BEFORE Boris Johnson’s heartfelt non-apology for mistaking his booze-filled back garden for a typical work event, the most suspect political utterance of the week had come from Nicola Sturgeon.

On Monday, the First Minister gave her first interview of 2022 to STV.

Asked about her plan to hold an independence referendum by the end of next year, she said: “I intend to do everything that is within my power to enable that referendum to happen before the end of 2023, and we will set out exactly what that means in terms of the date of the introduction of legislation when we’ve taken the detailed decisions around that.”

There was a distinctly plaintive note to that phrase “my power”, as she knows that her power - which is co-terminus with Holyrood’s power - is not enough to deliver Indyref2. Not the legally untouchable, internationally recognised Indyref2 she says she wants, at any rate.

Her power might yield an unlawful, semi-boycotted pseudo vote, but it isn’t sufficient to get the clean decisive process and agreed result actually required to deliver independence.

That decisive process requires Westminster’s consent and the transfer of specific, temporary powers to Holyrood under a Section 30 order, as happened in advance of the 2014 referendum.

Ms Sturgeon knows this. Yet she will do “everything” she can to enable Indyref2 to take place, even though it won’t take place. But, you know, just in case it does.

That’s quite an odd promise.

It commits her to doing a lot that is useless. Having won praise for her seriousness - as the antidote to Mr Johnson - it commits her to dumb, gesture politics.

Something of a novelty in her eight years as First Minister, it also risks making her look plain ridiculous.

Who is exactly is going to grant this referendum? Mr Johnson? The pathetically weak, unloved Prime Minister of the hour who has already repeatedly refused to do so? Hardly.

If he manages to cling to power for a bit after partygate, his authority spent, he will be in no position to fight a referendum he would struggle to win on his best day.

If he tried to do it, it would be seen as a massive, cynical distraction, the mother of dead cats being tossed on the table in the hope of resetting his premiership and getting his MPs to rally round.

It would look like the last meltdown in the bunker and his troops would mutiny. Backing Indyref2 would be the last straw, and he’d be turfed out. So not Mr Johnson.

Or what about his successor? If Mr Johnson goes soon, whoever takes over from him will be no readier or better placed to grant Indyref2 than he was.

First, there is no honeymoon for Tory leaders north of the border, so not being Boris would not sway the polls.

Second, the Tory party will be a hot mess, shamed by their second regicide within a few years, having backed, then disowned, two duds on the trot.

The new leader’s first order of business would be to put their own house in order and calculate the best time for a general election. That will be tough enough.

But throw in an all-consuming referendum? You’re kidding, right?

Besides, to apply to become leader, all the candidates will have to make their pitch to the Tory membership.

Bashing the SNP and resisting Indyref2 will be a set part of everyone’s shtick.

I cannot imagine anyone running for the Tory leadership on a pro-Indyref2 ticket, and even if such a person did emerge, I cannot imagine them winning. So not Mr Johnson’s successor either.

As for Sir Keir Starmer riding to the rescue in an early election…

The idea that, after being locked out of power for a generation, Labour would park its agenda and gamble its grip on office on Indyref2, forget it.

However, if we take her at her word, Ms Sturgeon intends to press on regardless, setting the table for two, while knowing the other person has blanked her invite.

The question is how long she maintains this unconvincing pretence before becoming a figure of fun.

Remember, doing everything within her power in this unreciprocated affair means tasking civil servants to work up a detailed prospectus for independence. That costs money. It also means sharing it with the public. That costs a lot more money.

The last white paper and its summary leaflet cost around £2.5m to print, publicise and distribute. Ms Sturgeon has a mandate to do the same again based on the SNP’s manifesto. But is it the smartest option in the circumstances?

Still, let’s assume she keeps doing all in her power to pave the way for Indyref2.

She also needs to spend months putting a Referendum Bill through Holyrood.

Without Westminster’s consent, this would very probably be ultra vires and be struck down by the Supreme Court.

That’s a performative waste of parliamentary time and still more taxpayers’ money down the stank.

To some, this may look like the dogged pursuit of a noble cause, London be damned; to others it will look cracked.

It certainly won’t change any minds.

Imagine SNP MSPs and ministers being asked for the next two years whether they think all this time, effort and cash is actually going to bring about a referendum and having to toe the party line, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that it is.

They will be laughed at.

When does it end? At what point between now and the end of 2023 does Ms Sturgeon accept the obvious and call a halt to this sad tango for one?

I suspect just before the SNP would be expected to start spending its own money on a campaign to nowhere, which may look particularly cynical.

But by then, the exercise may have already damaged her hard-won reputation.

It may strike some in the Yes movement as a cute way to put pressure on London and advertise independence, keeping the issue simmering till the next election.

But sitting scowling at the grounded end of a see-saw, waiting for someone to hop on the other side and bounce you to glory, is not a good look for any leader.

Ms Sturgeon risks looking absurd.