NOTHING in political life is certain. For example, Nicola Sturgeon said this week she has not definitively made up her mind yet as to whether she will contest the next Holyrood election as SNP leader.

To be clear, she said that the “default position” was that she would indeed seek a further term as First Minister.

But she told the estimable Iain Dale at his Edinburgh Fringe event that she will decide finally “nearer to the time.” Who, she added, could say with certainty what they would be doing four years hence.

Quite. She may be wise to keep her options open. One very senior Minister, who stepped down voluntarily, once told me that the choice was made while colleagues were asking “why are you going”, rather then “when”.

Plus Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly hinted she might be prepared to contemplate challenges in another field.

Further, the strain confronting her has been quite exceptional. The hideous plague, followed by the prospect of economic recession.

My calculation? She will prepare and decide. She will assess how things shape up. Those “things” including the Supreme Court verdict on an independence referendum – and a UK General Election, likely in 2024.

Prior to absorbing Ms Sturgeon’s faintly Delphic ambiguity, I had already contemplated going beyond the Fringe to examine the possibilities and probabilities anent independence and related matters.

As noted, nothing is certain. However, we can look at options and determine, perhaps, which route is more likely.

Let us turn our thoughts firstly to the hearing by the UK Supreme Court in London, set down for October 11 and 12.

This is designed to decide whether the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate for an independence referendum, in the absence of consent from the UK Government and Parliament.

The primary approach by UK law officers was to ask the court to set aside the application as premature, on the grounds that an indyref2 Bill has yet to be introduced at Holyrood, let alone carried.

However, the court has now indicated that it is minded to hear both that argument and the substantive case within the same session, citing efficiency and the public interest.

In short, this needs to be settled. Indeed, that is the kernel of the approach adopted by Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, who says that the question must be resolved “authoritatively”.

The Lord Advocate has attracted some opprobrium in certain nationalist circles for, in effect, reflecting both sides of the argument in her written submission to the court.

However, that is to misinterpret her role. She is not a campaigner for independence. The SNP has also sought to present submissions to the court.

Ms Bain is seeking definitive guidance as to whether it would be legitimate, under the Scotland Act, for Holyrood to call a referendum, even although the constitution is reserved to Westminster and the current UK Government withholds consent.

Despite the contemporaneous gravity of this issue, there is room for a little past reflection. Ms Bain notes that the 1707 “Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England has been superseded as a matter of law and exists only as an historical fact”.

That is because of such events as the 1800 Union with Ireland and the secession of the Irish Free State in 1922.

That duly noted, she moves on to examine alternative positions.

A Holyrood Act would relate to reserved matters if it “purported to authorise” an independent Scotland or Scottish statehood. However, to the contrary, it could be argued that the referendum was consultative, not “self-executing”: it would have no intrinsic legal effect.

To which, Lord Stewart, the Advocate General in the UK Government, says, regardless of self-execution, the purpose of the exercise would be “to build momentum” towards the termination of the Union.

So what might happen? The court might find in favour of Holyrood having the power to act, without consent.

In which case, Ms Sturgeon would move to implement her plan for indyref2 on the 19th of October 2023.

Unionists might boycott such a referendum. Alternatively, the UK Government might seek to amend the Scotland Act to counter the verdict of the court, explicitly ruling out a Holyrood referendum in statute.

Neither step would be without political danger for the Union. Nationalists would protest furiously. There would be enhanced pressure on the UK Government to concede an agreed poll.

However, I think it more likely that the Supreme Court will find in favour of the UK Government case. Which is that a referendum on Scottish independence “plainly” relates to the reserved matter of the Union.

What then? Ms Sturgeon has made it clear that she would not seek to hold an “illegal” referendum, against the judgement of the court.

Rather, it seems to me that the astute court initiative is designed to quell muttering in her own ranks – and to persuade voters that the obstacle to self-determination is Westminster obduracy.

Instead, she would make the next UK General Election a quasi-referendum on independence. As would the Scottish Greens.

I think the stress here would be on “quasi”. This could not be a decisive referendum in that implementation of independence requires Westminster compliance.

However, precedents have been cited by some. One is the 1918 UK General Election in which Sinn Fein won a landslide in Ireland – and set up a Parliament in Dublin, Dáil Eireann, which led to the Irish Free State.

However, Ms Sturgeon tends not to cite Irish parallels too closely, given the history of armed conflict. Even Yeats’ “terrible beauty” sits uneasily.

Perhaps then we might look to the 1910 “people’s budget” election in which the Liberals sought to curb the power of the Lords to block money Bills. Or the February 1974 “who governs” election, held against a background of industrial strife.

Either way, the objective would be to seek an explicit popular mandate, subsequently wielding it to demand that Westminster agrees to a referendum.

In sum, it will be electoral pressure that is deployed, rather than legal argument.

Again, there is no certainty here. The SNP’s leading position in Scottish politics may erode. However, if it does not, then a referendum seems probable. Eventually.