WHEN Gordon Brown starts talking up a referendum on independence, you can be damn sure there isn't going to be one. The unionist former Prime Minister, and Better Together icon, said this week that Boris Johnson “shouldn't be afraid” of holding another referendum on Scottish independence.

Mr Brown's not afraid. He's “ready any time” to mix it in a referendum and has “no doubt” he would win again. Bring it on, Nicola, if you think you're hard enough.

He is of course trolling the First Minister, making light of Nicola Sturgeon's repeated promises to hold an independence referendum which never seems to happen. He doesn't seriously want Indyref2, and his ruminations have caused mild apoplexy in Team Sarwar, who've been holding the line against a referendum, for the last two years.

Mr Brown has been listening, as he does, to ordinary Scots – unlike most Scottish politicians, who spend their waking lives on Twitter. He knows that even many Yes supporters agree now is not the time to launch an independence referendum, in the wake of a global pandemic and during the first European war since 1945. Yet the bill for precisely that will be published and put before the parliament in the next couple of weeks.

The First Minister's glove puppets have been ordered to continue promoting the fiction that national liberation is just over the horizon. The SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, went gloriously over the top at the weekend, declaring that those who oppose an independence plebiscite next year are “allowing Vladimir Putin to dictate the timeline for Scottish independence”.

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Boris Johnson has rightly been criticised for comparing the Ukrainian resistance to Brexiters. Yet, there’s no similar outrage when the SNP suggests that opponents of an independence referendum are somehow onside with Russian fascists.

In fact, as Dr Jonathan Eyel of the Royal United Services Institute pointed out in yesterday's Herald, Vladimir Putin would welcome an independence referendum right now to sow confusion and division in the ranks of Nato. What could be better than for the country, Britain, that has been leading the effort to supply weapons to the Ukrainian freedom fighters, and has led the West in imposing financial sanctions on the Russian economy, to be plunged into secessionist acrimony?

It would suit President Putin's propaganda war to portray the UK as a dysfunctional state and Mr Johnson as a hypocrite for claiming that Ukraine has a right to self-determination when he is denying this right to Scotland. It would also suit Russian war aims for Nato to lose its bases in Scotland, the gateway to the North Atlantic after independence.

Now, this does not mean that Scotland cannot or should not ever become an independent country. Finland is independent as are the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Norway is independent, Sweden is independent. They are all now in the fight against fascism redux. But there is a time and a place for big constitutional issues to be addressed and now is clearly not one of them.

After the misery and division of Brexit, the idea that there should be a repeat of that exercise next year is simply irresponsible and threatens to alienate hundreds of thousands of Scots who have recently begun to take independence seriously. Recent opinion polls, like Savanta ComRes, at the weekend, confirm that the last thing a majority of Scots want right now is obtuse naval-gazing about new currencies and hard borders with England.

The invasion of a sovereign European nation represents one of those inflexion points in modern history, like 9/11, 1989 or 1945, when everything changes. The SNP will need to heed and reflect upon those changes if it wants to retain its electoral dominance of Scottish politics. As in 1939, Scotland and England find themselves together fighting for the freedom of Europe.

The Second World War cemented the United Kingdom as never before. The common enemy, fascism, made the issues that divided the two nations of the Union seem petty and wasting energy on them even traitorous. Scottish nationalists of the day were demonised and accused of supporting the Nazis because some prominent figures, like Arthur Donaldson, opposed conscription. It was a disaster for the SNP.

The SNP leadership must avoid being once again on "the wrong side of history", as Nicola Sturgeon loves to put it. The Scottish Government cannot risk appearing to prioritise narrow economic self-interest and constitutional theory above the cause of securing the freedom of Ukraine.

Those smoking ruins of Mariupol are a monument to western folly and intellectual indolence. We have been living a delusion in which existential threats to national sovereignty were supposed to be a thing of the past because of capitalist globalisation. Now suddenly the West is facing, not just the monstrous aggression of Putin's fascist state, but also the global imperialism of China; a ruthless communist dictatorship, which is even more brutal in its treatment of minorities than Putin. Things are not going to go back to the old normal.

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The SNP leadership has been all over the place since the war began. Ms Sturgeon is still saying she would prefer to rely on oil and gas imported from Russia and other authoritarian countries than use Scotland's own secure hydrocarbons during the transition to net zero. Her remarks on nuclear defence have been recklessly naïve: arguing that Trident is “deterring” a no-fly zone in Ukraine, when it is so obviously Vladimir Putin's weapons of mass destruction that are preventing Nato declaring war on Russia.

The SNP is heading for a train wreck if it perseveres with Indyref2. Of course Ms Sturgeon is acutely embarrassed by the haitus. She has forecast the referendum almost on an annual basis since 2018 – leaving Scotland in a state of constitutional coitus interruptus that's drained the life-force from the nationalist cause. But Brexit showed that referendums can go terribly wrong for the politicians who authorise them, like David Cameron. Ms Sturgeon's last major act before she retires could be a defeat that cancels Scottish independence for half a century.

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