NICOLA goes to Vegas. Well, not literally, no. The First Minister much prefers the low, grey skies of Skye, the buzz of the familiar Highland mosquito to the buzz of glitzy Vegas neon. But now, here she is set to become an all-or-nothing gambler, the Sky Masterson of Holyrood, but with an Ayrshire accent and a rather more determined stare.

In a way, it’s a shocker. The FM, as we know is naturally cautious, careful as a five-year-old crossing the road to school for the first time, hardly daring to trust the lollipop-person.

But now the SNP leader is taking all the chips she’s won in the past 15 years of SNP power and placing them on Yellow, prepared to put her political future on the line, to see Scotland make a final decision on independence.

As she stood up in Holyrood this week, what she said in essence was: ‘You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away, when the deed is done.’

The First Minister feels it’s time to take the big gamble. Yes, there was defiant talk of the Scotland Act, a legal challenge to defy Westminster that would involve going direct to the Supreme Court. And if that doesn’t work, as most legal minds assume it won’t, then Scotland, the people of Scotland, will decide for themselves at the next General Election.

The political leader feels that this is her time, that she is holding the best cards she is likely to have in her hands for the foreseeable future. Yes, many political insiders believe the time isn’t right – she herself declared not so long ago that she said would want 60 per cent opinion polls support before spinning the wheel of fortune.

And it’s most certainly true the polls are tighter than the shirt collar of a fat gambler who’s just bet his Cadillac and is holding a busted flush. Yet, Sturgeon appreciates the scale of the challenge, to convince Scotland that we’d be better off without England, to sell the idea that our neighbour is a heavy, soaked semmit that’s been dragging us down to the bottom of the cultural and economic pond all these years.

As such, you can imagine the speeches we’ll hear in the upcoming year will resemble a parody of the classic a Monty Python sketch. ‘What have the English ever done for us?’ And the unionists will shout out ‘What about the Barnett Consequentials?’

And the First Minister will mutter, ‘Yes, yes. But what else?’ And the British-minded will belt out ‘What are you going to do about the border between Scotland and England that will be hard as Blackpool rock?’ And the army of SNP spin doctors will issue press statements declaring ‘That will soften over time. Let’s not worry about that for now.’

And the unionists will go into overdrive and say ‘England is your biggest market, you tartan turnips. Are you mad?’

To which John Swinney will go on GMS and repeat ad nauseum, ‘We will then be in a position to look overseas and at new markets, Gary... ’ as he talks over the frustrated presenter.

But of course, the SNP have in a sense, been given a great big bag full of gambling chips with which to place their bet. Until now, Britain has never been governed by a man who has single-handedly collected the most toxic set of adjectives ever assembled.

Yes, Churchill was labelled a ‘racist, a misogynist, a colonialist.’ Thatcher was ‘evil’. But the current proroguing Prime Minister has proved himself to be in a league of his own, ‘a lying, duplicitous, cheating, self-serving narcissist and people trafficker.’

To add to the heady mix, he’s ‘amoral, indecent and incompetent’, indeed a man who made Berlusconi seem well-behaved. Boris Johnson, to many, including members of the 1922 Committee, is no longer fresh and necessary to get the job done, he’s the toilet paper of political leaders, an individual who needs to be flushed right out of our system and far out to sea.

Yet, while Scotland, and much of England, may be in agreement that Boris Johnson has to go, what of the future of Scotland should the roulette wheel stop on Yellow? We’ve seen the implications of Brexit, where tins of Napolina tomatoes are on the verge of replacing Bit Coin as a viable trading commodity.

Yes, it could be lovely to have a nice tartan passport to reveal at immigration controls across the world, but what in the name of the Irish protocol are we going to do about our trading position? It’s smashing that Caramel Wafers are selling like arms shipments to the Middle East. But how will we kick start a new economy with a debt which unionists have claimed could be £180Bn?

Nicola Sturgeon will say of course that self-control will result in economic success. We don’t need to be attached to England. Critics will argue that if independence does come about then England will act like a partner dumped unceremoniously, who takes to Twitter within seconds – and before you know it, they’re snogging the face off the first person they meet who promises all the mussels and lobsters they’ll ever need.

What Nicola Sturgeon will also have to do is become even more reliant upon the team around her. Her front of house man in the Commons Ian Blackford has lost weight recently, so the reliance will again be heaved upon the shoulders of the likes of John Swinney and Angus Robertson.

What Nicola Sturgeon will be hoping for however is that her ex-boss Alex Salmond won’t be looking for too high a profile during the campaign.

Yes, he is a powerful orator, you can feel interviewers’ underpants go slightly damp when attempting to take him on, clearly unable/afraid to grill him about how sustainable renewables will make us all rich. But of course, Salmond and Johnson are both creatures who shrivel up and wither in the dark. They won’t go away without being exited.

What we do know for certainty is that the people of Scotland, for the next year, are going to be living in a battleground. And the enemy could well become the neighbour next door. Or a member of your own family.

Those who don’t wish to see an independent Scotland will cite our huge NHS waiting lists. They’ll argue that Covid has gone away as much as government sex pests. They’ll say child poverty is horrendous.

Nicola Sturgeon will maintain an independent Scotland can fix that. That we need the powers to make it happen. She will be told in reply; ‘You’ve had the powers to fix that for 15 years.’

The First Minister will argue that the progressive legislation on the likes of gender recognition and gay rights has been exemplary. Opponents will say ‘Come on, Nicola? The Witchcraft Convictions Pardons Scotland Bill is the sort of legislation that does little to help our education record – although we appreciate it does give newspapers a nice controversial page lead and a chance to use photos of Samantha from Bewitched.’

The SNP will point to successes in free tuition, prescriptions and period products. And the opposition will say that the ferry fiasco proves you can’t be trusted with major industrial programmes.

John Swinney will argue we were taken out of Europe against our will. And he’ll be told it could be years before an indie Scotland would be able to re-enter. And would Scots accept the Euro?

What we are set for is a year-long debate on the very concept of democracy. Our ears are set to bleed with arguments either side; a General Election vote for the SNP is a de facto vote for independence, which will represent true democracy in the ancient Greek form. Indies will argue that Westminster’s Eton elite, privilege and mutually exclusive democratic world is by essence corrupt.

Whatever the hopes or fears of Scots, what we do know for sure is that Nicola Sturgeon, the cautious, careful, considered ex-lawyer is set to double down.

Does she truly believe she will win? Yesterday someone swore they may have heard her sing in a soft, but paradoxically cautious – yet defiant voice; ‘You never count your money. When you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin’. When the dealin's done.’