AS far as political gambles go, Nicola Sturgeon’s vow to treat the next Westminster election as a de facto referendum would appear to be a big one.

Her pledge, according to polls, divides even the independence-supporting community, let alone voters who are yet to make their mind up on the matter.

It may be, as I’m sure the First Minister will have considered, a road fraught with challenges; but in spite of that, it could be a more effective approach than some have speculated.

A referendum typically presents voters with a binary choice – such as “yes or no” – and “leave or remain”. The debate revolves entirely around two potential outcomes. When you insert this concept into the complexities of a General Election, that level of focus is no longer there. This could be advantageous for the pro-independence campaign.

While Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats debate a broad spectrum of issues, the SNP can focus entirely on independence, as it has promised to do. Certain issues – such as the cost of living crisis – will be debated through the lens of an independent Scotland but, ultimately, the SNP will approach the vote with a very clear mission statement.

Whether it’s “New Labour, New Life For Britain, “Get Brexit Done” or “Make America Great Again”, we know that simple messages resonate with voters. There may be underlying substance to the message in question but, for many voters, that is secondary; it is about the emotion that this slogan or messaging provokes.

Nicola Sturgeon may not be a candidate in the UK election, but she will be a very visible leader of the pro-independence campaign. Who, if anyone, will lead the pro-UK campaign this time round? Will it be an ensemble cast? Will there even be a visible pro-UK campaign? An absence of a figurehead, or collective, proactive campaigning in favour of the UK, could be advantageous to the SNP, even if this scenario arises through a conscious decision by opposition parties to discredit the idea of this being a “real” referendum.

Once upon a time, the idea that Yes voters would vote for anyone other than the SNP was unrealistic. These days, the Yes movement is fractured; though to what degree remains up for debate. Regardless, there is a risk for the First Minister that a de facto referendum on independence turns into a de facto referendum on her leadership.

Prominent Yes supporters who have raised doubts about this approach, and vocal critics of Ms Sturgeon such as Joanna Cherry, may need to be convinced to lend the de facto referendum their backing. Criticism from your “own side” can be extremely damaging, and a battle those in favour of the de facto vote may want to avoid. It is difficult to convince others of the merits of your cause, if there is no united front; or, at the very least, the appearance of it.

It has been argued that nothing short of an overwhelming win for the SNP can realistically achieve independence through this form of referendum. However, whether or not independence is achieved through this referendum may not actually matter. Recent polls have shown an increase in support on the back of the Supreme Court decision regarding Holyrood’s ability to hold a consultative referendum.

If the SNP narrowly wins more than 50% of the vote, and the UK Government opts not to treat this as a Yes vote, don’t underestimate the psychological impact on voters on being told something can’t happen. If this leads to momentum, and a more overwhelming result, then – for the First Minister – this de facto referendum would surely be worthwhile.

However, this is still a risky approach for Nicola Sturgeon. Given that this has been proclaimed a de facto referendum, should the SNP fail to win 50% of the vote, this could give the UK Government reason to say the independence question has been settled for the foreseeable future; even if the idea of this being a referendum fails to take hold with the public.

The public are still voting for individual MPs, and the prospect for some of backing a representative they do not agree with, even if they are supportive of independence, may be a challenge. Amplifying the required message over the other inevitable themes of this election – such as cost of living, energy prices and perhaps even Brexit – will be a challenge. This decision, more than any made previously, may be the defining moment of Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership. Is it the final chapter, or merely the twist from which a new one can be written?

Christian Harrison is Reader, School of Business and Creative Industries at the University of the West of Scotland