BORIS Johnson didn’t do much to dispel his reputation for laziness yesterday, as he launched the Scottish Tory manifesto in Fife. He read out, almost word for word, the speech he gave in Sheffield on Sunday. Even the jokes were the same: “Corbyn: he used to be indecisive, now he’s not so sure”.

The PM hadn’t bothered to mug up Tory city deals in Scotland, and during questions had to phone a friend, in the shape of the Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack. Every now and then Mr Johnson vaguely remembered where he was and railed against the Corbyn-Sturgeon “nightmare on Downing Street”, while wagging the Scottish Tory Manifesto, “No2Indyref2”.

The surprising thing, perhaps, was that he was there at all. The Prime Minister is almost as unpopular in Scotland as Jeremy Corbyn, who side-stepped Scottish Labour’s manifesto launch. Mr Johnson currently scores a rating of minus 34. “Well, that’s something we can build on”, he said, gamely at the press conference. Perhaps– then again perhaps not

The former London Mayor seems to embody everything Scottish voters loathe about the English public school elite. After he won the leadership just over 100 days ago many Scottish Tory supporters despaired. Those 12 gains in the 2017 election began to look like a brief remission from a terminal illness.

READ MORE: 'It is my intention to have an independence referendum next year' - Nicola Sturgeon 

The final nail in the Scottish Tory coffin was banged home in late August, many believed, when Ruth Davidson, their beloved leader, went off to spend more time with her family (and with her new PR consultancy, as it turned out). She had been credited with almost single-handedly making it respectable to vote Tory again in Scotland.

Leaderless, reviled and under the shadow of the mop-haired Bullingdonian, the Scottish Conservatives looked extinction in the face. Quite literally, since some started reassessing the idea hatched by the former deputy leader, Murdo Fraser, cutting free and becoming a different party in Scotland.

Now, only a couple of months later they are suddenly looking, if not exactly cheerful, then certainly capable of a brave face. This is not just because a weekend opinion poll suggested they were up seven per cent, or because Nicola Sturgeon got a pasting from Andrew Neil on the BBC. The reason the Tories feel back in the race is that they’ve realised they’re fighting a different election in Scotland.

In the UK, this election is essentially about Brexit ; in Scotland it is increasingly about independence. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has made it so by repeatedly declaring that an SNP victory on December 12 would be a mandate for an independence referendum next year.

So what, you say? Doesn’t the SNP always say that? It has mandates coming out of its ears from 2015/2016/2017 and it hasn’t done it a lot of good. True, but it has never been endorsed by Labour before.

READ MORE: Johnson rules out referendums even if Tories fail to win majority

Mr Corbyn hasn’t exactly been crystal clear about when he would permit a referendum, but he’s been clear that it’s on the table. The shift in policy took place during the Edinburgh Festival when the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, said Labour would not “stand in the way” of Indyref2.

The decision to open the door to a second independence referendum has dramatically altered the political landscape in Scotland. For the first time since 2014, a second independence referendum is now a real possibility.

Ms Sturgeon has ruled out supporting a Johnson government – as much out of her personal loathing for the man as his rejection of Indyref2. But she is already speculating about her demands for supporting a Corbyn administration, perhaps on a confidence and supply basis.

Mr Corbyn has effectively ruled out a referendum on Ms Sturgeon’s timetable, but I think both sides realise privately that a referendum next year is not plausible. Ms Sturgeon knows, and everyone else knows, that the priority for a Labour government would be negotiating a new deal with Brussels and then holding a “confirmatory” Brexit referendum. That would consume the next year of parliamentary time at least.

READ MORE: Jo Swinson wins court battle against SNP 

The SNP-Labour detente would probably involve Ms Sturgeon abandoning her demand for a 2020 referendum in exchange for a Labour government devolving to Holyrood the power to call the next referendum. That would be a major step forward for the SNP. No longer would it have to wait for a UK prime minister to put a Section 30 order through Westminster to legitimise a referendum. The next plebiscite would be under Holyrood control. A UK prime minister would not be able to say, as Theresa May did, that “now is not the time”.

All this is beginning to penetrate the fog of Brexit in Scotland. For many Unionists there really is no alternative now but to vote Conservative if they want to halt another referendum. The only exception is the handful of seats, like North East Fife, where Liberal Democrats are the challengers. There, Conservative voters will likely vote tactically in favour of their former coalition partners.

Before this election, many forecasters thought the Tories were facing near extinction. Now it looks safe in its Border strongholds and in the former SNP seats won in the North East, like Banff and Buchan. They are even daring to talk about picking up the odd seat in Edinburgh. Historians of the future will wonder what might have been if Ms Davidson had hung on just a few weeks longer.

The Labour vote, meanwhile, appears to be collapsing across Scotland, according to the polls. The party is hopelessly divided with many leading figures, like the former Labour Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, expressing open contempt for the UK Labour leader and his willingness to allow a referendum. The election is turning into a classic two-party squeeze, which will probably help the SNP most, but could also return the Tories as the main opposition in Scotland.

It’s a cliché to say that Brexit has broken old loyalties and even divided families, but that’s what constitutional issues do. In Scotland, there is no greater issue right now that independence and battle lines are being redrawn as Scots who would never have dreamed of voting Tory are considering Mr Johnson’s invitation to lend their votes to stop another referendum. The Tories even started paraphrasing the Brexit Party strap-line: “Tell her again”.