AFTER three-and-a-half years of the UK’s never-ending Brexit saga, the election has suddenly cut all that debate adrift. No more analysis of whether Westminster will ever agree what it’s for on Brexit (a deal, a people’s vote or remain) and not just what it’s against (no deal). Election debates are only just getting going but there’s been more competitive spending promises so far than forensic inspection of Boris Johnson’s deal or passionate rallying cries for another EU referendum.

Yet whatever the composition of the new parliament, it won’t look like the old one, especially on the Tory side, with a more homogenous bunch of Brexiter MPs ready to vote for Mr Johnson’s deal within days if they win – never mind detailed scrutiny or safeguards for workers’ or environmental rights. If it’s a hung parliament, and a Labour minority government, then some of the vanished debates will be back. Can a Corbyn-led government get by with the support of the LibDems, SNP and others? Will there be another referendum – and will it be remain this time?

These are the most crucial political questions. This is a Brexit election par excellence. And, surely, the UK’s Brexit ground hog day has to end soon – whether by leaving or remaining in the EU. But if the UK does leave under a majority Johnson government, aided by Nigel Farage’s Brexit party stepping back in 317 seats, there’s little risk of Brexit withdrawal symptoms. Debates on future UK EU trade deals, transition periods and looming no -deal options will carry on for months and years ahead.

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Yet so far Brexit has been rather on the sidelines. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is putting independence

first and foremost, insisting that is the path for Scotland to escape a Brexit it didn’t vote for and has been little consulted on. True, stopping Brexit is still there: the SNP will back remain and support a people’s vote.

But the SNP’s previous unconditional support for another EU referendum now looks at best shaky. Ms Sturgeon is clear she expects a commitment to a second independence referendum out of a Corbyn minority government before helping to keep it afloat. Whether SNP MPs would really, in such a scenario, cut off their noses to spite their faces and oppose another EU vote without the promise of an independence referendum is a crunch question. But expect only tough talk on this during the campaign.

The independence debate has also scared off some of the tactical voting groups. Best for Britain and the People’s Vote campaign are both focusing on England and Wales alone. It’s only Gina Miller’s ‘remain united’ site that is suggesting tactical voters support the SNP in all 13 Tory seats – while standing back from recommendations where it’s a clear two-way fight between the SNP, Labour or LibDems.

It’s possible the strong SNP rhetoric around having another independence referendum in 2020 will put off some remain voters from voting SNP. But a tactical vote now doesn’t preclude a No vote in an independence referendum. And it’s inevitable that all the parties will claim their voting tallies as full support for their policies – it’s part of the discomfort of tactical voting.

The Tories do, of course, want a Brexit election. Mr Johnson has been gaming for a “get Brexit done”, people versus parliament election since he took over the Tory reins in July. And the Scottish Tories will certainly play the unionist card too. . But the real question, speaking to the state of our democracy as much as to the UK’s chaotic Brexit politics, is whether Mr Johnson’s Brexit will get the scrutiny it should have.

Mr Johnson undermined his “get Brexit done” line by going for an election rather than pushing his deal through Westminster. Parliament, after all, gave it a majority at second reading. But in the process, he avoided forensic scrutiny of his deal.

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So far, we’ve seen Johnson make inaccurate claims on Britain-Northern Ireland trade under his deal. There will be a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea – though the detail of the deal means that border will be harder going from Britain to Northern Ireland than vice versa. Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of genuine interest in Brexit and his eurosceptic leanings may let Mr Johnson off the hook even while also forcing debate on to safer Labour territory, not least the NHS. Labour’s latest Brexit position – to renegotiate a “better” Brexit deal then put it to a referendum with a remain option – is clear enough while also bizarre in not saying which of these two options they would then back. And its ‘not quite free movement’, migration policy suggests a Corbyn deal might not be so very different in essence from Theresa May’s unloved one.

Mr Corbyn claims, not unreasonably, he could agree a new version of a Brexit deal and hold a referendum in six months – assuming, crucially, the EU agrees to extend Article 50 to allow this. But it’s a fudge and doesn’t inspire confidence on Mr Corbyn adeptly holding Mr Johnson to account over his deal, whether on how many years it will take to agree the future UK-EU relationship, the high costs of Johnson’s hard Brexit, or the Irish Sea border..

This, of course, is where the LibDems step in. They are pro-remain. They would revoke Article 50 if they could, back a people’s vote otherwise. They wouldn’t support another independence referendum, any more than they’d accept the fracturing of the UK implied by a customs border in the Irish Sea.

The LibDems stand where both the Tory and Labour parties would have once stood – pro-EU and pro-UK. Yet on Brexit, they sound, ironically, most like the SNP – both clearly pro-remain, and if needed pro- another EU vote.

But the route to remain needs, first, a minority Labour government and then, most probably, both SNP and LibDem support. Mr Corbyn will have to be an adept alliance maker if he is not to alienate one of the two other parties over allowing or not allowing another independence referendum.

But if a chance to stop Brexit foundered over a LibDem-SNP clash over independence, it would be shocking indeed. And if Brexit goes ahead under a Johnson government, the LibDems will need a new EU policy – while the SNP’s independence in the EU line will already have been well road-tested.

It is a Brexit election. But it’s also an election that will challenge the UK union in multiple ways. And whatever the results on Friday 13th December, we will continue to live in interesting times.

Kirsty Hughes is the director of Scottish Centre on European Relations.