It's been obvious for some time that the Tories' number one objective is to push back the timetable for the independence referendum, but it's now becoming clear that at least one of the notorious Tory "sources" has also been floating the idea that they might demand there needs to be a fresh mandate at the 2021 Holyrood election before a long-delayed referendum can finally take place. This story has appeared in two slightly different forms - the Spectator claim that the pro-independence parties between them would have to win an overall majority (ie. a repeat of exactly the same mandate they've already got), while the Times claim that the SNP alone would have to win an overall majority in their own right (a plainly indefensible idea if several parties are all standing on a pro-referendum platform). Either way, if this is to be based on hair-splitting objections to the mandate for a referendum that currently exists, it's hard to see how the line can hold, because the facts are stacked against the Tories -
* The SNP manifesto last year contained a specific pledge that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to call a referendum in the event of Brexit.
* That manifesto was backed by the biggest percentage vote that any party has received in the history of devolution.
* The SNP's share of the vote was roughly 10% higher than the Conservatives achieved at the UK general election in 2015. If the SNP do not have a mandate to implement their own manifesto, then by definition neither do the UK Tories. (That would mean there was no mandate to hold the EU referendum, for example.)
* 69 pro-independence MSPs were elected, and only 60 anti-independence MSPs were elected.
* That majority will be formally confirmed next week when the Scottish Parliament votes in favour of holding an independence referendum.
* The Scottish Parliament elected Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister by an overwhelming margin of 63 votes to 5, on the specific basis that she would be forming a single-party SNP government.
It doesn't even end there, though. Regardless of any implausible objection raised by the Tories to that impeccable mandate, the SNP would always have the option of calling their bluff by bringing about an early Holyrood election to satisfy any arbitrary conditions that are set for the 2021 vote. If that is successfully done, the excuses for thwarting a referendum on a reasonable timescale will run out.