IT'S hard to inspire sales when you're allergic to the product.

Nicola Sturgeon did nothing to hide her unease at the idea of fighting the next general election as a "de facto" referendum on independence yesterday.

It was a way forward, "however imperfect it might be", she said.

Yet she now hopes to persuade Scots that voting SNP in 2024 will surely end the Union. Honest.

This is really not where the First Minister wanted to be.

Her clear preference remains a re-run of the 2014 independence process, with agreement between Edinburgh and London and a referendum held on a legally watertight basis.

But in the face of the UK Government repeatedly refusing to do that again, and with her own internal critics wondering when she was going to get a shift on, she tried the Supreme Court.

In June, she asked her most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC, to seek a definitive ruling from the court on whether Holyrood could stage Indyref2 without Westminster's consent.

In 2020, Ms Sturgeon spurned exactly this idea, warning it "could move us forward - but equally it could set us back". She was right. She didn't admit it yesterday, but it has set her back.

The ambiguity that let her threaten London with her own referendum if they didn't play ball is no more.

The Court ruled unanimously and categorically that Holyrood doesn't have the power to stage Indyref2 under its existing, devolved powers.

Westminster consent is essential.

The ruling also raised questions over Ms Sturgeon's claim to have a mandate for a referendum based on her party's 2021 Holyrood manifesto, which said the SNP would "give people in Scotland the right to choose our own future in an independence referendum".

However, it is now clear that this was something that was never in the SNP's gift. It promised what it could not deliver. So what weight has a mandate based on a false promise?

Now, after the failure of Plan B, Ms Sturgeon has moved on to Plan C, or perhaps it's Plan B squared. Either way, it is the fallback option to a fallback option, and decidedly "imperfect".

The First Minister is an outstanding communicator, and her response to the judgment was a bravura performance.

But she was also light on detail.

Questions about whether the SNP will use a one line manifesto, the mechanics of the vote, and who else is going to play along remain unanswered.

As usual, there was a bit of process for her troops to chew on - a special SNP conference in the spring to finalise the "de facto referendum" plan.

But activists won't be devising one from scratch. Instead, they'll almost certainly be rubber-stamping (with token tweaks) what the party leadership puts in front of them.

It will have a very big flaw - it will hand power to the SNP's opponents.

Ahead of the 2014 referendum, Alex Salmond and Ms Sturgeon insisted an independent Scotland would be able to keep the pound in a formal currency union with the rest of the UK.

Then Tory chancellor George Osborne cut the Yes campaign off at the knees by flatly ruling it out.

This time, the Tories, Labour and LibDems will be able to pull off the same move, by refusing to accept Ms Sturgeon's de facto referendum premise before the election even starts.

It could leave her shouting into the wind while they paint themselves as the sensible folk who do elections properly.

It means that even if Ms Sturgeon gets more than half the votes, the Unionists will refuse to negotiate the terms of independence with her. No deal.

While if she comes up short of a majority, the other parties will cynically turn around and say she has failed on her own terms and must resign.

Heads they win, tails she loses. Ms Sturgeon yesterday said Scottish democracy is at stake in all this. It's not. But her job and her reputation are.