THE UK Supreme Court has announced the time and date for its judgment on the independence referendum court case put before it by the Scottish Government.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seeks a favourable ruling that will put beyond legal doubt her government’s plans to hold an independence referendum in October next year without the consent of whichever unelected Conservative prime minister occupies Number 10 by then. The ruling will be published at 9.45am on Wednesday, November 23.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is the single most constitutionally and politically important case to come before the Supreme Court since it was established in 2009.

Although this case is technically about the narrow question of whether the Scotland Act gives the Scottish Parliament the legal competence to hold a consultative referendum on independence (the only kind of referendum possible in the UK) without the consent of the British Government in the form of a Section 30 order, its political and constitutional ramifications are far reaching and profound.

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This case goes to the very heart of the issue of whether the UK is, in fact, as we have always been assured by generations of British politicians, a voluntary union of nations. If this is indeed the case, then the people of Scotland have the absolute right to decide for themselves whether they desire to put Scotland's membership of the United Kingdom to the test in a referendum, and do not require anyone's permission, and certainly not that of a British prime minister whose party has a mere six MPs in Scotland and which has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s.

Arguments about whether this is or is not the right time for another referendum are irrelevant. If the UK is indeed a voluntary union, then it is up to the people of Scotland to decide if they want another referendum. Those British parties which fear they might lose that referendum will always argue that the time is not right for it, and if they are confident of winning, they will argue there is no need for it. If the UK is indeed a voluntary union, the national right to self-determination of the people of Scotland cannot be held hostage by the political calculations of parties opposed to Scottish independence.

It cannot plausibly be gainsaid that by the normal and long accepted rules of democratic elections in the UK, the Scottish Parliament was given a mandate by the electorate of Scotland to deliver another independence referendum. This is the only democratic means available to the people of Scotland to express their desire for another referendum. If democracy is to have any meaning in a Scotland which is a part of the UK, this mandate must be respected.

The alternative is that the claim that the UK is a voluntary union of nations is merely a comforting fiction which was asserted by British nationalist politicians as long as they thought that there was no plausible chance of Scotland putting the claim to the test and making a bid for independence which could realistically succeed in gaining the support of a majority here.

If – as a majority of observers expect – the court rules against the Scottish Government, it means that the anti-independence parties can no longer maintain the fiction that the UK is a voluntary union which respects Scotland's right to self-determination. The claim that the UK is a voluntary union has been politically immensely valuable to the anti-independence parties, which is why they have been desperate to maintain the legal ambiguity surrounding the question up until now.

The anti-independence parties would then find themselves in the politically difficult position of defending a so-called union which does not respect Scottish democracy and which has been founded upon a lie told for generations.

A ruling in favour of the British Government would most certainly not put the question of Scottish independence to rest, it would merely trigger a new phase in the campaign which would see the abandonment of efforts to secure a Section 30 order. This will never be granted if there is any real chance of the Yes side winning.

The focus would shift to a version of the situation which held prior to the establishment of the devolved Scottish Parliament, and a mandate for independence would instead be sought in an election in Scotland held as a de facto referendum.

However, there is a third option. The court might rule that it will not make a decision on the substance of the issue and kick the matter back to the politicians. One way or another, we are in for an interesting week.