TOURING the country stirring up apathy. That’s been Mission Theresa May this week. The road to Brexit, apparently, marches through the leather gear outlets of Bridge of Weir. With this indispensable constituency on side, losing the “meaningful vote” in the House of Commons is surely now inconceivable.

But let’s be wickedly cynical. Let’s assume that May still has her work cut out in stitching together a Commons majority for her Brexit deal. As she haemorrhages support from both ends of her party, sheds ministers on a weekly basis, finds herself fankled in her own rhetoric and boxed in by her EU concessions, what precisely is the Prime Minister up to?

The Westminster snakepit continues to slither. Plenty of Tory arms and ears remain to be bent to get her Brexit policy through. And yet the Prime Minister has decided to spend her time moving like a grey blur across the British landscape giving press conferences which amount to little more than a travelling book group for government press releases.

The spin had it that Theresa May was appealing over the heads of her rebellious Tory colleagues to the plain people of Britain and their employers. The Prime Minister’s warm, life-affirming version of “meeting the public” principally involves addressing baffled warehouses miles from the nearest human settlement.

Time spent on a whistle-stop tour of Britain’s rain-stained industrial estates and empty factories is time she isn’t spending waterboarding her party colleagues in Westminster in the attempt to beg, borrow or steal their votes. Minnie McGlumpher – the jaded universal voter of Kilmacolm – may have considerable sympathy with the Prime Minister’s position. But Minnie won’t get the opportunity to trip through the Commons voting lobbies for or against May’s deal. Maybe the PM’s just glad of the opportunity to nip out of Whitehall for a gulp of fresh air. And who could blame her?

Needless to say, the PM didn’t take a dander down Scotland’s high streets to soak up our Brexit atmosphere, instead pecking through press questions like an electrified macaw. Say what you will about the PM, her commitment to message discipline rivals the talking clock. Fling whatever questions you like at her. The line to take will be reliably spat out, however inconsistent it may be with the line she was spitting out last week. Prime Minister, will your deal pass the House of Commons? “This is a good deal honouring the referendum result while safeguarding jobs and the economy of the precious union of our independent coastal state.” Would you like a cup of tea, Prime Minister? “This is a good deal honouring the referendum result…” Repeat till you boak. By excluding The National from her press conference, she spared our political correspondent a commute. The Prime Minister has nothing new to say.

Gruesomely, the Jams have given way to Bobs on the Downing Street media grid. The “just about managing” can go hang. As they ponder whether to vote through or veto the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, we’re told that MPs should contemplate the Will of Bob – the “bored of Brexit” – and back the Withdrawal Agreement. Or as they’re known in Cardiff and Aberystwyth, the Ltwtls – the “losing the will to lives”.

Mobilising the unpolitics of apathy is hardly new territory for the Tory party. A core plank of Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservative line has been that politics is noisy, smelly and boring, and all you need do is pop a neat X in the Tory box for a quieter life and lower taxes. For many folk, engaging with politics is like going to the dentist. Something you do occasionally, without much pleasure. These are Theresa May’s people.

But May’s plan to sweep to victory on a sluggish sea of Bobs seems radically misconceived. The Prime Minister hopes to gee-up the jaded. Mobilising the zonked behind her deal, stirring the passions of the dispassionate and rousing the sensibilities of the politically insensible, she will squash internal dissent and throw together a coalition of the willing in the House of Commons.

The obvious catch with this political masterplan may be dawning on you. The Prime Minister’s scheme seems to rely on political slouches suddenly becoming a hive of activity. I suspect May is going to find out that her Bobs are ABBAs – “Angry But Basically Apathetic” – who will exert very limited pressure on her recalcitrant colleagues, whether they are appalled by Brexit’s economic vista, or European Research Group truthers who have been droning on about Brussels red tape and escaping from the EUssr since the 1980s.

Last weekend, I gave you the downbeat assessment of what all this means for Scottish independence. The harder the Brexit, the harder the rethinking that will be necessary. Having been through righteous anger, coldly-rational melancholy – the third panel in my Brexit triptych is a case for very qualified optimism from a Scottish nationalist perspective.

The first derives from one of the neglected characteristics of the deal May is proposing. Although the chances of the Prime Minister’s deal passing the Commons at the first attempt seems remote, it is eminently plausible that some version of it will represent the final accord with the EU on a second heave, as the country teeters on the brink of tumbling off a cliff on March 29, 2019, and the fear sets in.

Writing in The Telegraph this weekend, resigning universities minister Sam Gyimah lamented that “at the end of these negotiations, Britain will not be standing side-by-side with our European partners as equals,” arguing “we will be outside the room when key decisions affecting our future and prosperity are made. It is a democratic deficit and a loss of sovereignty the public will rightly never accept.”

From an SNP perspective, Gyimah’s analysis of the implications of the deal begins to frame a very clear case for Scottish independence within Europe, shifting the argument from defensive to offensive territory. On the Tory party’s own terms, an independent Scotland would face a choice – to be a European rule-taker in Britain, or a rule-maker in Brussels with a seat at the table from which the UK has chosen to exclude itself.

In 2014, the European dimension of the independence debate focused on whether or not an independent Scotland could “automatically” accede to the union and whether European citizenship rights could be jeopardised. If, as seems likely, an independent Scotland will emerge from a United Kingdom which is outside of the European Union, some questions will remain about whether and how an independent Scotland might become a full member of the EU.

But gum away as they might, one of Better Together’s key messages from 2014 has been brutally defanged. And a key constituency – EU nationals living in Scotland – can now see painfully clearly how the governments in Edinburgh and London see them.

More fundamentally, the social basis for the No campaign lies in ruins. There will always be diehard, doormat Unionists whose response to “assume the position” is – and always will be – “thank you sir, may I have another.” Though the UK Government do anything, they think no ill. But the overwhelming majority of Scots aren’t masochists of that stripe. They have a better conceit of themselves.

In The Times this week, Hugo Rifkind argued: “I know handfuls of other Scots, if not scores, who found their instinctive Unionism fleeting from the heart to the head after the Brexit referendum, and not always staying put there. The core non-economic argument made against Scottish independence by the likes of me – that Scotland and England were similar nations, full of similar people who wanted similar things – often feels coldly ludicrous.”

It is a column to provoke cold sweats. It is all very well to argue that “now is not the time” for independence. But when the time comes, what’s the argument for this union beyond the aridly contractual? Better Together, how, now?