The impasse between the first minister and the prime minister over a second independence referendum has been widely described as a 'standoff'. Some have called it a Mexican standoff. But what is a Mexican standoff? According to the Urban Dictionary, it is a situation in which no one can emerge as a clear winner: 'There's a 19th-century story in Mexico that illustrates the Mexican standoff very well. Two horse carriages going in the opposite direction entered a narrow street and met halfway through. Neither could move forward, and each insisted that the other back his horse carriage up. Each sent servants for food and water, and both stayed firm for several days, until the authorities made both of them back up.'

Although May and Sturgeon have already been 'standing firm' for almost a week, and may go on standing firm for several more weeks, and although they are regularly fed and watered by their special advisers, there are no 'authorities' to compel either of them to give way. And so, whatever else this is, it is not a Mexican standoff; we need an alternative cliché to capture the essence of the conflict. As neither party holds all the cards, sooner or later one of them will have to blink first. Meanwhile, all that can safely be said is that the gloves are off (as well as all bets).

The SNP's demand for a second referendum had already had headline writers and political journalists searching for clichés to match the importance of this make or break moment. Theresa May's refusal to grant one any time soon is seen as another nail in the coffin of the beleaguered union. Nicola Sturgeon has been congratulated by her supporters for biting the bullet and going for broke, although some insist she has been boxed in and that, having marched her supporters to the top of the hill, she could hardly march them down again. Whatever the outcome, it seems to be a case of now or never. Her supporters have been assuring her that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – also known as Project Fear.

If history repeats itself and there is a second referendum on Groundhog Day, and the outcome is an independent Scotland, the pessimists will have a field day. They will complain that the electors were not given the complete picture and will make many dire predictions. It will be death by a thousand cuts, meaning that Scotland will go to Hell in a hand cart (sometimes a hand basket). Confusingly, however, once the country has gone to Hell in its hand cart or basket, it will be a case of Heaven help us. The supporters of independence, on the other hand, will be jubilant, confidently forecasting that there's gold in them thar hills and that, even if there isn't, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The other big news of the last week, the negotiations for Britain's exit from the EU, was the apparent reluctance of the prime minister to trigger them before the end of the month. Political commentators sagely informed us that politicians should beware the Ides of March. Meanwhile, the weather remained cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

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