twin uncertainty caused by Brexit and the prospect of another independence referendum can’t be helping.

This has always been one of the many weaknesses in the Yes proposition, repeated assurances that independence can be achieved with relatively little political or economic upheaval, despite there not being a single international example that supports such an upbeat analysis.

Read more: SNP insiders urge Nicola Sturgeon to put brakes on second independence referendum

Brexit has also given rise to a related paradox for the First Minister. Nicola Sturgeon rarely misses an opportunity to frame Brexit as “catastrophic” (as well it might be), for she needs a bit of chaos to stoke anti-Westminster sentiment, yet at the same time too much actual chaos risks undermining her own renewed push for independence.

Not only does the Quebec precedent point to likely disruption – even though both plebiscites were unsuccessful – but the Leave vote in June’s EU referendum now provides ample evidence of what’s likely to flow from an unrealistic prospectus for “independence”, be it British or Scottish. Blithe charges of scaremongering quickly give way to reality.

Thus we have an entertaining role reversal: Unionists are now busy (and not very convincingly) depicting the UK’s “independence” from the European Union as an opportunity to fashion a better nation, while Nationalists repeatedly scaremonger about its prospects outside the single market.

Writing on the second anniversary of Scotland’s referendum, Ms Sturgeon yesterday – and justifiably – lambasted some Conservatives for their “blatant hypocrisy and contradiction” in having campaigned for a No vote in 2014 as a means of keeping Scotland in the EU and their subsequently handling of Brexit, but at the same time this doesn’t quite cover up her own inconsistencies.

In her article, the First Minister gamely defended the Scottish Government’s 2013 White Paper, maintaining that it was the “most detailed blueprint for an independent country ever produced”. That might be so, but that’s not the same as it having been either credible or convincing. Indeed, some of Ms Sturgeon’s colleagues are rather freer in admitting that Scotland’s Future now belongs in the archives.

Read more: SNP insiders urge Nicola Sturgeon to put brakes on second independence referendum

The First Minister then proceeded to conduct a convenient pivot, arguing that the fundamental case for Scotland’s independence remained as it was two years ago, and that it “ultimately transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends”. Read that sentence a second or third time and it doesn’t become any less staggering.

All the more so given that its author argued again and again between 2012-14 that the independence proposition was utilitarian rather than existential, a means to an end rather than an argument based upon the “fact of nationhood”. But the democratic deficit premise (first posited, it ought to be remembered, by Scottish Labour) is essentially existential.

So as the SNP apparently gears up to put the Scottish Question to voters for a second time, it’s also jettisoning several decades’ worth of arguments about oil funds and social justice and instead reviving a 1980s mantra that pre-dates a Scottish Parliament which nationalists once promoted as a solution to, um, the democratic deficit. Now that argument certainly resonates with some, but I’m not convinced it’s going to outstrip legitimate concerns about oil, national wealth and balance sheets.

Intellectually, it’s also up there with “take back control” in terms of depth. Basically the First Minister is simultaneously arguing that Scotland’s status within the UK – where it can always be outvoted and theoretically over-ruled – is intolerable while campaigning for it to remain part of an even larger supranational union in which that democratic deficit would be even more pronounced.

Late last week the SNP leader unveiled the membership of her party’s Growth Commission, which has the unenviable task of coming up with utilitarian arguments about currency, the deficit, and so on, by the end of this year. But not only is its remit inconsistent with the Scottish Government’s stated objectives (there was no mention of balancing growth with "fairness") but arguably only one or two of its members have any expertise of macro-economics.

That strikes me as a weakness given what’s at stake, but it highlights the SNP’s broader strengths and weaknesses: undeniably skilful when it comes to constant campaigning but intellectually weak. Of course, as the EU referendum demonstrated, the former clearly matters much, much more than the latter, but to return to my earlier point, it hardly inspires confidence.

Read more: SNP insiders urge Nicola Sturgeon to put brakes on second independence referendum

Last night the BBC’s Andrew Marr ended his two-part documentary on Scotland and the Battle for Britain with the observation that all across the West people are revolting against the “insecurity, the unfairness and the sheer speed of change that modern capitalism brings”. This takes different forms in the US, Europe, the UK and Scotland, but paradoxically its protagonists’ solutions might also serve to destroy “the only shields we might have” against those same international forces.

It’s a compelling point, and one that superficial debating points about democratic deficits and taking back control don’t even come close to addressing.