WHAT will the political universe look like after Nicola Sturgeon? In one sense, this is a trivial question.

SNP members will elect a new leader and the party will move on. Commentators will doubtless obsess about the prospective candidates to replace Sturgeon, but someone inevitably will.

The choice, for what it’s worth, is between a safe but uncharismatic pair of hands – Angus Robertson? – or a revolving succession of relatively unknown newbies.

Politics may never be the same again, but there will be politics.

No, the “succession” question only matters if the passing of Sturgeon presages a shift in the dominance of the national question in political life, north of the Border and in the UK as a whole. Let’s examine the possibilities.

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First and foremost, the loss of a charismatic SNP leader and the continuation of the present constitutional stalemate, could see an eventual revival of other political options, not least the rise of a genuine Home Rule party, i.e. a current dedicated to greater Scottish autonomy within the UK.

This effectively was the course taken by politics in Quebec after the failure of the second “sovereigntist” referendum in 1995. The autonomist and hard, pro-dependence wings of the movement split, with the devolutionist current gaining the upper hand.

In the Scottish context, it is important to remember that the autonomist, Home Rule tradition was dominant in the Labour and Liberal parties for much of the 20th century. It was only after Scottish Labour turned neo-Stalinist following the Second World War that Home Rule orthodoxy was driven out by a mindless UK centralism (underwritten by Labour backbenchers at Westminster protecting their bailiwick). Liberal Party support for a genuine federalism died in the era after Joe Grimond’s leadership. The rise of the SNP and support for outright independence only followed after the suppression of this Home Rule current.

There still lurks in Labour and the other Unionist parties a touching faith that if the SNP disappears under a bus then politics north of the Border will return to “normal” – meaning Scotland will revert somehow to a 1950s-style way of voting along UK lines. Anyone who thinks this is plain daft.

After 30 years with its own parliament and making its own decisions, Scotland will always vote in its own self-interest. If support for independence wanes, it will only make way for a new autonomist current. The era after Sturgeon could see a crisis in the SNP but the demand for Scottish exceptionalism and political autonomy (in some shape or form) will remain unabated. Only the political form might change.

If the constitutional question were to recede in dominance for a period after Sturgeon’s exit, what would dominate the political agenda in Scotland? In Quebec, the state of the economy became the battleground.

It could be here, especially now the Bank of England has revised down the average growth we can hope for long term to a measly 1% per annum – indefinably. If we stay in the UK, we are going to get poorer. Future politics in Scotland could revolve around how we respond.

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That might lead to the emergence of new political parties north of the Border. We seem to have forgotten that the early Holyrood elections produced a crop of MSPs from the Scottish Socialist Party and the Senior Citizens Party plus assorted independents. And Scottish politics was much the better for that variety.

There is clearly room at Holyrood for a Farmers Party or a Business Party, especially given how useless the Tories are. The dominance of the SNP under Sturgeon has skewed local politics in an identarian, uber liberal direction.

But it would be dangerous to think it impossible for right-wing groups to gain representation. Consider the situation in the Nordic countries. In last September’s elections in Sweden, the anti-immigrant, semi-fascist bloc won a fifth of the popular vote. While I doubt matters could get so dangerous here, I think we should never think that the present stasis in Scottish politics is here forever.

STURGEON’S long-time hold over political discourse in Scotland is the result of more than her own acuity and personality. Rather it is down to a precarious balance of forces that could shift at any moment. With the Unionist parties splitting their own vote and the SNP near hegemonic thanks to Green support, politics is frozen – Nicola or no Nicola.

But if her quitting starts to unravel the status quo, then we will see a shake-up at Holyrood regardless of who becomes the next FM.

There are also wild cards. Successive SNP administrations have managed to balance between blaming Westminster for lack of cash while finding enough down the back of the Holyrood sofa to placate local demands – at least until now. However, the financial whipping boy in this strategy has been local government which has been starved of resources till the pips have well and truly squeaked.

The current crop of public-sector pay demands might see the end of the usual brinkmanship between Holyrood and the city chambers, especially in Scotland’s bigger urban areas. If higher wage settlements are paid for through redundancies, the game could be up. The erosion of SNP popular support could begin at a local level.

The crucial thing is that the national movement as a whole, and the SNP membership in particular, are failing to sense this wind of change. True, for the first time in ages there are signs of dissent among Sturgeon loyalists over the surrogate referendum strategy she proposed in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

Offering to put that risky strategy proposal up for discussion at a special conference has opened the proverbial can of political worms – and showed an unusual lack of tactical nous from Sturgeon. But there comes a time when political luck runs out, and Sturgeon has had a lot of luck to bolster to her undoubted abilities.

Yet when all is said and done, I remain optimistic about Scotland’s future. I am sure we can rely on the Westminster parties to get everything wrong. Keir Starmer is unlikely to embrace his political namesake’s passion for Scottish Home Rule.

The Tories are in political meltdown and show no signs of recovering. Historically, it is too late to regenerate majority support for a Home Rule option in Scotland.

If Westminster won’t play ball, there is nobody to negotiate it with.

Then there is the ticking constitutional timebomb of Northern Ireland. The disintegration of the United Kingdom is not down to Scotland alone. At some point, economics and demographics will take the Six Counties out of the Union.

After that, nothing will prevent a successful second independence referendum here. The tectonic plates have shifted too far for the Union to survive. It’s a question of timing.

Of course, the choice of Sturgeon’s successor as SNP leader and next First Minister will have a direct bearing on the pace of developments. There’s always a human factor in politics. But ultimately great tides of ideas and movements overwhelm the personal.

When the time comes, I’ll give you my tuppenceworth on who should occupy Bute House. For now, the struggle for independence continues regardless.