IN news that will come as a shock to absolutely no-one, Boris Johnson has said a big fat stinking no to indyref2.

It took the Prime Minister more than a month to reply to Nicola Sturgeon’s call for the powers to hold a legally watertight referendum to be devolved to Holyrood.

The National: Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon

And that reply, when it came, was brief, consisting of just eight sentences.

Even then it was still probably seven sentences longer than it needed to be.

Does this mean no indyref in the second half of this year, as Sturgeon had argued for? That’s always seemed unlikely, if not impossible.

Yet, SNP ministers insisted yesterday that a poll could still be on the cards in the autumn.

Michael Russell told ITV Border: “I intend to deliver it, because it’s the right thing to do. And it’s the right thing to do because it ends the uncertainty. It is really important the uncertainty comes to an end.”

It’s not entirely clear how that vote can happen.

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Just about every lawyer in the land has said there’s no legal route here, that the answer is purely political.

Sturgeon has said the Scottish Government will set out its “response and next steps later this month” so perhaps we’ll see what’s up her sleeve then.

But the truth is that it’s hard to see how we can have a vote on independence before next year’s Holyrood election. And that seems to have been on the mind of the Tories.

Last month, when asked about the length of time it was taking for the Prime Minister to respond, Alister Jack, his Secretary of State for Scotland insisted it was because Johnson was giving “careful consideration” to the SNP leader’s request for a Section 30 order.

That careful consideration, it seems, probably had less to do with Sturgeon’s request and more to do with Labour’s existential crisis on the constitution.

The Prime Minister was likely carefully considering whether or not Richard Leonard and whoever replaces Jeremy Corbyn will get utterly thumped next year, and whether that massacre leaves a pretty solid block of Unionist votes up for grabs.

That may be why Johnson’s letter seems to confirm a toughening up of the Tory position.

Under Theresa May, the answer when she was asked about a referendum was only ever “now is not the time” suggesting that at some point, now would be the time.

The National: Former prime minister Theresa May

In his missive, Johnson rejects it for “a generation”.

When interim Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw was asked how long a generation was during the General Election campaign, he said the 40 years between the UK’s two European referendums seemed like a “fine definition”.

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Over the weekend, the Scottish Secretary even suggested that the next vote shouldn’t be until “a lifetime has passed”.

That was despite him saying just last month that an SNP majority for indyref2 would need to be won at the 2021 Holyrood election.

There’s a middle ground of voters who don’t have strong opinions on the constitution. They are neither Tory nor SNP.

They’re going to be squeezed pretty hard between now and May 2021 and it’s going to be hard not to have a strong opinion on the constitution.