As regular readers will know it has been a recurring theme here that the First Minister (not, for the avoidance of any doubt, the whole of the SNP) is reluctant to hold an Independence Referendum.
The SNP Manifesto made no mention of the timing of the vote and it was the unilateral decision of the FM, four days before polling to decide that it would only be in the second half of the Parliament.
Even then, having won an outright majority matters hardly proceeded apace. Despite there having been the previous "National Conversation" from 2007 to 2011, and, on any view, a clear electoral mandate in May 2011, various puppet figures were encouraged by the First Minister's own staff to suggest there might be more than one question, even in the knowledge this considerably muddied the legal and political water. Eventually a consultation was launched on this very topic, which had formed no part of any Party's election manifesto in 2011, and all further developments put on hold until this had reported; initially, we were promised, by the end of the Summer and then, for no reason ever given, by the end of October.
In passing, courtesy of a leak to the Sun, we were informed that the referendum itself would not take place just in the second half of the current Parliament but in fact in the final third.
Meanwhile, the UK Government had "helpfully" offered to clear up any legal ambiguity by passing express authority to the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum by means of a s.30 order but there was hardly a stampede from the Nationalists to nail down the detail and from January to September "negotiations" proceeded at a pretty desultory pace. This despite the fact that the Scottish Government had conceded expressly in their own consultation paper that they needed the s.30 to ask their own preferred question and that legislation in early 2013, as they had promised, meant the terms of the s.30, which then required the approval of both Parliaments and, formally, the Privy Council needed to be agreed by the end of October.
Then suddenly it was all have meant to have changed. On 5th September, Salmond reshuffled his Government and in the process passed responsibilty for the s.30 negotiations from the low profile Bruce Crawford to the much more prominent figure of his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. This was accompanied by a reshuffle among the SNP's back room troops and a briefing, within days, from both Holyrood and Westminster sources that there had been a step change in the tone and pace of the talks.
Even I began to think that the Nats had decided to go for it, or at least postpone the postponement.
And then, in the week commencing 1st October, the press were briefed that the deal was more or less done and that all that was being discussed was minor detail and the specifics of the "ceremony" by which the deal would be announced.
Now, throughout this there was an important event in the Calendar: the SNP Conference from 18th to 21st October. Surely that would be the place for Eck to go in acclamation to officially confirm the date (which has never been done) and to bask in the adulation of his faithful.
My own view was that the Tories would be mad to give him that opportunity. He'd dragged out the deal and the price he should be made to pay was that it wasn't formally sealed until later in October.
I was therefore initially bemused when David Mundell decided on Tuesday past to announce on behalf of the UK Government that the deal would be signed, this coming Monday, the 15th, in Edinburgh. What were they playing at!
Within 24 hours however things became much clearer. For Alex Salmond himself decided to announce that there was no deal, even in the face of David Cameron repeating Mundell's prediction in his speech to the Tory Conference yesterday.
And then I thought back to where the First Minister had been when "his" side had briefed "done deal" the week before. And actually we all knew that for we'd seen him being booed. He'd been out of the Country, quite legitimately, receiving his silver putter as the next host of the Ryder Cup.
Now, here's what's happened. Some, most even, within the SNP want a deal. Eck remains less sure. So while the cat was away.........And this gave Cameron, Moore and Mundell the perfect opportunity to call Eck's bluff. The talks have gone as far as they can. The practical difficulties over votes for all 16 year olds can't be overcome but Westminster has given up on its previous all or none stance on this issue. If Eck wants votes for all those aged 16 and 10 months who happen to be on the Register, good luck to him. The campaign finance limits sought by the Nationalists are not going to be conceded if we talk till Christmas 2014 so they'll just have to like it or lump it in that regard. And the date and principle of a single question are, genuinely, agreed, or at least conceded on both sides.
So. its over to Eck. Can even he risk going to Perth having walked away from the table over what the world would see as minutiae? Or will David Cameron get the signature Eck could, after the event, claim he was always willing to subscribe? I suspect that calculation will be leading to a lot of agonising between now and Monday but, actually, in the end I think he will sign. After all, he's still got at least another eighteen months to find a different excuse for calling it off.
I finish with two questions:
1. Whatever happened to the Consultation?
2. I trust, that if a deal is done, some journalist will have the foresight to ask if the date of the Referendum will be in the Primary Legislation introduced to the Scottish Parliament and, if not, why not?