IN quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment that illustrates a paradox in which a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both dead and alive. We appear to be living in this thought experiment in Scotland, Schrödinger’s Referendum.

On the one hand the SNP have set-aside £20 million for a referendum they plan to hold next year, for which they have been attacked and condemned by the Unionist side.

In Aberdeen at the launch of the Progress to Yes Pledge, Stewart Hosie explained the pledge will be adopted by the “new Yes organisation” to be announced soon.

Last week The Times reported that Nicola Sturgeon would unveil a proposal for an independent Scotland with a “scene setter” of her vision for life outside the United Kingdom as soon as next week.

The document we’re told, which is expected to be published in the early part of the week, will be the first in a series of papers prepared by constitution secretary, Angus Robertson, as they begin to make the case for a second referendum. Sturgeon’s spokesman also confirmed that a “scene setter” for independence will be released before the end of the parliamentary session.

Last week too, the Scottish Government released (some) of its legal advice on its plans to hold a second referendum. The two-page document showed that ministers had been advised that they had a “legal basis” to test the question with the Electoral Commission and could begin work on the documents to be published over the coming weeks.

On the other hand, sceptics and cynics (take your pick) point to the seemingly endless promises and hints at forever imminent announcements while – on the ground little or no actual progress is made. Movement is always “around the corner”.

READ MORE: Tory minister Heather Wheeler calls Blackpool and Birmingham 'godawful'

From inside the nationalist movement, the harshest critics point to the wildest conspiracy, corruption and deception, and argue that the SNP have been assimilated into the British State.

From the left, Jonathon Shafi from his Independence Captured substack writes: “Simply put, despite what we have been told over the years, there is no plan. Yes, there are some policy papers to be released to start a ‘discussion’. When will they be published? According to Ian Blackford, in the ‘coming period’. It all seems so fluid, and so difficult to pin down. We’ve had so many variations on the referendum theme. A referendum will occur after the ‘fog of Brexit’ has cleared. Or it will happen, ‘Covid permitting’. The people of Scotland will ‘have their say’ in the not too distant future ... elasticity is built into the formulation.”

So what’s going on? Will there be another referendum? If so, when and how?

Unlike Schrödinger’s cat – the referendum cannot be both alive and dead. It seems that the endless elasticity is coming to an end. There are broadly three options.

In the first scenario Sturgeon and her government will put forward the legislation and announce the referendum next year, effectively daring the beleaguered Johnson regime to challenge it in court. This is a potential win-win scenario as it first “does something” and has a get-out of putting the UK Government in the corner of actively repressing a vote. The thinking is that this is not a good look for the British Government.

READ MORE: Edinburgh Hogmanay and Christmas contracts to be taken from Underbelly

There are problems with this approach, first of which is that Johnson’s government has nothing to lose and doesn’t really care about optics. Do you think he owes Douglas Ross a favour? The second problem is we don’t know which way a legal ruling would go.

In another scenario, Sturgeon may ignore Westminster completely and treat the referendum as a non-binding mass opinion poll, which would likely be boycotted by Unionists. It’s not clear whether this boycott would be effective. The aim would be to undermine the poll’s credibility but it would also almost guarantee a huge Yes win. Would Better Together risk that? An adjunct to this may be to argue that the referendum be confirmed at the following election.

The third scenario is that the conspiracists were right all along. In this scenario Sturgeon and colleagues are unveiled like Scooby-Doo baddies in about October 2023 writhing and shouting “You pesky kids”. In this scenario politicians and an entire political party dedicated to independence would implode completely and absolutely overnight.

Why, though, are we in this place?

Political timidity, over-caution and exhaustion certainly play a part. Assimilation and a rightwards drift are also factors it’s true. Some have called it a “stalemate between social democratic rhetoric and neoliberal economics”.

The SNP’s over-centralisation has also had a an effect of introducing sclerosis to the process and mitigating dynamism. The party’s legendary professionalism is both its greatest strength and its Achilles’ heel. Plus it’s true, and not to be easily derided, that the Scottish Government have been, you know, “governing”.

But none of this really explains-away the torpor and scepticism that permeates much of the movement.

As Shafi again writes: “Let’s be absolutely plain. Any party truly focused on having and winning a referendum next year would have a campaign in place, drawing together a platform of recognisable people and organisations with broad social weight. They would not just be on the verge of, possibly, releasing some policy briefings “in the coming period”. They would have had the argument deployed, and the case strongly made, several years in advance. They would have a clear and identifiable strategy for exactly how independence would be democratically delivered.”

MY feeling is that the SNP find it extremely difficult to reconcile their internal forces and the consequences of the tensions therein. Over-centralisation at the top virtually guarantees this. Polling has told them that a new currency is a hard sell, so instead of engaging in that hard sell it has capitulated to a stance that doesn’t make any sense at all. You can’t have Sterlingisation and entry to the EU.

In other policy departments: on climate crisis and energy policy; on access to affordable housing; on drugs deaths; on education; on transport infrastructure and on post-pandemic economic recovery it is caught in endless prevarication and compromise.

Despite this, the SNP remain electorally supreme. Vast swathes of Scotland (either or both) see them as the only option in terms of who should run Scotland – and the only option to opening the door towards independence. That confidence – misplaced or not – does have a shelf-life though. Either from the cumulative effect of so many years in office and a record of inevitable failure that hegemony will be eroded.

The National: National Extra Scottish politics newsletter banner

The problem for the opposition, and for Scotland, is that the SNP doesn’t face a test all. For different reasons neither Labour nor the Conservatives offer a compelling reason to think that they might be better at running the country, or that their constitutional solution – do nothing – is convincing. Being lashed to the crumbling wreck of the British state and its attendant failures is still repellent to a multitude of Scottish society.

But we have moved from being a “Liminal Land” to being a land in limbo.

In a liminal space we have the sense that we are moving towards something, out as something and towards something else. In limbo land we just feel Shafi’s endless “elasticity”.

What’s needed is to reassert independence as rupture, as real and vital change. This process recognises the scale of crisis we face and its multi-dimensionality, and with it the need for radical change. What we need is shock and failure not endless spin and re-positioning. What does this mean? How can failure help?

As philosopher Richard Rohr writes: “In liminal space we sometimes need to not-do and not-perform according to our usual successful patterns. We actually need to fail abruptly and deliberately falter to understand other dimensions of life.

“We need to be silent instead of speaking, experience emptiness instead of fullness, anonymity instead of persona, and pennilessness instead of plenty. In liminal space, we descend and intentionally do not come back out or up immediately. It takes time but this experience can help us re-enter the world with freedom and new, creative approaches to life.”

There is no Schrödinger’s Referendum. There either will be one next year or there will not. Either is fine. We will be in limbo no-longer.