HOW do you solve a problem like Nicola? How do you keep a wave of support for independence from the sand?

These are the questions with which Number 10 is currently grappling, as poll after poll reveals Scotland wants out.

Up until now, Boris Johnson’s answer has been simply to reply “no” to the First Minister’s request for a Section 30 order, then to work his socks off as “Minister for the Union” to prove to us Scots the benefits of remaining part of the United Kingdom.

I jest, of course – he’s done nothing of the sort, and clearly has no intention of doing so either. His socks have little Union flags on them, his idea of charming Scotland involves dismissing our MPs with a wave of his hand, and increasingly even the most dedicated Unionist commentators are struggling to articulate any benefits to Scotland of maintaining the status quo.

Johnson is showing his love for our country by allegedly holidaying here, socially distancing himself so successfully that no-one has managed to spot him. Only time, and the presence or absence of midgie bites, will tell. You can hide, but you can’t outrun those wee devils.

Regardless of whether the Prime Minister is truly under canvas or actually in an underground strategy bunker, one thing is certain – his thoughts will be turning to ways he might be able to rig indyref2.

While some – including Nicola Sturgeon – have suggested Johnson’s “once-in-a-generation”/”you’ll have had your referendum” position will simply becoming untenable as support for independence rises, others have expressed doubt. Will public pressure really force him to accept that now is, in fact, the time? Or is it more likely that he’ll simply carry on in the same vein, insisting the matter was settled in 2014 and that’s the end of that?

Only time will tell, but’s surely significant that the likes of Andrew Neil are now floating suggestions for ensuring the right kind of Scottish people vote in a second referendum. Because this presupposes that a second referendum will take place.

The trick now might be for Johnson to agree to indyref2 but with so many unreasonable conditions attached that Nicola Sturgeon cannot accept. Just imagine if the SNP decline to play ball – we would never hear the end of it. Every week at PMQs the Prime Minister would have another joke about “bottling it” or “chickening out” lined up. He would claim the SNP have merely been bluffing all this time, and are too scared to agree to a fresh vote. Put up or shut up, he’d tell them. You had your chance.

He might go further and echo what some within their own ranks have already said out loud – that perhaps some SNP politicians have become too comfortable with the status quo. If they’re not careful, some of the more impatient supporters of independence might find themselves writing Johnson’s scripts.

So what conditions might be scrawled into the margins of any Section 30 order Boris Johnson is likely to have drafted? How much would the much-trumpeted “gold standard” have to be tarnished before it would be glaringly obvious to any international observer that this was a travesty of democracy?

READ MORE: Michael Gove ‘appears to accept’ indyref2 is coming by liking tweet

The UK media versions of Statler and Waldorf have this week shouted from the balcony that people not living in Scotland should be given votes, in light of the fact that people living here seem intent on making the wrong choice. “Scots living elsewhere in the UK MUST have a vote,” tweeted George Galloway, before Neil weighed in with a “simple test” of Scottishness that could be applied to make this dream a reality. The criteria would be that an individual was born in Scotland and was on the UK electoral register. “End of,” he added.

Anyone with a smart meter who has tried to change energy supplier via a price comparison website will have a healthy suspicion of claims that any technical process is “simple(s)”. And if manipulating the franchise is suddenly a viable approach to democracy in the UK, may I propose removing from the electoral roll anyone who ends a tweet, or any sentence, with the words “end of”?

The problem with politics – for the likes of Galloway and Neil, and also Michael Gove, who weighed in to say Galloway was asking an “interesting question” – is that it doesn’t just end once you get the result you want. If it did, Galloway would still be an MP, Neil would have dodged the humiliation of being stood up by Johnson in December, and Gove wouldn’t be destined to go down in history as part of the UK Government that irretrievably alienated the country of his birth.

Oddly, enough, the opinions of Scottish people on how we should be governed did not end with the election (by voters in another country) of a Prime Minister who displays open contempt for us at every opportunity.

It’s surely no coincidence that this open talk of moving the goalposts and rigging indyref2 has started the minute Johnson is nowhere to be found. Who knows what other schemes he’s cooking up on his camping stove? Make no mistake – this is just the beginning.