HAS a big political moment ever felt so tedious? That’s not a rhetorical question; I’m genuinely curious. And all right, forget Brexit for a moment.

To no one’s surprise, Boris Johnson this week rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence vote.

The Prime Minister said he could not agree “to any request for a transfer of power that would lead to further independence referendums”.

The SNP saw this coming, of course. Ms Sturgeon quickly hit back, accusing the Tories of being “terrified”.

But the First Minister was vague about what happens now – simply saying her government would set out its next steps later this month.

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It’s not clear why there needs to be any delay, given SNP ministers fully expected to be rebuffed. But hey, everyone loves a cliffhanger.

This is an epic clash of political ideologies; a tug-of-war that threatens the very foundations of the UK. It is the stuff history is made of.

It is also, let’s be honest, an incredibly frustrating and often tiresome debate. And both sides are doing their bit to add to the sense of fatigue.

In his letter to Ms Sturgeon, the Prime Minister said both she and her predecessor Alex Salmond had made a “personal promise that the 2014 independence referendum was a ‘once in a generation’ vote”, and that the UK Government “will continue to uphold the democratic decision of the Scottish people and the promise that you made to them”.

The problem with that reference to democracy, fairly obviously, is the SNP’s electoral success. The party won 48 of Scotland’s 59 MPs last month. You would be hard pushed to find anyone who doesn’t know what the SNP stands for.

The Scottish Tories, who put their opposition to another independence referendum front and centre of their election campaign, lost half their MPs.

Many believe continuing to reject a second vote will become unsustainable if the SNP wins a majority at the 2021 Holyrood election. A simple pro-independence majority between the SNP and the Greens would also add to the growing clamour.

Talk of “mandates” is sometimes overblown, but if repeated electoral success isn’t a mandate, what are elections actually for? This will be particularly true if 2021 becomes a referendum on a referendum. Which it will be.

This is something even Scottish Secretary Alister Jack appears to concede. Or he used to, anyway.

In November, he suggested the democratic mandate for a Section 30 order – which would pave the way for another vote – was “a matter for 2021”. Last weekend he U-turned on this.

Meanwhile, former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson went from insisting the UK Government shouldn’t block a second referendum, to last year arguing the Prime Minister should just say No.

Labour has been tying itself in knots ever since shadow chancellor John McDonnell sauntered over the border last summer and insisted he wouldn’t block another vote. 

The Scottish party is now desperately trying to work out a coherent position, centred on federalism. Good luck with that.

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SNP ministers, for their part, are continuing to suggest a referendum could take place later this year, despite everyone knowing this almost certainly won’t happen.

Scottish Brexit Secretary Michael Russell said a 2020 referendum “is the right thing to do” and he intends to deliver it. He also said the Scottish Government has “many options” to push for a second vote, but he didn’t want to go into them.

“As we move forward, they will all become clear,” he added, mysteriously. 

The fact is, realistic routes forward are decidedly unclear. Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out an unofficial referendum and it seems unlikely legal action would get anywhere – although it would clarify the law and keep the issue simmering along nicely.

“Whether there is a second referendum – and if so, on what terms – is a political question that will be resolved in the political arena,” concluded a recent assessment by Aileen McHarg, professor of public law and human rights at Durham University, and Strathclyde University’s Chris McCorkindale. “There are no legal short cuts through that space.”

Short of some outside event intervening, this debate is going nowhere fast.

It’s a Scottish version of Groundhog Day — except Bill Murray didn’t have to contend with endless debates about what exactly constitutes a ‘generation’. 

(Mr Russell, by the way, suggested it could be eight years, citing rules in Northern Ireland. Scotland Office minister Douglas Ross put it at “30, 40, or 50 years”. That’s a gap of up to 42 years between their positions, neatly illustrating the absurd gulf at the heart of Scottish politics.)

The Scottish Government is stuck in a staring contest with its UK counterpart.

The First Minister hopes that if she glares long and hard enough, Mr Johnson will blink. But the Prime Minister appears to have sauntered off, leaving Ms Sturgeon to stare furiously at the wall. 

In some ways, it’s difficult to see what incentive Mr Johnson has to grant a referendum. The self-styled Minister for the Union doesn’t want to risk its dissolution. He saw what Brexit did to David Cameron.

If he can delay long enough, the end of the UK will be on someone else’s watch, or it may not happen at all. Events may intervene. 

The Scottish Tories, meanwhile, have put resisting Indyref2 at the core of their brand.

The rest of this year will see the pressure rise. Perhaps there will be some kind of legal action, or another scheme to up the ante. There will be marches galore, and it’s surely only a matter of time before grassroots independence groups take their protests to London.

But in all likelihood, the 2021 election is the next big staging post. And that means there’s more than a year of this to go, at least.

Try to contain your excitement.