THEY didn’t know what had hit them.

That was the review of one photographer, who was standing outside the Scottish Parliament building on Tuesday, of the opposition’s response to the First Minister’s major indyref2 announcement today.

It seems unlikely Labour or the Scottish Tories felt prepared enough to deal with the Government’s plans for a second vote.

In an unusually lively Holyrood – one hack remarked it was the busiest they’d seen since before the pandemic – Sturgeon put forward a serious case for a second referendum – and how Scotland will get there.

SNP politicians washing their hands in the bogs near the debating chamber remarked to each other it was “a big day” – quite the understatement. The First Minister has outlined the independence movement’s battle strategy.

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While remaining “open” to negotiations around a Section 30 order – which Westminster is certain to reject – Sturgeon announced the publication of a new bill legislating for a second referendum.

In the meantime, the Lord Advocate has referred the legislation to the Supreme Court – drawing the UK Government into a legal battle with Holyrood it isn’t certain to win.

And, should the Supreme Court restrain the Scottish Government from a second referendum, this would prove the Union was not “a partnership of equals”, said Sturgeon, who said in this event the next General Election would be fought as a “de-facto” independence referendum.

But the opposition had little of use to say. Their prepared lines of attack failed to address key parts of the statement.

Scotty Tory leader Douglas Ross attempted a jibe about a “possibly illegal” referendum – but even to the Unionist die-hards it won’t have landed.

The purpose of the court case, thought to be settled later this year, is to settle questions around competence and legality outside of the party political sphere.

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Ross attempted to paint the supposed walk-out of members of the public in the viewing gallery as evidence of the public’s weariness of a second referendum.

Given that the Scottish Daily Express reported last week that Unionist Twitter was abuzz with plans to do so, it looks less like an expression of the public mood than a stunt by fringe elements of the debate. That’s if it even happened.

Eyewitnesses loitering outside the building told The National they hadn’t noticed any great outpouring of people as the First Minister took to her feet. And protesters were noticeably absent.

“Even the cops were surprised there was no-one protesting,” said one source.

Anas Sarwar, leader of Scottish Labour, conceded it was “important to establish the legal basis of a referendum”, but fell back onto arguments so tired even he seemed bored of giving them that “now is not the time”.

But the time is now, countered Sturgeon, citing the examples of Brexit, Tory austerity and the urgent cost of living crisis.

She said: “What I am not willing to do, what I will never do is allow Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson or any prime minister.”