WAY back in 2015, pre-Brexit and the day after the televised leaders’ debates, one of the most searched for items in Google was whether people in non-Scottish constituencies could vote SNP.

If anything, since then that almost-yearning has increased and more and more on social media one sees praise and plaudits from English voters who wish Nicola Sturgeon could be the UK’s next leader.

It reached a peak after the recent Leaders’ Debate which saw Johnson and Swinson go down like nine pins in a bowling alley – one openly ridiculed; the other, seemingly ill-prepared and dogged by a dismal, uncharitable voting past. Oh, and a dodgy accent.

Corbyn tottered at times but remained upright. Next to Johnson he almost, almost, came across as a steady hand on the tiller. That is how far we’ve come in this shambles.

Sturgeon never flinched, and only the most rabid anti-SNP fanatic could carve failure from what was a triumphant appearance by any standards.

For almost single-handedly, and this is not by any means a denigration of any other of the SNP’s politicians, she has become the sane voice in a dystopian political landscape where an increasingly autocratic Johnson vows to curb democracy itself to his whims.

She is the face, not just of independence, but of a Scotland confident in its right to stand alongside other nations in a united Europe.

Interviewed by Andrew Neil, it was said afterwards that she had lost some of her clout by seeming discomforted and unable to answer his questions (statements) on currency, fiscal timescales and SNHS problems.

The woman who never was, Ruth Davidson, was one of the first to tweet her glee calling it a ‘doing.’ It was a bitter whoop from a sad failure who never once put herself up for a similar interrogation.

Me – I saw a woman far from rattled or being given a ‘doing,’ simply exasperated that Neil didn’t go off his lengthy cue sheet to engage in her answers. I saw a woman who was honest on the failures, cut short as she tried to explain the why and the how.

Strange, I never thought I would write such words when I first saw Ms Sturgeon in action many, many years ago on my occasional forays into Scottish politics on behalf of the Mail on Sunday.

I couldn’t understand who, what, this small woman always scurrying along in the wake of others, actually did. To me, to my shame in hindsight, she was always an acolyte, never a player.

But when you’re too close to it all you can sometimes pay far too much attention to the tittle tattle, the clever bon mots and witticisms of those with their own mill to grind. Usually politics-only reporters.

Politics, as I’m sure you know, is a dirty, ugly game of egos and slights; personal ambition rising often above the ideals such people came in to serve and destroying many of the best.

It has taken distance; the distance of another country; to see as clearly as one can without the whispers – without the muddying of waters. No attendant white noise.

And from that distance I have watched her grow in gravitas and continue, in leaps and bounds, the progression of a once-reviled oddball, of an occasionally suspect movement, into a serious political force.

(At this point I can sense the familiar below the line online commentators flexing their stubby fingers in their basements of misogyny to hone their attacks. Yes, I’m out of my ‘French’ box again and how dare I go political about a country in which I no longer live? I dare because I am an inhabitant of a European Union, as you are. One that gives me freedom of movement to live where I choose with minimal fuss and paperwork – one you should cherish.

I am an outsider, an insider, Irish and English, and by virtue of your big hearts, Scottish by familiarity and adoption. I have earned my right to speak. So, have you.)

Today as I write, in her column in The Guardian, Suzanne Moore said: "Sturgeon wants another independence referendum. Corbyn says she can’t have it – but she knows she could get him to change his mind. And she will outlast him, let’s be honest. She speaks more passionately against the Tories than he does.

"Sturgeon has what so many politicians lack. Hinterland. Johnson’s is – well, Latin and more children than he can count. Corbyn’s is jam today and tomorrow. Sturgeon reads, laughs, connects and does not suffer fools gladly.

Maybe it’s time to move to Scotland while the rest of this country gets its house in order."

Twenty years ago, 15, even 10, one would not have seen this said about a leader or Scotland. It’s actually quite extraordinary.

Finally, the country is being given respect, and from the number of times both Johnson and Corbyn are referencing the SNP, as the days shorten towards the ballot, they’re worried, seriously worried.

And they should be. You can only belittle so much in Parliament, in toss away references, in manifesto ignorance before the worm turns.

I respectfully suggest – from my distance – the worm has not only turned, it’s doing somersaults.