Ample talk this week anent cross-party co-operation, even coalition. Almost all of it spurious and inane.

The present sound and fury arise, of course, from two factors. The English local elections, from the very recent past, and the UK General Election, which is a spectre yet to come.

I understand, sympathise even. Politicians are under stress much of the time. Impending elections tend to leave them frenzied.

How would you like it if you were constantly reminded that your job depends upon the whim of an electorate, swayed by personal animus and uncontrollable events?

But, even accepting that, the volume of the exchanges this week was in direct contrast to the substance of the discourse and the engagement of the people.

Again, I comprehend. This week we endured a further rise in interest rates but were invited by the Chancellor to rejoice at the forecast that recession can be avoided. Hip, hip … nah, let it go.

Our people are already fretting and anxious. As are our political leaders. They know, they all know, that overweening promises will not cut it, that the state of the economy demands spending constraint or tax hikes or, quite probably, both. From Westminster and Holyrood, therefore, we hear talk of tough decisions to come. With tough consequences, no doubt, for our people.

Yet they also know that elections are not commonly won with imitations of the Rev I.M. Jolly. And so our leaders heap vituperation upon each other, competing in rhetoric and rancour while simultaneously offering salvation.

Which is where the co-operation talk comes in. Previously, Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, suggested collaborative tactical voting to unseat Nationalists. That found few takers. Now we have Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, firmly ruling out any post-election deal with the SNP – while gently side-stepping the prospect of a pact with the Liberal Democrats. That, he said, was a “hypothetical question”.

Labour went further. Ian Murray is the rather talented Shadow Scottish Secretary, albeit sitting as his party’s sole representative from north of the Border, alone and palely loitering. He tried to concoct the prospect that Rishi Sunak might turn to a “grubby deal” with Humza Yousaf’s SNP, driven by his “desperation to stay in power.”

Now Mr Murray knows that Unionist Sunak and Nationalist Yousaf are diametric opposites. Indeed, at Holyrood, Mr Yousaf said his objective was “to get rid of the Tories for ever”. How? Scottish independence, of course.

So what is going on, beneath these bogus competing claims of putative future pacts? In practice, our leaders are pursuing confrontation, rather than co-operation. They are trying to define the contest to come, rough hewing it to their own ends.

Consider the SNP. They have a fundamental problem with Westminster elections. By dint of simple arithmetic, a party which only contests Scottish seats cannot win overall power in the Commons. They have surmounted that in the past through a twin offer: to stand up, ineluctably, for Scottish interests; and to provide a vehicle for protest against London rule.

Now they are offering to co-operate with others in order to isolate and oust the governing Tories. They use that offer as a proxy for UK governance, which they cannot attain. Plus, of course, they set out their own aims. Reversing Brexit as far as possible and granting Holyrood the power to stage Indyref2.

The strategy has another advantage for the Nationalists. It helps them depict the contest as a choice between independence and the Union, hoping that this polarised conflict will sway opinion in their direction and away from Labour.

Douglas Ross was seeking to do much the same, from the other side, by positing the need to focus upon ousting Nationalists.

Labour has a very different problem. Yes, they performed splendidly in the English locals. But success in Swindon does not translate into triumph in Stirling.

The Scottish body politic remains distinct. Yet Labour may need perhaps around 20 Scottish seats to reverse the UK majority defended by the Tories. It cannot afford to allow the discourse in Scotland to be centred largely upon the constitution. It wants folk to focus on getting shot of the Tories.

Hence the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar invited the First Minister to choose between a Labour or Conservative UK Government. Mr Yousaf replied that he opted for Scottish independence, which he presumed would involve the permanent obliteration of the Tories.

Well, maybe so. Either way, be clear what is happening. Mr Sarwar poses one polarisation – Labour v Tory. Mr Yousaf replies with another – the Union v Independence.

In order to do so, the First Minister needs to marginalise Scottish Labour, decrying them as the branch office of a UK party which, he says, imitates the Tories, not least over Brexit. He says that the SNP would seek to counter Labour’s “lurch to the right” by pursuing “progressive” policies in a hung Westminster Parliament.

In return, Mr Sarwar suggests that Mr Yousaf, in reality, opts for a Tory government “as a cover for his own incompetence.” Cue mutual derision. Cue voter disengagement.

And the Tories at Westminster? They seem somewhat less than interested in Mr Ross’s tactical voting. The Prime Minister’s aim, rather, is to decry the prospect of coalition, hoping thereby to depict himself as a strong, focused leader.

He told Sir Keir that “while he is busy plotting coalitions, we are getting on and delivering for the British people.” Opinion polls and the English locals would suggest that message is presently facing a degree of consumer resistance.

And then the Liberal Democrats. They too registered a good showing in the English council elections and are beginning to dream once more that they might help shape UK politics, that they might even re-enter UK government.

Electoral politics and recent history would argue firmly against a revived Lib-Tory pact. Which could mean Labour. Hence the heckling from the Tory benches which greeted Ed Davey, the LibDem leader, this week.

To repeat, we are not witnessing coalition manoeuvres. These are not pre-nuptial negotiations. Rather, each of the parties is seeking to shift the battleground to their own territory. This is raw politics, not altruism.