STRICTLY for reasons of business, not pleasure, I took part in a Zoom call with Michael Gove this week.

His effortless fluency when asked about a second independence referendum was matched only by the calculated banality of his answers.

Round and round we journalists went in the pursuit of facts, and time after time the Cabinet Office minister would twirl away on a deflection.

What did he think of Nicola Sturgeon telling Boris Johnson Indyref2 was a matter of “when not if” given the result of last week’s election?

“Our focus is purely and principally on recovery at the moment,” he trilled.

“There is a conversation about the constitution that some people will want to have, but we think that’s a distraction.”

Was the UK Government ruling out a UK Supreme Court challenge if Holyrood legislated for Indyref2 in the absence of Westminster consent?

“I’m not getting into the whole question of courts and litigation and all the rest of it.”

Could someone else challenge it? “I’m not a legal expert.”

Let’s try first principles then.

If a party wins an election, does that give it a mandate to implement its manifesto in government?

“I’m sure that the First Minister will put propositions to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Parliament will have a chance to reflect on any propositions she puts.”

And so on, and so on. Whenever Mr Gove was asked about the constitutional debate - the one his party had just put at the heart of its election campaign, remember - we were chided that such theoretical, speculative and abstract matters were merely “sucking oxygen out of the room when we should all be concentrating on the recovery”.

But if anything was creating a vacuum, it was surely his lack of answers, not our questions.

One the one hand, I’m sure many folk who voted against the SNP last week will enjoy slipperiness raised to an art form in this way.

The refusal even to engage with the subject matter will tickle them.

On the other hand, some may well think, Is that it? Is the UK’s best line of defence now parroting flim-flam?

During the campaign, Ms Sturgeon’s most uncomfortable moments invariably came when she was asked about the practicalities of independence - currency, the border with England, deficit and debt, the outlook for the public finances.

The vague and unimpressive promise of details down the line - We’ll tell you when we tell you, in effect - showed she and her party still have some hard questions to answer.

Yet the lack of planning by the SNP on independence that is condemned by the Tories appears mirrored by their own lack of planning on Indyref2.

It’s all still a variation on the time-limited ‘now is not the time’ line started by Theresa May.

Keep it simple may be a decent motto and, knowing the SNP’s skill at absorbing every event and statement and using them in its own arguments, there is a logic to playing a dead bat.

But given the outline of the election result has been clear for months, it’s still remarkable that the response has been so flat-footed and shallow.

Like the Tories saying people voted for the SNP for a host of complex reasons, yet everyone who voted against them did so to stop Indyref2.

Or making a big deal of Ms Sturgeon saying in a TV debate that a person who wanted her to remain FM but didn’t want Indyref2 during the recovery should vote SNP regardless.

I am shocked - shocked - that a politician would solicit votes for their party during an election campaign.

If the other parties are arguing she should have turned away votes or urged people to vote for her rivals, I’m sure they can give examples of when they have been equally altruistic.

Otherwise it might look as if they’re cynically setting the SNP a standard they would never apply to themselves.

As for the argument that the SNP failed to get a majority, and so has a weaker claim to a mandate, there is something in that, thanks in part to the SNP’s own pre-election hubris.

The party may now claim this was a Unionist trope it never bought into, but my Inbox is full of SNP statements banging on about a majority.

Take Humza Yousaf on April 4: “In this election, a majority for the SNP, with Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister will mean we can get things done.”

Or SNP depute leader Keith Brown on April 22: “Only by voting SNP on May 6th can people guarantee a majority SNP Government.”

Or John Swinney on May 5, highlighting “the importance of everyone who wanted to see an SNP majority government turning out tomorrow to ensure Nicola Sturgeon is re-elected as First Minister”.

There are many more examples. A majority was a stated SNP objective.

The worst Unionist failure is the inability to explain how Indyref2 can come about if not via the ballot box.

The UK Government does itself no favours with its Kafkaesque approach, insisting the Union is voluntary while refusing to put it to the test.

“Of course you can leave. It’s just that, since the last time, we’ve bricked up all the doors and windows.”

Mr Gove and his colleagues are currently trying to boost their word games with some hard cash, pledging billions straight from the Treasury spigot in order to bypass Holyrood and stop the SNP getting any credit.

But until they can explain how Scotland can leave the Union, their other efforts risk falling short, tainted by the impression they are simply papering over a fundamental question and talking to voters like children.