SOMETIMES, dear reader, it’s hard to know where to begin. Sometimes, the barrel simply contains too many fish. Sometimes, one can only imagine Nicola Sturgeon picking up an ostensibly Nat-friendly newspaper or clicking on to cybernat Twitter and wincing at the sheer, unhelpful idiocy of it all.

For as long as she has friends like Business for Scotland, it’s not clear the First Minister’s enemies need over-exert themselves. At the weekend, this “leading think tank” (according to the Sunday Herald, if no one else) trumpeted its latest piece of “research”, which claims to prove that “mismanagement” by the UK Government during the oil-price crash of recent years has cost Scotland tens of billions of pounds.

I’d like not to have to take this two-bit outfit seriously. In fact, I don’t take it seriously – it appears to be little more than a vehicle for the aggrandisment of its chief executive, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp. But sadly, some do. For those whose sole purpose in life is to bring about the end of the United Kingdom, any accusation, regardless of how feeble, nonsensical or methodologically unsound, will be accepted, consumed and regurgitated as fact as long as it is aimed in the right direction.

So Business for Scotland’s suggestion that Westminster has let Britain’s ailing oil industry off paying billions of pounds in taxes over the past couple of years while Norway has coined it in from the same industry, is treated as a significant and substantial finding, rather than the cheap and incoherent political puffery it is.

The idea that the industry in question is cheating the taxman out of a hefty purse is, simply, rubbish. In this era of widespread decommissioning and brutal job cuts, where every penny of investment is something to treasure, the argument that a punitive tax regime would be smart strategic public policy is bonkers. The claim that the government of an independent Scotland would have found it sensible, or even possible, to go down such a route is contemptible. That a “leading think tank” – and, further, one that claims to be pro-enterprise – argues otherwise is desperate, desperate stuff. So much for persuading business to climb on board the freedom wagon.

There may have been a time when Ms Sturgeon found Business for Scotland and its fellow outriders useful. That time would have been during the referendum campaign, when both sides were in such high dudgeon, when the debate had so completely taken leave of the facts, that any old guff was fair game. But we are no longer in a referendum campaign. Instead, the First Minister must run a government that has long passed its electoral height and that is forced to play by the rules of the world as it is, rather than the fantasy-land concocted by her more exuberant supporters. The political climate is one in which support for independence is falling rather than climbing and where the idea of a second referendum is proving rather less popular than would a proposed statue of Boris Johnson in George Square.

To Ms Sturgeon’s credit, she gets this. There has been a seriousness to her administration (though, obviously, not without some political gameplaying – but name a government or party that’s any different) and to her attempts to carve out a new intellectual path for the independence movement. It is easy to mock her statement last week that she would prefer her party to have a name that didn’t explicitly link it to nationalism, but there is a welcome honesty in the admission. As the source of many of the world’s conflicts, the N-word has ill served the SNP in its genuine pursuit of a positive and “civic” credo. The First Minister has also, for obvious reasons, been trying to decouple the case for independence from the economics of the oil industry, and will soon present us with the findings of the Growth Commission, set up under the auspices of the admirable Andrew Wilson. She’s trying to get somewhere.

The main problem for the leaders of the nationalist movement increasingly appears to be the nationalist movement. As Ms Sturgeon and others attempt to move on, to mature their arguments and reshape their case in a way that acknowledges the changed climate, the reasons they lost in 2014, and makes it possible for the unconvinced to engage in a constructive manner, they are continually dragged back, and down, by their fellow travellers.

I can’t be the only one to have noticed a recent increase in activity on the loonier separatist fringes. There is a debate (apparently serious) as to whether or not the SNP remains the best vehicle to deliver independence; there is a regular drumbeat of “new thinking” from vapid organisations such as Common Weal and Bella Caledonia that amounts to little more than voodoo economics and embarrassingly lame policy suggestions – a brains trust that struggles to meet the definition of either word; tired writers (and ex-first ministers) dependent on the Yes industry for their living continue to make tired claims that independence is but a short hop away. Whether the Kool-Aid rations have been double-dosed, or, as seems more likely, cold fear is setting in as they see their goal slipping away, they are doing the cause no favours at all.

It’s not just cynical No voters like me who think so. “This fantasy stuff convinces none of those with open minds. If anything it turns people away who might otherwise reconsider,” one senior SNP figure told me. “The politics of it all are harmful and therefore difficult to understand other than as cheerleading to enable these groups to fundraise from the pro-indy base.”

It’s curious that for all the support independence now attracts, for all the cash invested in the project by wealthy individuals, the movement continues to languish in the intellectual slow lane. Where are the genuine think tanks packed with bright young things producing smart ideas on the future of our economy and how to improve our schools? Why doesn’t the SNP attempt to own the policy space beyond its basic idea of creating a new state? Wouldn’t a Scotland that was fizzing with ideas and ambition – credible, mainstream creativity that went beyond the kind of detail-free bombast and rhetoric that characterised the Salmond era – be more likely to take the leap?

Perhaps it’ll come. Perhaps next-gen Nat will be something truly to behold. I genuinely hope that proves to be the case, because by god this nation and its miserable groundhoggish debate could do with an injection of quality. Until then, though, the drivel will continue to flow, the unconvinced will remain unconvinced, and Ms Surgeon will continue to wince at the damage being done by her supposed allies.