IN politics, there are two tricks.

One involves showing off the gaudy trick and, like a cheap conjurer, asking the crowd to guess how it was done. The other is the stunt in which bouquets appear from nothing, rabbits loup from hats, and magic flows. Then, the act says: "No trick. I'm honest and I would never lie. Trust me."

Why trickery? Here's why: in this century, when all scorn trust, in which we demand truth and find none, we look for sleight of hand, for the deceit. There's good reason. How on earth could one person inhabit all clichés, be "one of us", "just like me", someone who senses the hopes of millions, but can still lead, command, and understand the big stuff? "That's impossible," we say. "It has to be a trick."

We're right, but it doesn't make a candidate wrong. In this election familiar parties flounder because they are led by PPE boys who never feared a foodbank, who never did real jobs, who are judged - let's not pussyfoot - to be tossers. They protect a system that found uses for them. Messrs Miliband, Cameron and Clegg are suffering because they are not like us.

But hold on. You really want a horny-handed clown who hasn't bothered to learn how a parliament works? You think your neighbour, decent woman, who couldn't find Greece on a map, is your best guide to what's wrong with transnational banking? Wouldn't it help to have someone in charge who knows what quantitative easing is?

Alex Salmond could do all the tricks. More, that First Minister could never resist a laugh while he shot cuffs and showed you what wasn't up his sleeves. An impressive act. Had you wished to ask about competitive corporation tax he would waltz you around numbers like a cuddly Harold Wilson. Had you introduced him to granny he would have been 10 minutes of grand fun. Salmond was, is, real.

He wasn't the man to achieve independence for Scotland. This is, in several layers, complicated. Put it like this: the only reason we are at this point is because of Alex Salmond. The only reason it isn't sorted is also because of him. Basic: we lost last September because the Yes campaign inherited, through the SNP, its second-best leader.

I could run it down. There was - someone strike me - the "female vote". For 55% of the species in Scotland, Salmond didn't poll well. He wasn't granddad's favourite, either. You tell me why. The press? Only up to a point. He was sticky, too often, with the pollsters' emotional Marmite. Some people didn't trust Alex. So Yes had a problem with how to point the big old Salmond gun.

Nicola Sturgeon's version of the trick is to say that there are no tricks. I happen to believe it. But I also happen to know what's obvious: you cannot understand Sturgeon unless you understand Salmond. They are two of a different kind, but cast from the same coin. One has never controlled the other - a fatuous notion - but neither has properly controlled the evolution of their kind of nationalism in Scotland, here and now.

Like the SNP's endlessly-increasing membership, it has overtaken the pair. This has barely been thought about, far less understood. Nicola Sturgeon is the most important politician in Britain this spring thanks to a phenomenon that she, Salmond, the pollsters, the Unionist goon media, and we, the voters, didn't see coming. That's unusual.

Last winter, the SNP had hopes of a bit of a boost from the 44.7% Yes vote. The party had lots of understandable fun in those weeks with the daily, sometimes hourly, increases in membership. They did not guess - no-one guessed - at an electoral tsunami, one that would add pages to Scottish political history day on day. Even now, no-one truly can describe the depths from which the upheaval arose.

Riding a big wave takes a bit of skill. All I can say is that I have yet to see Sturgeon put a toe wrong. I can remember an exhausted young woman kicking off her shoes on a late Edinburgh-Glasgow train a long time ago, giving routine chat for routine chat. In those days, I was one of the carping peripheral types who believed Salmond should never have "returned", that Sturgeon should have been left to develop as a leader in her own right. My opinion was neither here nor there.

Clearly - big news - she was the next leader. One day the SNP might ask itself how an impeccably democratic leadership process always has an ordained ending. But watching Sturgeon over the years has involved a strange political cinematography. She has always seemed to be one jump ahead of the flash, the snappers and the judges. Or rather, one step beyond the mechanical processes of rust-clogged political journalism. She - and some truly hate it - has always known better than them.

There's the trick. Sturgeon does ordinary to an extraordinary degree. She's just Nicola. She deflects all the media bullets with her magic cloak of ... Real and Believable. Her actual background is a life lived in the discipline of party. But when you see the magic flow, when you see the trick that is no trick, you believe in the person. Then you have the choice: can some extraordinary percentage of a country's hope and belief exist within a single person?

Of course not. The whole point about a conjuring act is that the audience has to join in. They have to say: "Our Nicola, our country, our belief in ourselves." But when the usual stoats and weasels then turn up to demand equal rights for another kind of conjuring, you might want a Nicola to ask, in a familiar voice, what they have up their tattered sleeves. Then, only then, can you decide what to believe.

In the end, it's not the tricks of rhetoric or the staging, but the need to believe that a person can be true to statements made. It trumps stagecraft. All of Nicola Sturgeon's enemies are trying now to work out how she's "getting away with it". Perhaps - let me suggest - because she is trusted; perhaps because people need desperately to trust; perhaps because the reasons for trust have been so eroded. Trust baffles those who like tricks.

What matters is that a new kind of Scottish nationalism is stalking the poor old United Kingdom, and that a new kind of SNP leader, no one's pupil, is supremely relaxed about the fact and its consequences. She has been a woman in politics all her life. Each part of that sentence is another big deal, for better or worse. I'd add that the First Minister is always polite while taking no lip.

Charismatic politicians come along. Quite often, they let you down. The list of Clintons, JFKs, Obamas and the like should be warning enough for any little country. The tricks are just tricks. But scaring the hell out of the inept mountebanks next door while helping your own voters to believe in a different future isn't bad, for now.