THE European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has been debated this week. During long, tense days – and nights – we’ve started to get a flavour of the arguments that will be dominating our political discourse for the next few years.

If we’ve learned anything, it may be that politicians scrutinising amendments until midnight doesn’t always bode well for the already fractious atmosphere in the House of Commons. During an exchange with the Deputy Speaker, a visibly angry Alex Salmond lambasted him for cutting off Joanna Cherry before she had concluded her speech. The Deputy Speaker responded that he had been “generous” to the SNP for allowing them to talk, much to the delight of the Tory benches who could be seen shaking their order papers and waving “bye bye” towards the SNP benches.

While there have been plenty of fireworks, the Government has so far emerged unscathed, as amendment after amendment has been defeated.

You’d think they’d be feeling quite confident right now. Their majority has served them well. The purported Tory rebels have proven to be smaller in number than expected. Labour have said they will support the bill, even if none of their amendments is accepted. Yet from watching proceedings, there is still a discernible panic in the air.

The SNP benches, on the other hand, seem strangely emboldened. For the time being at least, they are in a win-win situation. If they’d managed to get any amendments through that would have been hailed as a victory over the Government. Have their proposals rejected – as they have been – and they can make the case that this is making independence even more appealing to voters.

On Wednesday, The Herald's front page declared “Support for independence surges after May’s hard Brexit vow’’. The BMG survey for the paper shows support for independence at 49 per cent, after “don’t knows” were removed. In response, Alex Salmond tweeted: “Game on”. Many prominent voices in the Yes movement have called for patience when it comes to calling a second independence referendum. Understandably so – there will be no third time lucky when it comes to this issue. Not for the foreseeable future at least. If Sturgeon calls it, she has to win it. Brexit is either a golden opportunity or a poisoned chalice when it comes to a second referendum. But with such widespread uncertainty about the final deal the UK is going to reach, it’s hard at the moment to say which it will be.

What we do know is that the UK Government is already preparing for the possibility of a second independence referendum. According to reports, the Prime Minister is said to be “war gaming” with Ruth Davidson and the Scotland Office, as they believe that Sturgeon may set out a timetable for a second vote “within weeks”.

David Cameron’s government entered into the 2014 referendum in the belief that No would win comfortably and easily. Cue “The Vow” and assorted promises when it looked like it wasn’t going in that direction. Cameron also called a career-ending EU referendum, seemingly without contemplating the possibility he would lose and with no plan for it if he did.

It seems Theresa May is not going to make that mistake. Despite the political chaos of Brexit, she is focusing at least some of her energy on the possibility that the Union could be challenged once again. And she is treating that possibility with far more seriousness than her dismissive Prime Minister’s Questions answers would suggest.

Sturgeon, on the other hand, is being backed into a corner, albeit one she may find is beneficial when she gets there. She has made various statements and promises to hold another referendum should the concerns of Scotland go unheeded in advance of the Brexit negotiations. The line from the SNP over the past few weeks has been: “If they throw down the gauntlet – Nicola Sturgeon will pick it up.”

Thus far, the UK Government has swatted away every suggestion, amendment, compromise and concession that Sturgeon has sought to secure. Should the First Minister take the plunge and call another referendum, perhaps in autumn 2018 as some have suggested, she will undoubtedly be taking a risk.

However, so too has Theresa May, with her hard-line approach. She is standing firm against what she sees as unreasonable demands and threats from Sturgeon’s Government. In doing so, Westminster’s refusal to bend may in fact be what leads the Union to break.