WHAT did we actually expect? As the clock ticked closer to decision time on Tuesday night, it felt a bit like the countdown to Hogmanay. We all knew Theresa May’s deal would go down as certainly as a New Year follows the final stroke of midnight on December 31. But how bad a defeat and what would happen in its immediate aftermath? Surely to God, something new?

Well yes – Jeremy Corbyn did call a vote of no confidence. But even though he’s insisted he’d chose a time when the vote was likely to be won, the vote was lost.

Corbyn’s performance at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday was a blend of puzzlement and farce. Despite the previous night’s catastrophic defeat, the Labour leader attacked deficiencies in public services prompting Theresa May to duck, weave and insist that Labour’s plans would bankrupt Britain. Add in the usual assortment of backbench MPs asking lame questions about small but doubtless important projects in their own constituencies and the picture was complete. Business as usual. Politics on autopilot.

A choreographed dance between supposed political antagonists who cannot drop their old dance routines even at a time of national crisis.

A game. Only the SNP’s Ian Blackford broke the spell with a pointed, practical demand to suspend Article 50 and move to a People’s Vote. As ever, his contribution went unheeded.

So the meaningful vote has turned out to be pretty meaningless and we are – as Sean O’Casey memorably stated in Juno and the Paycock “in a terrible state o’ chassis.”

His combination of chaos and stasis is a descriptively Irish term for a classically British condition.

Only a UK Prime Minister could have the biggest defeat in parliamentary history and bounce straight back as if nothing had happened. But then her government has already been found in contempt of parliament for the first time ever – and carried on regardless.

There’s something very wrong about this.

Defeat should hurt. The government should be blooded. Losing the confidence of the Commons should mean something. But just like an arthritic patient whose reflexes fail to respond to a sharp tap on the knee, the British Government stotters on impervious to all changes in circumstance.

And after all, why should they change their tune when no-one else has?

The Brexiteers are strangely jubilant. Boris Johnson has announced that this “bigger defeat than people have been expecting”, gives the Prime Minister a “massive mandate to go back to Brussels”.

Really? Nothing Theresa May has said to date has made the slightest impact on the unity and resolve of European politicians but somehow crushing defeat lets Europe know it really is time for last-minute concessions on the Irish backstop and the £39 billion withdrawal payment.

Within hours, a terse communique from Jean-Claude Juncker put a stop to that fantasy, declaring “time is almost up.” Nice one Boris.

Meanwhile, Theresa May’s talk about reaching out to opposition parliamentarians seems to be code for talking to anyone but Jeremy Corbyn and Ian Blackford.

Call me old-fashioned, but why would opposition MPs bypass their own leaders to resurrect a deal that’s dead? Of course Theresa doesn’t mean all opposition parties – she really means the DUP, which operates with the same air of lofty detachment as herself.

Northern Irish opinion is shifting rapidly to Remain, a People’s Vote or even a border poll on reunification but the only politicians given airtime on TV are still fighting the very backstop most of their constituents crave.

READ MORE: Rejected Brexit deal could come back to Commons as May digs in over red lines

Meanwhile in Dover House, Fluffy has also been cooking up a new-sounding version of his old position. “The withdrawal agreement has been negotiated and won’t be changed but clarifications might be possible ...” Incredible.

But he’s in good company. Another nine of his Scottish Tory MP colleagues voted for the deal their English colleagues couldn’t stomach. Talk about being on the wrong side of history.

Then there’s Jeremy Corbyn, hanging onto his General Election strategy as doggedly as Theresa May clings onto her dead deal. It’s like a crazy parliamentary dance-off where each knackered leader must stay on their feet to win. All semblance of a dance has gone, all grace, shape and optimism has departed – it’s just a grim fight for survival and “victory” so that whoever outlasts the other can face the united brick wall of the EU again. Or choose between the same Brexit options that have existed for the last two years. Knock yourselves out.

Apparently Corbyn intends to keep coming back with “no-confidence” votes till he wins. Many Labour MPs see that as a confidence trick, designed to stall the Brexit process approved by the party conference, which demands a second referendum once any General Election bid has failed. The outspoken and impressive London Labour MP David Lammy says that if Corbyn continues to “vacillate”, party members will become very unhappy. Too late.

They already are. So are disillusioned Remain voters in England who feel they have no party to vote for now save the LibDems, who have no chance of winning a first-past-the-post election. The only prospect for change seems to be with individual MPs making cross-party common cause. The “Grieve” amendment was a start but there’s plenty more where that came from.

A takeover of parliamentary procedure may yet happen on Monday – and the idea of forming a cross-party emergency executive is still sitting in the wings.

But MPs need to agree on a single preferred destination and as yet, the numbers aren’t quite there behind a People’s Vote. It seems that the red herring of Norway Plus will have to be put to bed first, before minds are properly concentrated.

On the face of it, Norway-plus looks inviting.

Rejoining Efta would let the UK remain inside the European single market and enjoy genuinely frictionless trade, leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the common agricultural and fisheries policies and be free of the drive towards “ever closer union” from the end of 2020.

And the “plus” bit – remaining in a temporary customs union – would allow goods to join services enjoying business as (almost) normal instead of the impending chaos of a no-deal Brexit. But the price is high. The Norway-plus deal means accepting freedom of movement and “rule-taking” from Brussels while paying 75-85% of full membership fees – can that really be sold to feverishly anti-immigration, Brexit-ready English voters?

There’s another wee problem with the Norway-plus option. Norway will block it. Before Christmas, Heidi Nordby Lunde, Norwegian Conservative MP and president of Norway’s European Movement, kicked British membership of the Efta roundly into touch, telling Channel 4: “I’m sceptic to letting the UK into the Efta family because it’s kind of like having an abusive partner spiking the drinks and inviting them to the Christmas party.”

When asked if she felt Britain would upset the balance in that group, she added: “I think you would mess it all up for us, the way you have messed it up for yourselves.”

She’s not wrong. Of course, these major impediments won’t stop another week of “chassis” while hapless Tories engineer a parliamentary feeding frenzy over the unworkable Norway Plus option.

But one thing is clear.

Article 50 needs to be extended beyond March 29 to enable any alternative to a no-deal Brexit – precisely what Nicola Sturgeon called for six months ago.

In fact, the only upside of the current mess is that Scotland’s First Minister has been proved

right all along – right to have acted like a grown up government, publishing an alternative plan in 2016, right to have opposed Theresa May’s deal, right

to have joined the campaign for a People’s Vote and right to have announced yesterday that an indyref2 timetable will now come within “weeks”.

What we are witnessing at Westminster is game-playing by two failing Unionist parties.

It is up to the SNP to refocus minds on the important things – extracting Britain from Brexit “chassis” and re-launching the campaign for Scottish independence.