Journalists and politicians like anniversaries, the latter usually as a means of beating their opponents over the head with perceived failures.

Thus the SNP recently highlighted the fact Conservatives are still in “complete disarray” 150 days on from the EU referendum, while the Scottish Tories weaponised Nicola Sturgeon’s second anniversary as First Minister to attack a dearth of legislative activity.

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Similarly, much was made of Donald Trump winning the presidential election 27 years after the Berlin Wall came down, as if the two events were in any way connected. Still, it’s an attractive hook, something upon which to hang a broader narrative point.

In other words, they’re convenient distractions, which is increasingly what the post-Brexit dynamic looks like for the Scottish Government. Consider for a moment an alternative reality in which “Remain” won the referendum back in June: ministers would currently be dealing with rail chaos, a looming confrontation with the educational establishment and some pretty awful economic statistics.

But given that wasn’t the outcome a few months ago, none of that’s getting the degree of attention it should. Instead, the Scottish Government busies itself on a number of fronts, legal (challenging Brexit via the Supreme Court), legislative (the Article 50 vote), rhetorical (“highly likely”) and of course strategic (creating circumstances that make a second Yes vote more likely).

So it doesn’t really matter that ministers have been all over the place in recent weeks – some rejecting membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) and others embracing it, promising to vote against Article 50 and then for – for it all helps the First Minister look like she’s being reasonable and exhausting every option before reaching the eventual, inevitable conclusion that another independence referendum is necessary.

And it seems that events across the Atlantic and English Channel will both help accentuate the SNP’s framing of the choice then faced by voters in Scotland, either staying part of a UK led by Little Englanders desperately seeking an alliance with a Trump-led protectionist US, or an independent Scotland within a more progressive and inclusive European Union, but with powers at home to do something about poverty, investment and jobs.

There are, of course, other scenarios, not least the prospect of the EU looking much less desirable following next year’s French and German elections. If Madame le Pen becomes president of the former and Frau Merkel fails to remain Chancellor of the latter, then the choice won’t look as clear. Similarly, if Merkel cuts some sort of deal with the Prime Minister that constitutes “access” to the single market (which, yesterday, Sir Oliver Letwin indicated would be worth paying for), then it’ll be harder for the SNP to keep on presenting Brexit as an economic catastrophe.

So Brexit is best viewed as a catalyst for a second chance at independence rather than a solid foundation of the debate to come. The SNP is good at responding to – and exploiting – unexpected events, slotting everything into a highly flexible narrative about the desirability of independence. Timescale is also important; once Article 50 has been triggered and elections are out of the way in Scotland (local government), France (presidential) and Germany (federal), Sturgeon et al will have a much clearer idea of how to proceed.

But while skilful at big-picture stuff, the SNP is still pretty weak when it comes to the boring old detail, not least the three great imponderables of the independence proposition: currency, borders and public spending. An internal tilt towards embracing a separate Scottish currency appears to have fallen by the wayside, while on a “hard” Anglo-Scottish border – the need for which is heightened by the EEA proposal – the Scottish Government is still in denial.

Most thorny is the public spending part. The former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson is no doubt working away on his interim Growth Commission report due by Christmas, while the party’s Treasury spokesman, Stewart Hosie, continues to hide behind Brexit, repeating yesterday that leaving the EU remains the “biggest threat” to Scotland’s economy and long-term prosperity, as if leaving the UK single market would have no consequences.

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For good measure, Mr Hosie also predicted this Wednesday’s Autumn Statement would likely contain the usual “Tory blend of smoke and mirror, meaningless soundbites, and a few welcome giveaways designed to catch the headlines and distract attention” away from the state of the economy, which although broadly accurate, isn’t a bad description of his own party’s economic approach.

Meanwhile, those prolific (if not always terribly convincing) people at the Common Weal think-tank have produced a piece of work intended to move “beyond” GERS. Common Weal director Robin McAlpine said that if implemented the report’s recommendations would create “deficit parity” with the rest of the UK without the need to cut spending on anything other than defence.

As the economic blogger Kevin Hague pointed out in a typically shrewd analysis of the Common Weal report, it at least acknowledges that the GERS figures are an accurate starting point for the finances of a hypothetically independent Scotland, something quite a lot of Nationalists (including Scottish Government ministers) usually do their best to deny.

So the report attempts to plug a £9 billion fiscal gap through a combination of savings, cuts and tax increases. This represents progress, for the debate is finally moving beyond outright GERS denial and associated conspiracy theories about whisky export duty and revenue mysteriously omitted from the balance sheet by Scottish Government economists.

The trouble is that what one newspaper report called “modest and conservative” assumptions in the Common Weal report are mostly heroic, i.e. the notion that rUK would somehow pick up 38 per cent of an independent Scotland’s pension liabilities, that defence spending could be cut by £1bn and that it could raise an additional £3.5bn in tax (in other words, a near 30 per cent increase in current income tax take). Naturally, the report assumes no economic downside from leaving Scotland’s largest export market and the likely need to establish a new currency.

As the blogger Neil Lovatt put it in another comprehensive analysis of the Common Weal’s conclusions, here was an opportunity to demonstrate how a left-wing Scottish administration might transition the economy towards the sort of society many Nationalists apparently desire, but instead it ducks the big problems “and literally makes up facts and figures to try and pretend it’s actually quite easy”.

Well, at least they’ve had a go, which is more than the Scottish Government or SNP have done so far, but then they’re busy fighting bigger battles, perhaps conscious of what matters more in the grand scheme of things. As Salena Zito shrewdly said of President-elect Trump’s supporters, they took him “seriously, but not literally”, while his many detractors took him “literally, but not seriously”.