I’VE been to a few Bute House press conferences and they’re generally fairly pedestrian. So when I say the one Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie held on Tuesday to launch a new independence prospectus was the most surreal I’ve ever attended, please don’t think it was out-and-out crazy. These things are relative. But it was certainly the oddest.

It revolved around a hole for one thing. The unanswered question about how the Scottish Government can hold Indyref2 without Westminster consent. But it was odd in other ways too, and they added to the sense the exercise simply isn’t robust.

Some of it was smart. Ms Sturgeon’s argument that plenty of other small European and Nordic countries outperform the UK on a range of desirable metrics so “Why not Scotland?” has the makings of a catchy campaign slogan.

It immediately puts Unionists on the backfoot, forcing them into the role of naysayers and killjoys, the doomsters who want to stop the party getting started.

On another level, it’s mad, of course. The idea of voting for the biggest political change of our lives based on something like a shrug and “Ah sod it, let’s give it a whirl” is appalling. It’s not quite as daft as “Wouldn’t it be fun to steal a plane?” but it’s in a ballpark nearby.

Nevertheless, it’s a slogan that could lodge in the national psyche.

That aside, the event was a bit of a shoddy mystery. It marked the publication of the first part of the new prospectus, Building a Better Scotland. But the document was unfit to put before voters.

An ugly, indigestible dollop of graphs, bar charts, jargon and 156 footnotes, it would be useless in a campaign aimed at inspiring electors. Ms Sturgeon said it was part of giving the public the information they need before casting their vote, but it would give most of us a migraine.

Although perhaps that was the idea. As Iain Macwhirter noted in these pages yesterday, the part-work approach means this prospectus cannot be set beside the White Paper of 2013. Almost as if the Scottish Government was worried about people comparing the two and clocking where the first one proved unreliable.

The reliability of the second wasn’t helped by an introduction glossing over the deficit of an independent Scotland.

The “estimated fiscal position of Scotland within the UK... tells us nothing about how Scotland would perform as an independent country”, it said. But Scotland’s notional deficit (22.4 per cent of GDP in 2020/21) would have a major bearing on any deficit after independence, and a country labouring under a big deficit would have to cut spending and hike taxes, hitting the state resources and services key to how a country performs.

Ms Sturgeon’s admission that there would be a trade border with post-Brexit England if Scotland were back in the EU, but her refusal to use the word border in case it gave the media a “cheap headline” hardly smacked of confidence either.

Nor did her saying the Government hadn’t decided the order and date of the other prospectus papers yet.

The air of kack-handedness continued at Holyrood, where Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson was stopped by the Presiding Officer from making his speech about the prospectus because the Government had trailed it so heavily.

It was disrespectful he was told. Unperturbed, he went in for sneering name-calling, branding the opposition democracy deniers and election losers.

Asked about the date of Indyref2, Mr Robertson told MSPs he looked forward to it being “confirmed in good time”. He blabbed it the next morning on the radio.

The FM would soon give Holyrood “a route map towards a referendum which we intend to hold next October”, he said.

Assuming a traditional Thursday, that narrows the putative vote down to four possible dates, most probably the 12th or 19th, as they fall within a Holyrood recess.

So much for respecting parliament.

Separately, these incompetencies and infelicities may not seem much, but I can’t help but see them as symptoms of the Government’s central problem, its inability to hold Indyref2 in the first place, the back hole destabilising things around it.

With Boris Johnson refusing to transfer referendum powers to Holyrood under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act, Ms Sturgeon faces an almighty fight to hold any kind of vote that would survive a legal challenge at the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, she promised an update soon. It reminded me of the 2019 general election, when she was repeatedly asked how she would overcome the PM refusing a Section 30. Ms Sturgeon would grin and say she was keeping her counsel for now.

It later turned out there was nothing behind the curtain. Mr Johnson refused and she couldn’t do a thing about it.

Now we are promised a “routemap” to a referendum. But that is not necessarily the same as a referendum. Critically, we are yet to see an Indyref2 Bill at Holyrood. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this point - and its deep strangeness - if Ms Sturgeon is to be taken at face value.

You can have as many prospectus papers as you want. But without legislation there is no referendum, and without a referendum no independence.

Everything else is secondary.

The Government is already behind schedule for a vote in October 2023.

Ahead of the September 2014 referendum, a Section 30 order was agreed by February 2013 and a Referendum Bill introduced in March 2013. The Bill took nine months to go through Holyrood and get Royal Assent, and that was without a Supreme Court reference delaying it.

If there is no Indyref2 Bill by the end of this month - and Ms Sturgeon says she is still navigating “legal challenges” to that - it cannot appear until after the summer recess, and the chance of an October 2023 vote becomes vanishingly small.

Ms Sturgeon knows this, and may well be planning to cry foul late in the day and pivot towards the 2024 general election and seek a reinforced mandate.

But for now the bad faith, bad tempers and gimcrack stunts continue, eroding trust in her and her message.

It’s a poor foundation for a nation.