SINCE last June’s Brexit vote Nationalists have made much of Better Together’s claim during the first independence referendum that only voting “No” would preserve Scotland’s place in the European Union.

Although it didn’t feature as prominently as some claim to remember, given subsequent events – which culminated in the triggering of Article 50 last week – it’s a justified line of attack.

At the same time, it conveniently distracts attention from the fact Yes campaign assurances about EU membership were also nonsense. These maintained that an independent Scotland would "automatically" become the 29th member state, even though most expert opinion, and indeed the Scottish Government’s own advice, said it would not.

Now that, along with several other cast-iron pledges in the White Paper, was abandoned long ago. And, interestingly, not only does the word “automatic” no longer pass SNP ministers’ lips, but they’re increasingly circumspect when asked what an independent Scotland’s approach would be to the EU following a referendum victory.

Following last month’s SNP conference, several London-based interviewers (please forgive me for sounding like Alex Salmond) asked the First Minister if an independent Scotland would seek to rejoin the EU, to which she answered “yes”. The better questions, however, were “when” and “how”?

In other interviews, Nicola Sturgeon was a little more honest. Emphasising that while her “preference” was for an independent Scotland to become a full member of the EU, she would also set out “the route, the process and the transition” necessary to reach that point. Her predecessor, meanwhile, has spoken of “an interim arrangement through EFTA” (the European Free Trade Association).

The SNP, in other words, is in the process of reformulating its long-standing policy of Independence in Europe. EU membership will remain, but as more of an ultimate goal rather than an immediate priority. Ironically, the shift comes just as an independent Scotland’s path to being a member state in its own right is becoming clearer, not least the Spanish government’s assurance that it wouldn’t exercise its veto on Scotland becoming a member.

Of course, the “pivot”, as one former adviser has described it to me, will be dressed up as smart political pragmatism, just as the party’s U-turn on NATO membership was back in 2012. And, as ever, this typically Nationalist piece of triangulation has little to do with principle and everything to do with political expediency.

There’s a reason that Ms Sturgeon moved from promising last summer to protect Scotland’s place in the EU to talking about the single market instead. Since the 1990s, the SNP has been a diligent observer of public opinion, generally seeking to align the party with what might be called the Scottish mainstream, in order to attract as much support as possible.

This is why Professor John Curtice’s recent piece of work on public attitudes to Brexit and what comes next is so instructive, chiefly the apparently surprising finding that most voters in Scotland, just like their counterparts in the rest of the UK, would like to maintain free trade with Europe but abandon freedom of movement. There is little appetite, meanwhile, for a differential Brexit deal as envisaged by the Scottish Government.

But, then, it’s always been the case that the Scottish mainstream was less Eurosceptic than England rather than genuinely Europhilic. And while initially it seemed even the cool-headed First Minister had bought a little too much into her party’s hype about Scotland being an “ancient European nation”, subsequent focus grouping must have revealed that more nuanced reality.

There’s also the electoral dimension. The phenomenon of Yes-Leavers has been widely documented, those who – with a degree of intellectual consistency – desire to leave both the British and European unions. In order to stand any chance of building a majority for independence by 2020-21 (which still seems the most likely timescale for a second referendum), the SNP needs to keep hold of their sovereignty purists.

Although membership of EFTA would involve ceding a degree of sovereignty, the calculation is that Yes-Leavers could stomach the single market more than the institutions of the EU, while by framing that as the most important aspect of Scotland’s “relationship with Europe” (to quote the FM again), the SNP hopes to keep on board Yes-Remainers.

On immigration, it looks likely there’ll be a similar fudge: Nationalists have already started talking about attracting “skilled” migrants to Scotland, hinting at a points-based system which, after all, formed part of the 2013 White Paper. Thus Guardian-reading types will be reassured that an independent Scotland will be more migrant friendly while those who devour the Daily Mail will get the message that only “good” migrants will be allowed in.

Aiming for membership of EFTA rather than the EU also has the added bonus of not erecting troublesome trading barriers, allowing a newly-independent Scotland to trade unimpeded with both the UK and European markets. Now this all makes a lot of sense. It just happens to be completely incompatible with decades of SNP policy and, more to the point, arguments made as recently as last year that anything less than full EU membership would be catastrophic for Scotland.

But then when, to quote the Labour MSP Johann Lamont in last week’s Holyrood debate, one is used witnessing the SNP’s “end goal hunting around for a principle”, it isn’t that surprising. When independence is the answer to every question, nothing – not even EU membership – is a matter of principle.

The pivot clearly makes the apparently straight-talking First Minister uncomfortable, which was obvious from her reaction when it was raised by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie at Holyrood, and indeed when she refused to be drawn by informed questioning from a New York Times reporter ahead of her US trip.

Ironically, it also leaves both the Prime Minister and First Minister pursuing similar aims, ie the most beneficial possible access to the single market short of full EU membership. And while “independence in EFTA” isn’t much of a rallying cry, it’ll be much harder for Unionists to attack and cast doubt upon if there’s another independence referendum.

But what, I wonder, is the First Minister going to say to all those people intending to vote Yes as a means of keeping Scotland in the EU?

I’m sure her industrious spin doctors are already preparing some creative lines.