IT’S strange the different things people took away from Theresa May’s teary goodbye in Downing Street yesterday.

Nicola Sturgeon demanded a constitutional whirlwind. One day after the European election, and on top of a Tory leadership contest, she called for a second EU referendum, a general election, and a second independence referendum. That her appetite for such things would give most voters indigestion seems not to have been considered.

Others more attuned to the limits of public tolerance would have seen Mrs May’s downfall as a warning about the unpredictability of referendums and their aftermaths. Particularly the latter. For while referendums tend to be binary choices - Leave/Remain, Yes/No - the later permutations are almost endless.

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As Brexit has shown, it’s very easy to talk in broad terms of ‘respecting the result’, but translating it into the fine print of legislation, money and trade relations is something else. The detail is positively teeming with devils.

Through the lens of Brexit, the SNP’s White Paper on independence looks absurdly naive. The vote of 18 September 2014 was to have been followed by a transition period of 18 months, with independence achieved on 24 March 2016. The Holyrood election six weeks later was then to elect to the first government on a new nation. Simples.

To quote paragraph 539 of the catechism. “Is 18 months enough time to get everything in place? Yes. Eighteen months is a realistic timetable for the necessary preparations.”

Those preparations included, inter alia, agreeing a deal with the UK, agreeing a deal with the EU, passing all the required legislation though both Westminster and Holyrood, and agreeing the division of billions in UK assets and liabilities. What could go wrong?

Fear not, here’s paragraph 549. “Are you confident that the independence negotiations will go smoothly? Yes. After a democratic vote for independence, it will be in the interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK to come to a swift and co-operative settlement.” Aye, right.

Three years after the Brexit vote, we’re still going round in circles trying to deconstruct and reconstruct a 45-year relationship with Europe. But a 300-year one can be sorted out in 18 months?

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I understand why the SNP said it. The idealised timetable let them keep control of the process. The priority was to get independence done and dusted, putting it beyond the reach of unionist saboteurs. If the transition straddled an election, the parliamentary numbers might change, and they might lose their grip.

So consider Ms Sturgeon’s new referendum Bill. Her government is due to set out next week how Scots can get a choice on their future before the 2021 Holyrood election. The FM has already harnessed the prospect of Boris Johnson replacing Mrs May to her cause.

We know it’s guff, of course. A second referendum would require a transfer of power from Westminster to have legal bite, and Mrs May’s successor won’t grant it because they’ll have enough on their plate and will have seen how lethal referendums are to Prime Ministers.

But to appreciate just how much of a massive time-wasting sham this exercise is, let’s imagine Ms Sturgeon gets her Section 30 order from BoJo, and we’re off to the races. What’s the timeline?

Last month, the FM said she aimed to have her Bill “on the statute book by the end of the year”, with Indyref2 held “probably in the latter half of next year”.

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So let’s agree she gets her Yes vote in the second half of 2020. That’s doesn’t leave 18 months for the transition to independence before the next Holyrood election, it’s barely half that.

Are we seriously supposed to believe, even without the lessons of Brexit, that all the work to create an independent Scotland could be fast-tracked in six to nine months? No chance.

So perhaps Ms Sturgeon could move the date of the election? It doesn’t have to be 6 May 2021. The day is set in statute, not stone. In fact, it’s moved already. It was originally due to be in 2020, but was delayed a year to avoid a clash with an expected general election.

But extending the deadline for delivering independence would be perilous. As Brexit Secretary Michael Russell said recently: “Cancelling elections does not look good for any democracy.” More to the point, we’ve seen what happened when Brexit was delayed. The drift became habitual.

Mrs May’s opponents helped engineer delays, then blamed her, everyone got angry and she lost her job. So I don’t see Ms Sturgeon trying that option.

But I also don’t see her jeopardising a fragile Yes vote in the 2021 Holyrood election before independence was safe.

You might think that if she had just won a referendum, surely the country would back the SNP and Greens to see it through. But that is far from assured.

The campaign could be rancorous, the victory narrow. A backlash to a Yes vote could produce a Unionist majority at Holyrood. Only a small shift in MSP numbers could destabilise the process.

A Yes vote would derange British politics far more than the Leave result. There would be febrile divisions within and between parties at both Holyrood and Westminster about how to end the Union. The knock-on effects in Ireland would be cited. There would be splits over yet another referendum. Ms Sturgeon herself has set a precedent by trying to reverse the EU result. As with Brexit, the negotiations would be prey to egos and faction-fighting. Legislation would be stalled, mauled and rejected.

Entering an election in the midst of all that would be a high risk move indeed.

Talk of a second referendum within this parliament - despite the lack of time for a transition, despite the worry of the 2021 poll - is therefore nonsense.

Ms Sturgeon knows it. She says it to keep the flame alive and please the Yes movement, which is understandable. But at the end of the day, her Bill is an insult to the electorate and a fraud.

The route to independence is securing a robust Yes vote at the start of a Holyrood term, then spending the rest of the parliament working like hell to put it into effect. The result would be under constant attack and the process extraordinarily tough. It would most likely take up an entire Holyrood term, to the detriment of other policy areas, and quite probably the reputation of the SNP. It would not be nice and orderly. And it will not be before 2021.

If the First Minister cannot be honest with the country about at least some of that, she should not expect it to trust her if she ever does get her referendum.