Nicola Sturgeon continues to insist, as she told ITV’s Peston last week, that she has put politics, including the independence debate, to one side while leading Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. However wise this may have been at the height of the pandemic, or still is, it also leads to the obvious question of when Scotland’s First Minister will re-engage with these issues – after all there’s an election in 10 months’ time.

Politics is not standing still for anyone in our still-evolving Covid-era – especially not in the UK with the cold embrace of its Brexit future looming. Last week, the UK Government published a white paper on the UK’s internal market – a remarkably late attempt to face up to the implications of leaving the EU’s single market at the end of this year.

In response, Mike Russell insisted the Scottish Government would fight this "power grab", including by legislating against the plans. The SNP and Scottish Government have been vocal too in demanding, unsuccessfully, that the Brexit transition should be extended. Politics is not, in fact, on hold.

READ MORE: Law professor warns UK Government's internal market plans could threaten devolution 

The UK Government’s internal market white paper provides an excellent overview of regulatory and non-tariff barriers to trade, explaining why these can be very costly for business and may undermine economies of scale and inhibit foreign direct investment. If you’re looking for an explanation of why Brexit and leaving the EU’s single market is a bad idea, the white paper is pretty succinct.

But the white paper is also a major provocation to the devolved governments. It looks, in part, like a determined attempt to undermine many devolved powers – those powers being the white paper’s core focus. It sets out proposals for a sweeping process of mutual recognition, and non-discrimation, on standards for producing and selling goods and services across the UK. 

The UK’s devolved structures, including the wobbling, ever-weakening processes of consultation across the four nations, look far too creaky to cope with this rushed, complex effort at re-inventing a UK internal market. And, of course, there’s a Northern Ireland issue here.

The UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement ensures Northern Ireland is, effectively, in the EU’s single market for goods and in its customs union. That means a customs and regulatory border for goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland. So it isn’t going to be a UK internal market – it is, at most, going to be a Great Britain internal market.

This raises some interesting political questions: who might be the first politician to suggest there should be a "British votes for British laws" process at Westminster to match the one for English laws? After all, surely, following the English Votes for English Laws logic, Northern Ireland’s MPs shouldn’t be voting on regulatory issues that will only apply to Britain not the UK. This would, of course, be politically incendiary.

READ MORE: Opinion: Ian McConnell: So, precisely what Brexit ‘madness’ are we meant to prepare for,? 

But this is Brexit – unpredictably impacting onto a fracturing UK, however much the Conservative Government hopes its haphazard Brexit planning might re-centralise powers to Westminster.

But all this sets up new challenges, too, for Scotland’s government and those in favour of independence. A big clash over devolved powers in the long lead up to next May’s election may seem promising for the SNP. But Brexit, devolution and independence cannot easily be kept separate as the UK careers towards its EU single market and customs union exit.

If Nicola Sturgeon calculates that a devolved powers fight is acceptable politics amidst the continuing Covid crisis but an independence argument isn’t, this is not going to be tenable much longer.

By mid-autumn, there will either be a new, basic UK-EU trade deal – or the UK will be heading for a very bumpy no deal future. Brexit clarity at last. And, somehow, there should be clarity too on Britain’s internal market – with whatever big stand-off between UK, Scottish and Welsh governments.

Faced with Brexit clarity, and an evolving Covid economic crisis, surely the SNP must then argue the substantive case for independence in the EU as its preferred solution. But this means grasping the nettle of the economic impact of a Scotland-rest of UK border – including how it would affect Scotland’s access to the rest of the UK’s (or England and Wales’) internal market.

European, UK and Scottish politics are not standing still as the Covid crisis unfolds. The Brexit and devolution battles show that. And the Scottish Government is going to have to deal with all of it. It cannot be put on hold.

All columnists are free to express their opinions. They don’t necessarily represent the view of The Herald.