IT’S SNP conference this weekend.

Thanks to the blizzard of Brexit-related madness that erupts afresh each waking day, the event has slipped off the radar for all but the press and party faithful. But that low profile could be transformed next week if Nicola Sturgeon uses her perfectly timed, eve of Brexit D-Day gathering to launch a new game-changing strategy on Brexit and indyref2.

Agreed – that’s not very likely. Far more likely is a big focus on the newly appointed Poverty Commission, a big and justifiable pop at Boris Johnson, Jo Swinson and Scottish Labour and a big promise that independence will be “front and centre” of the SNP’s manifesto when the General Election is finally declared.

The SNP leadership prefers not to sully its carefully manicured conferences with grubby, opportunistic attempts to seize the political initiative and grab the limelight.

More’s the pity.

Because these are not normal times and next week will be the least normal week at Westminster for decades.

On Sunday night, SNP MPs will board the sleeper to get back to London for Johnson’s Queen’s Speech the next day – you remember, the Programme for Government so goddam special it deserved a month of the Prime Minister’s undivided attention. But Joanna Cherry’s bold legal action ended Boris’s unlawful suspension of the Commons, so the poor lamb’s had just five Parliament-free days to craft Monday’s zinger instead of the five weeks he really needed.

Still, it doesn’t take five minutes to guess the likely content. Utterly improbable spending pledges on new hospitals, schools and railways, non-credible plans to cope with a No-Deal Brexit, irresponsible Parliament versus the People rhetoric and a nasty, hard-line stance on immigration. Boris will use the Queen’s Speech as an electioneering pitch to the Brexit Party-supporting voters of Middle England ahead of the General Election someone will probably call before Christmas. And it looks like there’s nothing anyone can do to stop him.

The Prime Minister might also outline details of the day of humiliation he’s fixed up for MPs next weekend, when he’ll use the first Saturday sitting for 40 years to present a Boris-constructed Brexit showdown. On that day, after the forthcoming EU summit, he might reveal a deal (unlikely), or more likely force MPs through a series of votes on options including Revoke and No-Deal to expose and exploit the divisions in opposition parties. Boris will claim he could have pressed the No-Deal Brexit button but for feckless opposition MPs with no agreed alternative. And he’ll cynically repeat his hard-to-square line about both leaving the EU on October 31 and asking for another extension.

You don’t need to have a crystal ball to predict that on Monday, practically everyone north of the Border will be looking on aghast, as Her Madge’s opposition run around like headless chickens, unable to get over themselves, their party divides, egos, leaders or paralysing fear about co-operation to stop Boris Johnson in his gamed-up, presumptuous, posh-boy tracks.

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But praise be!

The very day after the provocative shenanigans of the Queen’s Speech, the media spotlight will move north to Aberdeen, where the leader of the Scottish Government and the only consistently Remain party will get to her feet and say ... what?

At the moment, fa kens.

The agenda hardly conveys a sense of urgency or activism. You wouldn’t guess this is a party facing Brexit Armageddon on the one hand or the imminent prospect of indyref2 on the other. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned around. To be fair, the SNP’s indy-free agenda was devised earlier this year when Theresa May was PM, Boris looked popular but unelectable, Rory was still a Tory, Ruth Davidson was still leading the Scottish Tories, the Prime Minister expected to obey the law, and Joanna Cherry had not block-booked the Court of Session. Nor had there been record attendances at AUOB marches across Scotland culminating in 200k-plus in Edinburgh. Actually, that massive turnout was predictable – but the rest? If anyone really thinks they saw the Boris and Dominic show coming back in February, they should give up politics and take up gambling.

The National: All Under One Banner's record-breaking march in Edinburgh. Photograph: Colin MearnsAll Under One Banner's record-breaking march in Edinburgh. Photograph: Colin Mearns (Image: Colin Mearns)

But a few issues of timing have been clear since March.

October 31 has long been the real Brexit deadline. So, this year’s SNP conference was always going to be held just before the dramatic crescendo of this long-running saga. A General Election was always on the cards – so too a shift in public opinion (albeit a painfully slow shift) towards a second, defining independence referendum. So, the big, significant moment falling towards Nicola Sturgeon next week has been very well signposted. The question is, what will she do with it?

Some will argue events are going the SNP’s way and that justifies the First Minister’s ultra-cautious approach. And who knows, that could be right.

But next week, the fates have bestowed upon the First Minister an opportunity to lead all opposition MPs on a path to clear up Brexit in the least damaging way and lock in Scotland’s right to hold indyref2. It’s the path towards a second referendum, not a General Election.

Bear with me.

THE downside of a General Election is the probability that although the SNP clean up in Scotland, Boris Johnson’s Conservative party will probably win big in England – a disastrous outcome for Brexit and indyref2. An increasing number of MPs are already devising an alternative strategy. Their plan is to seize control of the order paper next week; pass a vote of no confidence; remove Boris as Prime Minister and install Jeremy Corbyn or someone else as caretaker PM to ask the EU for another extension to hold a People’s Vote.

Of course, that’s fraught with difficulty. As things stand the only legitimate options on the ballot

paper would be Remain or Leave with No Deal, disenfranchising many voters who want something in between, and Jo Swinson’s still objecting to the presence of Jeremy Corbyn anywhere on the planet, let alone at the helm of a caretaker Government.

These disparate, relatively rudderless opposition groupings need leadership now – the kind Nicola Sturgeon can provide.

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So, the First Minister could use her leader’s speech on Tuesday to call for a second Brexit referendum, with just one redline – the requirement that opposition parties acknowledge Scotland’s right to hold another independence referendum too, at a time of Holyrood’s choosing.

If there are objections about a possible clash in the timing of two referendums, there can be negotiations.

It would make sense for Scotland to know the outcome of the People’s Vote, before heading back to the voting booths to decide on Scottish independence.

But this strategy has some advantages. It gets the SNP on the front foot, gets the party sounding more in command of proceedings than the fractious LibDems who possess only a fraction of the SNP’s strength at Westminster, and changes the language of supplication and kow-towing to Westminster that so riles Yes supporters. Instead of weakly asking for a Section 30 order, this strategy could return Scotland to an agreed process with Westminster in which the Scottish Government gets to choose the final date and words – as is its right.

Of course, sticking your heid out is risky.

Instead Sturgeon could use her leader’s speech to demand a General Election, in the fairly safe knowledge that the SNP are set to clean up. That would be perfectly legitimate, crowd-pleasing and headline-making.

But it might not be bold enough to unlock a solution to the Brexit crisis which also secures another official independence referendum.

It’s a very tough call. What will it be?