YOU’D think that, when a Conservative government suffers three Commons defeats in the one day, something even a Tory-supporting newspaper described as “humiliation on a historic scale”, and is found in contempt of Parliament to boot, that the game would be up.

The game, however, is Brexit. And what makes Brexit such a family favourite is not just that it is guaranteed to lead to shouting matches, tear the household apart and ruin Christmas, but also that its central element is that no one agrees on or even understands the most basic rules, if there are any.

Which is why, while Theresa May makes a pig’s ear of drawing an agreement any of her backbenchers can get to grips with (while they shout “Norway!”, “Canada!” and “No Deal!” at her), Labour still can’t decide whether to call the game a bogey and ask to start again. John McDonnell is keeping his options open, as if deciding whether castling would put the Tories irretrievably in check, while Jeremy Corbyn just hopes he’ll throw a six and avoid the gigantic snake that will take him back to square two. The points system in this game is nonsensical. Yesterday, the bookmakers were predicting that the majority against Mrs May’s proposals in next Tuesday’s vote will be more than 150.

In any normal scenario, the Labour party should expect to be miles ahead in the polls but it remains level and has actually been clearly behind until the last couple of weeks. For that matter, the Liberal Democrats ought to notching up their score, but Uncle Vince doesn’t even seem to be playing.

While reams of newsprint have been devoted to the way in which the EU has split the Tory party – something that has been a constant almost for three decades – Brexit has had just as divisive an effect on Labour. At present that may be reflected in its internal strategic disagreements about whether to back a second referendum but the problem goes deeper. The vast majority of Labour members, and probably of Labour MPs, would like a second referendum, even if only because the Fixed Term Parliaments Act makes a general election extremely difficult to orchestrate (though the party line is still to parrot that that’s the preferred option). But in England, outside London, the opposite is true of most Labour supporters.

This is perhaps the only policy issue on which the Labour leader – who, despite his nominal stance, is a Eurosceptic of long standing – is more in tune with the party’s potential supporters than his parliamentary party and activists. And, in terms of winning a general election, he’s strategically right as well. The general tone of media coverage and, in particular, of social media shouldn’t obscure the fact that a second referendum is as dangerous a prospect for Labour as it is for the Tories. Looked at in purely electoral terms, and leaving aside trifling considerations such as whether it would be in the UK’s best interests, would settle anything, or be likely to split any given party beyond repair, it’s more dangerous for Labour than the Tories.

Leave won in every area of the UK except Scotland, London and Northern Ireland (in ascending order of enthusiasm for Brexit). These are, bluntly, areas that the Conservatives don’t expect to get much electoral change out of anyway. But Labour, with its traditional near-monopoly on Scottish seats having been wiped out by the rise of the SNP, has to take such places to have any hope of forming a government.

Of the UK’s 12 regions and nations, Scotland was the only place where the Remain vote was above 60 per cent (London was just under, and Northern Ireland 55% Remain). Of the 399 counting areas, Leave won 270 and in most of them the vote wasn’t even close: it won by more than 60% in 113, while only 50 (most of them in London or Scotland) returned a Remain vote of 60% or more.

It’s perfectly possible that the picture has changed, as the polls suggest, though they were equally certain that Remain would win before the last vote. Debate on the EU seems to generate reversals: during the 1970s and 1980s Euroscepticism was the norm among Labour MPs, while in the 1975 referendum Scotland was one of the few areas of the UK to come out strongly against remaining in the EEC.

Even if things have changed, and even if a second referendum were to give a different verdict, it’s difficult to see why that would be an improvement for either of the two main parties, since both campaigned in the last General Election on a promise to implement the results of the referendum and overwhelmingly voted – you may well think prematurely – to impose the deadline coming up next year, deal or no deal. In purely political terms, another vote is trouble for both, even if you’re convinced to David Lammy or Anna Soubry levels that it’s vital for the country not to leave the EU. In fact, the SNP is the only mainland party to which a second referendum offers much since the LibDems and the Greens seem unable to attract significant support, despite the fact that presumably 48% of the population should want to vote for them.

Given the margin of the first referendum in Scotland and the consequent likelihood – much easier to predict than the result in English regions – of the same result again, it’s not a practical difference. It is merely that it reinforces the political narrative that Scotland’s interests and preferences are not those of the UK as a whole, which is of course exactly the belief Nationalists would like to encourage. There is the added bonus of setting the precedent that all popular votes should be revisited until they give the answer for which you have been hoping.

Topsy-turvydom seems to be the product of referendums. The effect of Scotland’s vote to remain in the UK proved divisive, even though the majority was decisive. It’s equally odd that the vote for the UK to assert its own independence from the EU and reassert its sovereignty should have had the effect of endangering the argument for the Union. But whether we get another vote or not, that seems the state of play.