DID you hear that? It was the sound of Humza Yousaf heaving a sigh of relief, coupled with a wail of despair from Anas Sarwar. Chances are, it’s a noise we’ll become ever more familiar with thanks to Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader has turned his back on an opportunity not just to realign British politics and fix the mess of Brexit, but also kill independence stone dead.

Starmer is to reject Franco-German plans that would have allowed Britain closer ties to a new ‘multi-speed Europe’ through ‘associate membership’ of the EU.

Details emerged following Starmer’s Paris meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. The plan was created - in part, though not specifically - to lay the foundations for closer relations between Britain and Europe in the event of a Labour government. But Labour sources close to Starmer describe the idea as a “non-starter”.

Details are contained in what’s called the ‘Report of the Franco-German Working Group on EU Institutional Reform’. The document is entitled ‘Sailing on the High Seas: Reforming and Enlarging the EU for the 21st Century’.

The plan, released on Monday, is the work of 12 experts commissioned by the French and German governments. It comes with the imprimatur of Paris and Berlin: both launched the working group with a joint statement from their respective foreign ministries.

The big idea is for ‘concentric circles’ of EU involvement. Countries like France and German would be in the ‘inner circle’, and sign up to radical integration involving the removal of national votes on defence, security and foreign policy.

Then there’s a second tier of EU member states, who don’t want cooperation on such an intense level. Next comes an ‘associate outer tier’ for countries like Norway, Switzerland and “even the UK”. Britain’s associate status would mean it “would not be bound to ever closer union and further integration … the core area of participation would be the single market”.

Being part of the single market means freedom of movement. Associate membership comes without representation in the European Parliament or Commission. Associate members would pay into the EU budget but “on a lower level”. This would come with “lower benefits” such as “no access … to agricultural funds”.

It’s a better deal than we have now, but still not great. Britain would regain access to the single market but we’d have lost the voice we once had with full membership.

Nevertheless, it would be a step towards addressing the economic and political wounds caused by Brexit. In a Scottish context, it would have ripped the SNP’s independence policy to shreds.

So much of the SNP’s support is predicated on progressive, pro-European voters who want back in the EU. Brexit boosted the Yes movement. The SNP was able to say - rightly - that the leave vote betrayed promises made during the 2014 referendum. Voters were told by Better Together during the referendum that a No vote was the best way to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.

Brexit was a golden goose of a gift to the SNP. Cook that goose, and the fortunes of the SNP and the Yes movement change dramatically.

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But Humza Yousaf need not fret. Starmer and the English Red Wall seats have the same relationship as a drunk punter and a stage hypnotist. Those Red Wall votes leave Starmer mesmerised to the extent of forsaking all else.

If Starmer had begun a conversation about the merits of the Franco-German scheme, he would have arrested the change in fortunes for the SNP. Currently, despite having the living hell kicked out of it for months, the SNP is on course to form yet another government at Holyrood in 2026, along with the Greens, on a combined majority of 70 seats.

Starmer’s milquetoast offering just isn’t cutting through in Scotland enough. In England, many voters would crawl over broken glass to get the Conservatives out. In Scotland, there’s an alternative to Labour if you’re on the progressive liberal-left.

Now, clearly, like that goggle-eyed drunk after their brush with the hypnotist, Starmer is under the sway of those who believe that to even flirt with the notion of closer ties to Europe spells electoral disaster.

However, that idea appears wrong. Polls tell a different story. Only 18% of those who voted leave in 2016 believe Brexit was a success. One-in-six Leavers would now also vote Remain.

Pollsters YouGov say that “with public opinion having turned against Brexit … most Britons would now vote to Remain were the EU referendum being held again”. YouGov says “headline voting intentions” are 64% to 36%. Half of voters - including one-in-five Leavers - want another referendum within the next decade.

There’s a belief currently doing the rounds that when - perhaps ‘if’ is a better conjunction - Starmer gets his hands on power he’ll somehow be more radical than his current Tory-lite manifestation.

This notion is understandable in England where left-of-centre voters have no hope but Starmer to relieve them of the blight of the Tory Party. However, it’s misplaced. Starmer has made himself entirely clear. When people tell you who they are: listen. We’ve come to learn that lesson the hard way over the last decade.

On Europe, it would be impossible for Starmer to say ‘no’ to closer links while in opposition, and then change tack once in power. Such a policy wouldn’t be in Labour’s manifesto and so would rightly be seized on by a Conservative Party in opposition - and a pliable, angry right-wing English press - as a betrayal of voters.

Imagine for a moment, though, the possible consequences in Scotland if Starmer had went for the Franco-German plan. Anas Sarwar would have been able to say that Labour was now the means to bring Scotland back closer to Europe. He could have presented independence as meaningless to pro-Europeans. He might even have chanced the argument that independence was now a potential route to greater isolation for Scotland outside Europe, by claiming once independent we’d have to wait in line for reentry while the rest of the UK under Labour moved ever closer.

But we’ll never know now, will we. Because hypnotised Starmer is captivated by those seductive Red Wall seats, and seems not to give a damn about Scotland.