AN Edinburgh couple I know have a delightful New Town flat. It is tastefully decorated, with ceramics on low tables and an Elizabeth Blackadder above the fireplace. It is an oasis of calm, but it might have been very different. As their 30s ticked by, they agonised over when to start a family. With his job perpetually on a fraying rope, there was never a good time. Then there was the question of what it would do to their relationship.

They watched their friends have children and become exhausted and dull, talking only of day care, nutrition and schools. Some started affairs; others went their separate ways.

A few years later, time made the decision for them, because they had left it too late. Do they ever regret not taking the plunge? I wouldn’t dream of asking, but I think of them whenever people use uncertainty over what the future holds as a reason for being cautious. To be sensible when making a decision such as starting a family is wise. To be crippled by indecision, however, is perhaps to make an equally firm choice without actually appearing to do so. Had either of my friends truly wanted kids, they’d be surrounded now by jotters, bikes and Playstations.

Instead they settled for the status quo, which was obviously their preference all along.

I doubt there’s ever been more political uncertainty in my lifetime than this autumn, except when the world came close to a nuclear stand-off during the Cold War. Following Nicola Sturgeon’s comments about the likelihood of a second independence referendum in the event of a “hard Brexit”, the turmoil caused by the calamitous vote last June just moved up a gear. The prospect of a second referendum is only one possibility among several, and has been ring-fenced by enough caveats to allow the First Minister and her cabinet ample room to negotiate with Westminster over the shape British relations with Europe will take. Even so, you can feel the tremors. It is as if the drumroll has begun that will march us back to the polling booth; and perhaps sooner is better than later. After all, how much uncertainty can we take?

I listen with mixed feelings to those who vehemently opposed independence in 2014 but who are wondering if they might vote Yes next time around. Their reasons for No were based largely on caution, the understandable fear of economic chaos and political upheaval.

They worried about the economy and the currency; whether we would be allowed back into Europe; and how we could defend ourselves in the event of military attack. For some the idea of Britishness, of all of us in these islands being in this together, was the deciding factor. In this there was a generational divide, older folk generally more reluctant to sever their Union flag allegiance, to which they had a long and fond attachment. Meanwhile, their children and grandchildren thought more of their economic futures and job prospects than of the 300-year alliance between north and south.

Many of my friends were No voters, sadly. It seemed to me that one or two ticked that box reluctantly, largely because there were so many unanswered questions about the country’s future status. Until the picture was clearer, they felt they couldn’t commit to such a drastic change. By contrast, for some of us that very uncertainty was a reason to vote Yes. At a time when our neighbours, Europe, and much of the world was in flux, we wanted to take affairs into our own hands.

Are the switherers regretful at not taking the plunge two years ago? After all, had they done so we might already be negotiating our severance from the UK. We might even have found a warm welcome in Europe, despite the Spanish prime minister’s threats. As the conversation about independence cranks up again, I wonder if they lie awake, dreading the repercussions of Brexit but anxious even now at adding yet another element of the unpredictable into their calculations of what is best for Scotland. Since their inclination is for things to stay the same, or to have a degree of certainty impossible to offer, they no doubt fret that leaping from the fire might be to join the sausages sizzling in the pan.

To which the reply must be that there is never an easy, simple, or wholly safe option, whichever way things go. Who in 2000, for instance, could have foreseen the destruction of the Twin Towers and the war in Afghanistan, and all that’s since followed, or anticipated the financial crash of 2008?

There are so many layers to our present situation that we are like a knickerbocker glory: one scoop for membership of the EU, another for immigration policy, one more each for academic funding, fishermen’s and farmers’ subsidies, international and UK trade agreements and the whole concoction drizzled with cut-price North Sea oil.

Rather than adding to the confusion, it seems to me that another referendum is an inevitability. That we will have one is all but certain. Of course, it leaves open the question of when it will be held and which way it will go but, rather than merely adding to the tally of unknowns, it offers the comfort that if Brexit turns uglier than it need, there could be a positive alternative scenario for Scotland.

A second independence referendum should not be considered a bolt hole or an ejector seat but an upbeat opportunity to turn and face in a new direction. Regardless of the storms we encounter in the years ahead, it would allow us to keep our hands on the controls – so far as any nation can in this global era – rather than be buffeted about by the decisions of others who do not much care what happens to us.

The unknown and unsettling factors that independence raised in 2014 have been dwarfed by those we face as the wheels of Brexit begin to turn. And if we think things are somewhat turbulent at present, there is no prospect of firm ground beneath our feet for years to come. Once a Brexit deal has been signed there will be endless separate agreements and contracts to be sorted, bringing incessant insecurity and doubt.

But the truth is that uncertainty, like the poor, will always be with us. That’s why the reason for voting for independence or Brexit or anything else can never be based on the here and now, nor the desire for a quiet life.

There is no such thing as a cast-iron guarantee, nor a crystal ball. When a second referendum arrives, we should make our choice because of faith in an idea, or an ideal.

Do we want to determine our own affairs, or do we prefer to be a cog in a wheel? There is no right or wrong answer, nor any sure bet. Ours are rocky, unnerving times but, as with my child-free friends, there will never be the perfect conditions in which to make a bold leap.

Like all the biggest decisions, whether it’s starting a family, getting married or taking a job, the only guarantee is that, to make it work, we’ll need to roll up our sleeves.