Paralysed by her one tired answer to every political question.

By Graham Grant

THE sound you heard yesterday when Nicola Sturgeon spoke about Brexit was the scraping of a barrel.

Most of the really good scare stories have been used up, short of fire raining from the skies, war, famine, pestilence…

So the First Minister had to dust off a script from over a year ago, homing in (again) on the prospect of financial disaster.

A new ‘economic impact analysis’ has predicted that without the shelter of the EU Single Market, Scotland’s GDP will take a hit of nearly £13billion by 2030.

It was all a bit familiar to those of us who recall the SNP’s Brexit ‘strategy’ back in December 2016 – one that was shot down within days by one of Miss Sturgeon’s own advisers.

Psychiatrists might diagnose an extreme case of ‘Brexit denial’, but there is also a sense that senior Nationalists aren’t keeping up with the news anymore.

Yesterday Miss Sturgeon was railing against the Tories’ ‘hard Brexit red-lines’, as if hard Brexit, after Theresa May’s numerous concessions to the EU last year, was still a serious possibility.

Like a jaded stand-up comedian in the twilight of their career, clinging to old material, and oblivious to the stony silence of the audience, the First Minister is reduced to trotting out the same old lines.

The reason she isn’t trading in her act is simple: the central mission of the SNP remains smashing apart the UK at all costs.

True, after the electoral backlash the party suffered last June, Miss Sturgeon hit the ‘snooze’ button on independence.

But the termination of the Union remains the SNP’s only answer to every question it faces.

Indeed, ask the First Minister: ‘What’s two plus two?’ and her reply would be: ‘Independence.’

This intellectual paralysis goes down well with the support base, itching for indyref2, and becoming increasingly disillusioned as the party’s great constitutional project apparently plummets down the list of priorities.

It’s also, frankly, a bore having to govern, particularly when the ‘Yoon’ media are constantly undermining your myriad achievements (baby boxes and, er, baby boxes…)

Sober economic analyses of the kind the SNP purported to produce yesterday are all very well, but where were they in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum?

Well, there was the White Paper, allegedly a blueprint for the break-up of the UK, but it was quickly exposed as a shoddy compendium of half-baked miscalculations and fantastical assumptions.

Even now, the Nationalists have no firm idea of what an independent Scotland’s currency would be.

These and other – fairly pivotal – matters are still under consideration by the SNP’s ‘growth commission’, led by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, expected to be published later this year.

Continuing to use Sterling in an independent Scotland is off the table, leaving a new Scottish unit of currency the only realistic option.

The idea that this nightmarish economic uncertainty is more palatable than Brexit to the bulk of the electorate is almost as baffling as the notion that it makes sense to destroy one Single Market (the UK’s), while remaining in the European one.

The SNP’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell warned yesterday that the ‘decisions taken in the next few months will be crucial for jobs, wages and opportunities for generations’ (remember though that the SNP has a unique definition of ‘generation’.)

But where was the concern for jobs on Sunday when Miss Sturgeon told Andrew Marr that later this year she would decide whether to hold another referendum?

She knows that every such statement has an economic impact (though don’t expect a Scottish Government analysis of it anytime soon).

More constitutional turmoil is the last thing businesses need at a time of looming tax rises.

Yet Miss Sturgeon assures us she will make a ‘judgment about the next steps for Scotland’ in the autumn, conveniently forgetting that she would need the consent of the UK Government for indyref2.

Mrs May rejected that idea following the last big push for another referendum last year – and is unlikely to be any more receptive to it in the autumn.

Like a Roman emperor giving a thumbs up or thumbs down in the gladiatorial arena, Miss Sturgeon believe she has supreme power – but in reality this is a matter ultimately beyond her control.

Indeed the Marr interview may prove to be the moment the SNP lost the next Holyrood election.

It sends an unmistakable signal to the electorate that the hierarchy of the Nationalist administration remains obsessed with the independence mission, and refuses to learn from its mistakes.

Voters also know they are being treated with naked contempt, and that agitating for indyref2 provides a helpful smoke-screen for the SNP’s disaster-ridden track record.

From the NHS to policing, this is a government that has run out of ideas, and is fast running out of public services to ruin (though that may be wishful thinking).

Historically, many voted for the SNP not because they believed in independence but because they believed the party would stand up for Scottish interests.

But this is a task now being performed far more effectively by Scottish Tory MPs, who secured a VAT exemption for crisis-stricken Police Scotland, and are now fighting to ensure Holyrood gets new powers as a result of Brexit.

Last week Livingston SNP MP Hannah Bardell gave us an example of the calibre of the party’s contribution to the Brexit debate, when she embarked on a Brexit-related rap in the Commons chamber.

The grammatically shaky lyric appeared to channel William McGonagall: ‘LGBT rights, workers’ rights, equal pay, all important things the EU has paved the way’.

This episode, which seems like a bad dream but for which video evidence (sadly) exists, became even more dispiriting once I’d seen the new movie about Winston Churchill – Darkest Hour – last Friday.

Churchill promised never to surrender, and offered his ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ in the battle against Nazism.

These days, we have Glasgow East SNP MP David Linden attempting to ‘beat box’ to his colleague’s lamentable rap.

Then there was their colleague Pete Wishart, who boasted last week that he had outfoxed the Prime Minister by asking her to grade her Brexit performance from one to 10.

The Perth and North Perthshire MP held up a Eurovision-style ‘Nul Points’ card during an ill-advised Commons stunt, oblivious to the fact that ‘nul’ isn’t a number between one and 10 (surely all committed Europhiles should know such a basic fact).

Vaudevillian nonsense of this kind suggests that the SNP believes no-one is watching its woeful parliamentarians make fools of themselves – or perhaps it no longer cares.

After a wasted decade in government, the SNP is facing its own darkest hour – and filling it with the same old grandstanding, scaremongering and empty threats.

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