THE stars may not yet have aligned perfectly to portend a second referendum on Scottish independence but several other less than heavenly bodies are taking up familiar positions. Their pronouncements over the last two weeks looked very much like the rehearsing of lines for a battle they know is coming soon.

Ruth Davidson’s bizarre obsession with the constitutional question emerged once more this week. The Scottish Tory leader makes reference to the second independence referendum as much as if not more than SNP politicians. Indeed, her irascible interventions on the prospect of another poll are prone to occur even when no one else has mentioned it. “There you go again,” she seems always to be saying, “not talking about independence again.”

Even by the standard of her turbid observations, this week’s assertion was rather startling and unsettling. “People do not want Brexit to be used to start yet another fratricidal conflict,” she said in a speech at the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh. By describing the prospect of a second referendum as fratricidal, she wants us to believe that Scots were at each other’s throats trying to kill each other during campaigning in 2014.

Such inaccurate and damaging rhetoric is a hallmark of the Conservative and Unionist Party whenever describing anything that smacks of popular engagement. Political debate in its eyes is best left to as few people as possible; the more gilded and decorated the better. When you widen the franchise it becomes fratricidal, damaging and beastly.

Michael Fallon, the UK Defence Secretary, was next up to continue the well-worn Tory theme of utter disdain for the country it described as an equal and valued partner in the UK less than three years ago. When asked in The Herald if the UK Government would facilitate another referendum vote in this Parliament he replied: “No, forget it. The respect agenda is two-way. She [Nicola Sturgeon] is constantly asking us to respect the SNP Government but she has to respect the decision of Scotland to stay inside the UK in 2014 and the decision of the UK to leave the EU. Respect works both ways.”

Such was the contempt in Mr Fallon’s dismissal you could almost hear his lips curl. It ought to have delighted supporters of independence. Here was another privileged member of the UK establishment making a rare foray into Scottish politics and telling an entire country and its Parliament (the most devolved in the world, say the Tories) that England has a veto on your future. This came just a week after Mr Fallon’s be-wigged fellow members of the UK elite downgraded Sewell conventions to the status of items on a Rotary Club agenda.

It plainly did not occur to Mr Fallon that perhaps one of the reasons Scots elected a majority of pro-independence MSPs to Holyrood is because they felt the parties of the Union had wilfully misled voters during the first independence campaign in the same way falsehoods were used to secure a Leave vote in the EU referendum. The fact that almost two-thirds of Scots wanted to remain in the EU didn’t merit an ounce of Mr Fallon’s consideration. His droit de seigneur approach to relations within this Union of equal partners was endorsed the following day by the rest of the UK Government. These are the same people who perform contortions in saying that while there will be no post-Brexit hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland yet there can be nothing but between Scotland and England post-independence.

The right-wing press in Scotland has also started hitching its wagon to Ms Davidson and Mr Fallon and their colleagues in readiness for the struggle. It does so in those funny, familiar ways. Thus the tax increases for a small number of better-off Scots were portrayed as £400 increases for everyone. The previous week Alex Salmond’s assertion that “far more people in Scotland, by majority and percentage, wanted to stay within Europe as wanted to stay with the United Kingdom”, despite being absolutely spot-on, was predictably and inaccurately, trashed. The erroneous ripostes received more coverage that Mr Salmond’s statement of fact.

So, although the portents for a second independence referendum may not yet be as healthy as Ms Sturgeon would like, it’s clear that some of the same falsehoods, distortions and propaganda are being dusted down in preparation for what their proponents must regard as inevitable.

Those Nationalists seeking a little more certainty in the runes could be waiting a long time. The risk with this approach is that, by the time they think a perfect alignment is occurring, the world may be a far more unstable place. In these circumstances the prospect of change, no matter how desirable, is regarded more fearfully. Conditions for a second referendum will probably not get much more favourable than this.

A Tory government controlled by a hard-right faction pursuing a Ukip agenda has taken Scotland out of Europe in flat contradiction of one of the main planks of its case staying in the Union. Furthermore, its attitude to the First Minister’s reasonable requests to have Scotland’s democratically-stated position taken into consideration recalls Charles Dickens’s Mr Bumble the beadle when Oliver Twist asks him for more. “Look, you voted to stay in the UK. From now on it’s three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays.”

Worse, when the civilised world is trying to rein in the pantomime clown in the White House, the UK is being led by a prime minister who wants to be his best friend. Theresa May’s failure to show proper leadership is leading to a chaotic exit from the EU. She is becoming Donald Trump’s footstool. This Union is on a different planet from the one many No voters thought they were voting for in 2014.

Meanwhile the leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland continues to exhibit signs of a Dodo complex on the constitutional question. Several high-profile and articulate Labour supporters strongly in favour of Better Together last time around have come round to Yes. Significantly, they appear not to have been persuaded yet of the economic case but have become sickened by the right-wing politics prevailing in the UK. Their views are reflected in those of a much stronger Labour for Independence movement, the group harassed and intimidated by its own party in 2014.

The Scottish Labour leadership’s Tory-lite approach is incomprehensible. The party is almost dead, sacrificed on the arrogance and blind loyalty of assorted Labour Lords’ loyalty to UK institutions that enriched them. Independence offers Labour in Scotland a new lease of life and a chance to mean something. And it offers Scots an escape from the Stygian bleakness of a UK government cast in the image and likeness of Nigel Farage.