THE word of the week is ‘credulous’. It is extraordinary how many people have been taken in by Nicola Sturgeon’s indyref gambit.

I’m sure she will succeed in what she has set out to do. But make no mistake: her aim is not to hold a repeat referendum on independence in October next year.

Her aim is once again to kick the project into the long grass – but this time without her ever-loyal troops noticing that that is what she has done.

I have to say I admire her Machiavellian cunning. It is a masterstroke worthy of her predecessor (that is a compliment, in case you were wondering).

Here is how this will play out. In the autumn, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the substance of the legal matter that has been referred to it by the Scottish Government’s Lord Advocate.

Only two options are realistically before the court. Either the justices will rule that they should not determine the matter at all, on grounds of prematurity and abuse of process; or they will determine the matter definitively against the Scottish Ministers.

It is dangerous to predict Supreme Court rulings, but I think the former option is more likely than the latter.

Either way, however, each would knock out October 19, 2023, as Scotland’s date with destiny. It simply isn’t going to happen.

Let’s take the first option first. Why might the Supreme Court decline to rule on the matter? The answer is simple.

There is a well-established process for testing whether Bills passed by Holyrood are within or outwith its legislative competence. That process cannot start until after the Parliament has passed the legislation in question.

Right up until the last moment in Holyrood’s parliamentary process, Bills under consideration can be amended. No court in the United Kingdom wants to give what would amount to an advisory opinion on a Bill which has yet to be even introduced into the Scottish Parliament, never mind debated, scrutinised, amended, or passed.

Courts are there to rule on what the law is: not on what it might one day be.

The Lord Advocate has sought to bypass this well-established process, by short-circuiting it and heading off to the courtroom before Parliament has had any opportunity to consider the legislation in question.

In legal terms there is in fact no legislation for the court to rule on: all we have is a government proposal as to what that legislation might one day look like.

My bet, for what it’s worth, is that the Supreme Court will decline the Lord Advocate’s reference and rule that the lawfulness of a Scottish Independence Referendum Bill can be determined only after such a Bill has completed its parliamentary passage through Holyrood.

If I am wrong about that, however, and if the court does take the Lord Advocate’s reference, it will surely rule that the Scottish Parliament would have no competence to enact into law the draft legislation the Scottish Ministers have published.

I have explained in earlier columns in these pages that an independence referendum will be lawful (absent Westminster’s consent) only if neither its purpose nor its effects relate to reserved matters. The Scottish Ministers’ proposals manifestly fail to meet these tests.

So what will happen after the court rules? If the court throws out the Lord Advocate’s reference, without giving a ruling on its substance, it must be assumed that the Scottish Ministers will formally introduce their Bill and that, after going through the usual legislative stages in Holyrood, it will be enacted.

The earliest that can happen is early 2023. Once it has been passed, the Bill will inevitably be referred back to the Supreme Court and, this time around, the justices will have to give a determinative ruling. That will take months, yet the outcome is all but certain—the Bill will be unlawful.

Thus, no referendum in 2023.

If the court takes the second option outlined above, hears the Lord Advocate’s reference, and rules against the Scottish Ministers, it will thereafter be impossible for the Parliament to enact the legislation required to trigger the second independence referendum the SNP want. This is because there would be no doubt about its illegality.

And then, apparently, we await a general election which the Nationalists will attempt to turn into a de facto referendum. This is a legal impossibility and a political nonsense. The question in the general election is whether the United Kingdom wishes to retain the Conservatives in power, or not.

Even if the SNP win more than half the Scottish seats—and even if they win more than half the votes cast in Scotland in that election—there is simply no lawful way such a result can be translated into a trigger for independence.

The delivery of independence will require Westminster legislation (just as the delivery of Brexit required the European Union to take legal steps to facilitate it).

This does not mean that Scotland is some sort of prisoner, trapped within an involuntary union, as scores of cybernat numpties have been insisting of late on Twitter.

It is simply a recognition of the rather straightforward fact that the break-up of the United Kingdom will require the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate.

Nicola Sturgeon is very far from stupid. She knows all this, and she will have factored it all in. What she did last week was to stand up as if there is going to be a referendum on independence next year knowing full well that the route she set out was designed to fool her followers.

For, when you play it out, you can readily see that on no plausible analysis does the First Minister’s route lead to a referendum next year.

Her supporters may be incredulous about that, when they realise what she has done. But better that than the collective naivete which has been on such naked display in Scotland since the First Minister made her gambit last week.