Remember that not long ago, the UK Government was happy to let it be known the First Minister of Scotland was barred from meeting the Prime Minister. Months could pass without high level meetings between the Scottish and UK Governments.
Until the end of last year, Downing Street wasn’t keen on having Sturgeon around because with Brexit in chaos, all it did was give the SNP leader a chance to trash Theresa May in front of the cameras outside Number 10’s door, unanswered.
This week, the UK Government issued the First Minister a special invitation. Devolved administrations were offered an “enhanced role” in Brexit talks and a seat on a key Cabinet sub-committee that will lead preparations for EU exit.
The photo op now benefits both sides. Why? Because Downing Street and the SNP know they’re fighting a different battle. The war for Brexit is nearly over. They know the fight over indyref2 is upon us. Sturgeon was already struggling to resist vocal demands to produce a roadmap to a second independence referendum from her own supporters and parliamentarians. The outcome of Brexit will force her hand, in any case.
Influential Scots in the UK Government know it needs better ammunition to fight the inevitable demand for another vote. David Mundell has written to the Prime Minister saying as much, and on Wednesday, both sides tested their new lines. Senior UK Government sources say they are ready. “Bring it on,” one told me – the fight about the referendum, not vote itself. Expect the Downing Street line against indyref2 to harden further.
The path to a second independence referendum is at least as long and winding as the one the UK has followed towards Brexit day. Indyref2 might never happen. But whether the campaign ever begins in earnest, the phoney war started this week.