INDYREF2, PARTY IMPLOSIONS, WACKY OLD TIMES!

For small mercies, let's be thankful.  The UK Prime Minister popped over the border sans the black watch number she so often favours.  The fact that it was the first high profile external meeting of her 48 hour incarnation as PM - when her ministerial team was still a work in progress - was the subject of much analysis. Was she indicating her determination to keep the UK intact, as her very first Downing Street pronouncement had also underlined? Was she intent on delivering that message face to face with a First Minister who had already put the possibility of IndyRef2 on the table? Or was she merely trying to assure the Scots that their Remain majority vote had been duly noted, and that consequently they would be an active party in hammering out how Brexit unfolded?

The meeting, by all accounts was both frank and cordial. No Boris blustering; no Salmond lines in the  sand. And the closing soundbites from both parties suggested that however wide the differences in political perspectives, these were two women who could do business - which is not, of course, the same as saying that they would ultimately reach agreement on either the negotiated settlement with the EU or the future shape of the UK. 

Nevertheless the meeting, its timing, and its aftermath do pose some interesting questions.  Nicola Sturgeon was at pains to point out - and repeat at length - that she was keeping all her options open so far as the UK's endgame with the EU was concerned, and that her solitary focus was protecting Scottish interests, and ensuring the democratic will of the Scots in last month's referendum was respected.  It's a public message which keeps doors open to both London and Brussells whilst allowing breathing space for the heavy lifting which needs to be done if we do proceed to a second referendum on independence.

Yet it's difficult to see, whatever the unholy trinity of Davis, Fox and Johnson come up with, that it would approximate in any meaningful sense to the full blooded access to the inernal market, and the preservation of the free movement of citizens for which Scotland so clearly voted, and the Scottish Government continues to endorse. So you assume that in parallel with whatever negotiations to which Scottish representatives may have some peripheral input, there will continue to be efforts to continue conversations with Brussells as to Scotland's future membership post Brexit.

And even if you set Brexit and its myriad complexities aside, there remains the widening gulf and continuing divergence between the direction of travel of Westminster and Holyrood. Today's debate on Trident renewal is an arresting case in point.  Only the solitary Tory MP in Scotland will vote in favour with every other member opposed.  Which, in terms of affecting the vote, will mean diddly squat since the English majority - including a sizeable chunk of Mr Corbyn's rebellious troops - will ensure we continue to devote eye watering sums to an element of defence which is simultanesouly immoral, unusable, and largely irrelevant in terms of 21st century security threats.  As a clutch of Admirals, Generals, and Air Vice Marshalls - now safely in receipt of their pensions - continue to testify.

In addition,  in terms of daily life -  education, health, housing, renewables, penal policy, and, not at all least, social security - we have long been travelling along very different roads with very different destinations in mind. Some people will argue, and do, that as there is increasing freedom of political movement  in many of these fields then we should be content with proceeding towards the "devo max" which wasn't on offer in September 2014. There was a time I might have signed up to that - or at least to a gradualist approach to Independence less likely to frighten the voters.

But the tectonic plates have shifted so violently in the last few weeks and months  my feeling now is that the only issues are the when of IndyRef2 and the terms on which it can be offered to the Scottish electorate. Clearly we can't recylce the 2014 prospectus or the White Paper (though its detail was in marked contrast to the back of the very small envelope on which Brexit plans were laid out!)  And self evidently the currency arrangements and all the attendant back up will be central to ensuring that whatever else the vote will not fail over perceived risks to the economy.  Though frankly it's difficult to see that a Yes vote in 2014 could have created more mayhem, financial chaos and uncertainty than Boris, Gove Duncan Smith and co have managed.

Just as significantly the cast list has changed - and is changing - so rapidly that the 2014 playbook no longer applies.  The Cameron/Osborne duo who found that two Project Fears were one too many are now history. The Labour Party in England is in such dissarray and perhaps terminal decline that it cannot realistically be factored in as a bulwark against  the current  or futureTory administrations.  Ditto the Lib Dems.  And here in Scotland it is dawning on both Labour and Tory parties that the road to some kind of electoral redemption can only realistically be travelled when they acquire their own devolution from London puppet masters. It was interesting to hear Ruth Davidson,  no fan of Indy, say that another vote should not be blocked by Westminster.  And Kezia must be getting pretty fed up with her southern counterparts giving ferrets in sacks a run for their money.

Oddly enough all this confusion has bought Scotland some time.  Whilst the architects of Brexit fumble around for something resembling a plan to replace their mendacious rhetoric,  Scotland - both political and civic - has to bend its mind to re-fashioning its offer to the electorate; one underpinned by rigorous scenario planning and embracing all the talents.  The advisory group formed by the FM over Europe is a useful template.  And next time round we must ensure that louder voices accentuate the positive.  Scotland as an egalitarian, outward facing, peace loving, socially just and welcoming small  and innovative nation is a very exciting prospect.

Golly, gosh even Sir Nicholas Macpherson agrees - the erstwhile treasury mandarin who counselled loudly for a No vote two years ago, now talks of Scotland's exciting opportunities.  As they used to say in these circles: I agree with Nick.