“Just heard someone use the word ‘Brextension’ and think I finally lost the will to live.”

IN the midst of all yesterday’s hysteria about ruling out a no-deal Brexit, this tweet conveyed more than just passing frustration. It conjured up the despair and punch-drunk detachment felt by (perhaps) a majority of voters as politicians fail to do the one thing they’re paid to do – take important, strategic decisions responsibly on behalf of the British people.

But losing the will to live in the face of Brexit raises some big questions too – especially in Remain-voting Scotland.

How can half of all Scots look the Brexit debacle in the face and conclude that staying in the UK is a safer bet than independence? When people shrug and say,“I wish they would just get on with it” are they really thinking – if we must have our economy and society torn to pieces can you do it quickly please? Do folk have such a profound belief in the (deeply) hidden skills of the elite running Britain? Has the sedating spirit of “Keep Calm and Carry On” jumped from fridge magnets into people’s souls? Has chronic passivity engendered by centuries of safe seats and first-past-the-post voting turned voters into disengaged consumers who won’t run for the fire exit even when an actual blaze is crackling all around?

In short, why aren’t Scots queuing up to leave the Union right now?

After all, Brexit has shone a floodlight on the incompetence, bad faith, double standards, greed, self-interest and acts of crass stupidity of both main parties at Westminster. Yet this hasn’t prompted a headlong desire amongst swithering No voters to launch the lifeboats and leave UK waters – at least according to most opinion polls.

That’s strange.

Over the past three years, we’ve had the opposite of Project Fear with prominent Unionists arguing that Brexit will break up the UK. It started with David Cameron during the campaign itself, and in 2017 Tony Blair weighed in, claiming the case for Scottish independence was “much more credible” since the Brexit vote.

We’ve also witnessed an important change towards an iScotland by the EU itself. In 2014, leading players suggested a breakaway Scotland would be frozen out of Europe. By 2017 that had changed. Even the Spanish foreign minister could state that his government would not veto any application from an independent Scotland. Indeed, sources expect a bidding war to break out between the EU and rival trading bloc EFTA for the valuable prize of Scottish membership. It just hasn’t happened yet.

It’s also clear now that Donald Trump isn’t riding to the rescue of Brexiting Britain or the beleaguered Theresa May. American commentators believed that US endorsement of Brexit would act as a game-changer, putting the UK on the front foot in EU negotiations and encouraging other countries to make bilateral trade deals. A “special relationship” between May and Trump might have alienated Scots, but would certainly have boosted prospects of heady post-Brexit prosperity. That illusion is now as dead as May’s deal. So why do the polls suggest many Scots voters are sticking with the Union, through thick and thin?

Firstly, the two referendums and the issues they tackle are very different. The indyref touched on primal issues of national identity, something people don’t quickly change their minds about. Brexit, by comparison, has been a less emotional and more technical discussion – north of the Border at least. So maybe Brexit chaos doesn’t automatically translate into changed emotional feelings about national identity amongst Scottish voters.

There’s another thing. Nicola Sturgeon recently observed: “Scots are generally used to living with and being quite comfortable with multiple identities. We are Scottish, British and European. This idea that you have to pick one over the other is something I don’t think many people (here) really lose sleep over. But these days in the United Kingdom, it is all about picking one over the other.”

Perhaps the perception of a binary choice about national identity over Brexit has fuelled the flames of that debate in England, while “mutliglot” Scots don’t believe they really have to choose between their Scottish and British identities – yet. And since “Britishness” has partly been forged through opposition to hostile, “foreign” continental ways, the apparent intransigence of the EU may have bolstered feelings of “Britishness” among Scotland’s Leave voters.

Second, is the perceived problem of Scots negotiators dealing with the self-interested, dismissive, stubborn and hostile Westminster establishment that’s been unmasked by Brexit.

The idea of trying to negotiate an independence deal with that multi-headed hydra probably fills some Scots with despair. And whilst calamitous polls putting the Tories ahead at UK level make Yessers certain the British political system is hopelessly broken, swithering No voters may see a different message altogether – that the Tory stranglehold over English public opinion is almost indestructible and will make negotiating independence a gey tough job. It will, but it’s a job that can be done. Still, who is opening up and tackling these fears? Currently no-one.

Third, there’s an issue over priorities. The SNP’s policy of trying to stop a hard Brexit and win a People’s Vote for the whole UK suggests a pecking order in which Britain’s fate comes first and Scotland’s second. I understand why that’s happened – being harnessed (even short term) to a failing UK economy with a “hard” border isn’t the ideal start for a new state. Soon, though, it won’t matter if the new-born Scotland faces the frostiest conditions. Once the Scottish Government is certain the UK is beyond saving itself – and that will happen any day – its priorities must change. Occasional independence name-checks are not enough. We need a new independence strategy for these new circumstances.

NOT least because the current default is indy lite – the softy, softly strategy promoted for two and a half years by Alex Salmond. He suggested Scotland and England would be fellow EU members, share a common currency, a royal family and access to the BBC.

Independence now means England and Scotland will have different trading relationships, different currencies and different loyalties.

It’ll take more than a partial rethink on currency to make hesitant voters get their heids round such a different scenario. Of course, there’s a strong case for this realistic “hard” Scotexit from the UK – it just isn’t being made right now.

And that’s the main reason the polls are sticky.

Constant exposure to Ukip’s “Land of Hope and Glory” narrative has helped normalise it (aided by the BBC and most big newspapers). We have all glimpsed their promised land, had to hear their obsessions, consider their small but awkward grains of truth and learn their red lines. The case for a no-deal Brexit has been articulated regularly and unapologetically and been taken seriously by critics. Compare and contrast the case for Scottish independence.

What exactly is it now?

What is the dream?

What is its strength?

Someone must strategise, popularise, describe and normalise Scotland’s alternative future outside the UK – and if that isn’t Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, it must be a reinvigorated Yes movement.

With uncertainty all around, the undecided are understandably frightened about taking a new direction that’s advocated only occasionally and half-heartedly without a clear destination, game-plan and strong, confident leadership. The important thing right now is not overcoming every difficulty facing indyref2 in a oner – it is creating momentum, so that all Scots are actively considering the case for constitutional change. That doesn’t need a date. Or even 60% in the polls. It needs a destination and a vision. Now.

Lesley Riddoch produces a 50 minute weekly podcast with Pat Joyce every Monday. Downloadable via https://www.lesleyriddoch.com/2019/03/samantogether.html