YOU have to feel for Nicola Sturgeon. As if dealing with the Covid crisis weren’t bad enough, along came a demand from her own side this week to rev up plans for independence.

Amidst mass fatalities and economic ruin, it turns out that what Scotland really needs is yet another crack at formulating a ‘Plan B’ to Indyref2.

There’s tone deaf, and there’s this.

Little wonder that when she was asked about it on Newsnight on Wednesday, the First Minister seemed almost allergic to the issue.

“For me, everything other than coronavirus right now is on hold. I’m going to continue to focus on coronavirus for as long as I need to. That is my total focus right now,” she said.

And understandably so.

This week’s independence debate was prompted by a Panelbase poll for the Scot Goes Pop website.

It asked if the SNP and Greens should “consider including an outright promise of independence in their manifestos for a future election, to give people an opportunity to vote for or against the idea” if Boris Johnson blocked a referendum.

The answers came back 49 per cent Yes, 29% No and 22% Don’t Know.

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Cue the SNP’s leading advocates of a Plan B on independence, Inverclyde Councillor Chris McEleny and MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, demanding their idea be put on the SNP conference agenda.

In the absence of Westminster granting Holyrood the power to hold Indyref2, or a court saying Holyrood already has it, the manifesto for the 2021 Holyrood election “shall state that the election of a pro-independence majority of seats shall be a mandate from the people of Scotland to commence independence negotiations with the UK Government”.

This idea of making an election victory the basis for independence, rather than a referendum that never comes, was backed by 80% of those who voted SNP at last year’s election.

As always, Mr McEleny and Mr MacNeil have a point. If the UK government won’t grant a referendum, the SNP needs to think creatively. But they do not have a case.

Apart from the usual objections - other countries won’t recognise anything short of a referendum, and the UK can’t be forced to open negotiations - there is also the small matter of the world around us.

The UK economy shrank by 25% in March and April - three times the fall felt in the entire 2008/09 Crash.

As Andrew Wilson, author of the SNP’s Growth Commission, said yesterday, we have “lost two decades of improvement and growth and that is desperate for living standards”.

Mr Wilson also warned Scotland faces a bleaker recession than the rest of the UK because of its highly exposed tourism and hospitality sector and longer lockdown.

His comment that in Scotland “many businesses have remained closed for longer than necessary at potentially fatal cost to both employer and employees” generated awkward headlines for Ms Sturgeon.

But there was also another, subtler line tucked away in his analysis.

Rebuilding the economy will “require partisanship to be shelved in the national interest”, he said.

As the constitutional debate brings out partisanship like little else, the implication is clear.

The next Holyrood election will be the strangest yet. The SNP’s record, which the Tories hoped to denounce, has become a black hole thanks to Covid, while a crippled budget means manifesto give-aways are a no-no.

What will dominate is trust.

Right now, Ms Sturgeon is riding high on that metric, thanks in large part to her setting aside politics as usual, including on independence, to focus on the Covid crisis.

She has dropped the snark and played the benign administrator.

Mr Johnson, conversely, is losing trust as he seems to focus too little on the crisis while pursuing Brexit pell-mell as if nothing had changed.

If, having formally rejected an extension to Brexit trade talks yesterday, the PM finally takes the UK out of the EU’s embrace in January on hairshirt WTO terms, the Scottish Tories will become an even more distrusted brand and Jackson Carlaw yesterday’s leader.

That Panelbase poll suggested the SNP is already cruising to victory in 2021, and quite possibly to another majority.

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It doesn’t need a new independence position to win - or win bigger.

Voters know where the party stands. A manifesto commitment to a referendum when the coronavirus crisis allows will cover it.

Adopting a fruitless Plan B strategy won’t win more votes, but it could lose them by eroding trust.

To demand it now is precisely the kind of blinkered self-indulgence that makes many people look askance at the Yes movement. Jumpy impatience is never becoming, especially when combined with hazy nostrums about what comes afterwards.

For there can be no return to Plan A, far less an advance to a Plan B, without trying to answer the huge economic and social problems being generated at speed by the pandemic.

That hellish hard work may lack the quick gratification of a process wheeze, but it has to be done before electors will consider whether independence is the next best step.

What the SNP’s excitables need first and foremost is a Prospectus B to make the case when the time is right.

But that, like our rubble economy, will take years to rebuild.