IS the Scottish Government starting to toughen up its Brexit policy? Perhaps. But, so far, it doesn’t appear to be a more coherent strategy that puts the government and the SNP on the front foot ahead of the other parties. Yet as Labour fudge their position on a people’s vote and Tory infighting and incoherence deepens, the timing is surely good for the Scottish Government and SNP politicians to stand up.

In August, a YouGov poll for Scotland suggested Scottish voters now support Remain by 66% to 34%. The same poll found that 83% of SNP voters now back Remain, compared with 74% of Labour voters and just 29% of Conservative voters.

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Sixty-one per cent of Scottish voters back holding another EU referendum (when “don’t knows” are excluded), while 79% of SNP voters would support this. This is surely a good moment for any anti-Brexit Scottish politicians to up their game.

In the last week or so, Nicola Sturgeon has said that if there isn’t a soft Brexit, there should be no Brexit. This is quite a bit tougher than the more usual SNP formulation of preferring that Brexit wasn’t happening. She, and Brexit Secretary Mike Russell, have also insisted that it isn’t the SNP blocking a people’s vote. But, at the same time, Sturgeon has insisted she won’t be an “enthusiastic advocate” of another EU vote without a guarantee of another independence referendum in the event of a second Leave vote.

The First Minister also called in the last week for Article 50 to be extended if the UK faces either a no-deal Brexit or a blind Brexit with very little detail about the future UK-EU relationship. And Russell insisted once again that any special deal for Northern Ireland should be available for Scotland too.

Is the Scottish Government moving, finally, to put more emphasis on stopping Brexit rather than its principal focus, as it has been in the last 18 months, of a soft Brexit? There’s a lack of clarity and some inconsistencies here.

If Theresa May somehow manages to pull a deal with the EU out of the bag, it is likely to include an Irish backstop, along with the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement, and a fairly vague political declaration on the future relationship. But more detail, as demanded by Sturgeon, won’t necessarily make Brexit more palatable. If May moves towards a Canada-style trade deal as the goal, that will be hugely damaging economically to the whole UK. Delaying Article 50 to negotiate a more detailed exposition of a “Canada dry” or “Canada plus” deal won’t help Scotland.

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And given that May is highly unlikely to bring back a deal, why argue for a delay in the Article 50 talks rather than focus on the newly-expressed SNP view that Brexit should be stopped if it’s not soft? The EU is unlikely to agree to any delay (which they can only do unanimously) unless there is a major political shift in the UK – a General Election or a new EU referendum. There would be little point in giving the Conservative government more time.

But that then raises the question of what the SNP strategy is. If May brings a deal back to Westminster, will the SNP vote against it in all circumstances (assuming it’s not a soft Brexit)? It would appear so, but imagine a situation in which there is an Irish backstop, the EU27 have signed up to the deal and want the UK to leave on that basis, not in the chaos of a no-deal exit. There will be a lot of pressure not to bring the deal down – not least from the Irish government. Yet surely both the SNP and Labour could abstain to rescue and support a Theresa May deal?

Current SNP policy statements point in different directions. Is the priority to stop Brexit if it’s not soft – in which case, how? Or is it to demand the same deal as Northern Ireland for Scotland – and what then if the answer is no? Or is it to demand an extension to Article 50? But if May’s deal does pass at Westminster, there won’t be any reason to extend it and Brexit will happen. And if the deal doesn’t pass, or there is no deal, then the choice will surely be between a no-confidence vote and a General Election and/or a people’s vote – and then to ask for an extension of Article 50.

So which would the SNP prefer – or would they vote for both, ie a no-confidence vote to trigger an election, and for a people’s vote (depending on the order of these and which, if any, can get a majority at Westminster)?

Labour has now fudged its policy on a people’s vote, reflecting its leadership’s (but not its members’) reluctance both to back a second EU vote and to have Remain as an option in any such vote. This raises the possibility of a people’s vote amendment where Labour MPs might not vote for one that suggests Remain should be on the ballot paper, while SNP and the LibDems would presumably not vote for an amendment that didn’t include that option. Whether or not the SNP would block a people’s vote is unclear.

So, in the turmoil that currently passes for UK politics, it’s possible that a no-confidence vote in May might not pass and a vote for another EU referendum might not pass. The UK at that point would be hurtling into a chaotic no deal. It’s hard to see how the situation would be resolved but a General Election surely would look likely.

The SNP could denounce the damaging, growing chaos of the Brexit talks, insist it is time to stop Brexit and argue that it should be stopped through a new EU referendum. In doing this, they could clearly state they are speaking for the majority views of Scottish voters. The Scottish Government can certainly then argue too that, if another EU vote returned a Leave vote, they would demand another independence referendum. But refusing to “enthusiastically advocate” a people’s vote without other groups or parties acknowledging Scotland should have another independence vote puts the Scottish Government on the back foot.

Instead of demanding a new vote, and calling out Labour’s fudge, they’re on the sidelines waiting for the unlikely outcome of the LibDems or others agreeing with a second independence vote. Instead of demanding a halt to the process, they’re still emphasising a soft Brexit, or talking of extending Article 50, or settling for a deal like Northern Ireland, or all of these at once – which doesn’t add up.

There is a big vacuum in the unfolding Brexit debate that the LibDems are failing to fill. The Scottish Government stepping up with a coherent set of arguments that would show Scotland is not just standing by as the Brexit process implodes. On the front foot or the back foot – the choice is clear, and time is running out.

Kirsty Hughes director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations