WHAT a difference six years makes, eh? Who could possibly have predicted we would end up here?

“We did!” I’m sure some of you will reply. “We knew in September 2014 that Scotland was doomed if we stayed in the Union!”

But unless you were campaigning in parallel for an end to London rule and the closure of Chinese wet markets then I think it’s fair to say we both had our blind spots.

I can understand why, on the anniversary of the indyref, those who have always been Yes get frustrated afresh with those of us who voted No. It’s not surprising that the response to “No to Yes” journeys is often “about time” or “glad you’ve come to your senses” rather than a simple “welcome aboard”. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Yes, we were warned. We were told a No vote would embolden the Unionists, put an instant stop to the “love bombing” and ensure any concerns raised by Scottish MPs would be flicked away by future UK Governments.

But on the other hand we were not reassured by the EU that Scotland’s status as a member state was secure. When Better Together told us only a No vote would guarantee it, of course that gave many people pause.

It’s worth remembering that in 2014 Jeremy Corbyn was an obscure back-bencher and Boris Johnson a comedy mayor. Back then, the notion of this dishevelled pair going head-to-head in a UK General Election would have seemed as ludicrous as Donald Trump becoming President of the United States.

Looking back now, it might seem like a succession of victories for the Tory hard right was inevitable – Scotland getting governments it didn’t vote for, yet again, just as the Yes campaigners warned about. But in fact no-one analysing the polling data actually predicted this.

No-one involved in the 2010-15 coalition emerged unscathed, and by the time of the election the Tories were busy fighting among themselves. In May 2015 the polls were unanimous in predicting a hung parliament. Even the exit poll – which caused shockwaves by putting the Conservatives much further ahead – suggested they would be six seats short of an overall majority.

For months I’d been nit-picking with friends and colleagues whenever anyone mentioned the promise of an in/out EU referendum in the event of a Tory election win. “A majority win,” I would pipe up, drawing attention to David Cameron’s small print. “It’s not going to happen.”

But of course, it happened.

If even the pollsters were getting it wrong – even after the polls had closed – it’s not really fair to say that Scottish voters should have seen that result coming eight months earlier, and factored it into their decision on independence. And even if a Tory victory at the next election had seemed assured, what about the one after that?

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WHAT about the bigger picture, including the new powers for Scotland that were promised as part of the Vow? Boris Johnson might have conveniently forgotten about them by now, but we haven’t. Right now we’re getting daily reminders of the limits to Scotland’s powers – including over devolved areas including health – but of course any time Nicola Sturgeon mentions this during a coronavirus briefing a BBC director seeks to shout “cut!”

Cameron had vowed to renegotiate a better deal with the European Union – one that would be so appealing to the Great British public that the Eurosceptics would be silenced once and for all, Tory party discipline would be restored (ha!) and Nigel Farage would have to crawl back under his rock. What he failed to appreciate was that by 2020 no-one would even remember the details of his new deal (limited, as it was always going to be, by the EU’s red lines). He may as well not have bothered trying, and the Leave side used every dirty trick in the book to persuade voters they needed to “take back control”. Once again, the outcome was not easy to predict. The polls showed Leave and Remain neck-and-neck until the big day, when YouGov put Remain on 52%, suggesting Brexit was off the table.

But of course, it happened.

Imagine, if you can, that the Yes side had decided to fight fire with fire and launch their own “Project Fear” campaign, aiming to scare Scots into voting Yes using graphic visions of a disintegrating UK from which we would, in due course, be mighty relieved to be unshackled. Had the advertising executives gazed into a crystal ball for inspiration, the resulting campaign would have been pretty damn scary. But it would also have been met with howls of derision and disbelief. A hard-right UK Government led by that eejit from Have I Got News For You? The Labour Party spending the best part of five years – five years! – trying to reverse out of an electoral cul-de-sac? Preposterous. At least make your scare-mongering realistic, they would have said. Desperate stuff from the deluded nationalists!

An out-of-control right-wing government, controlled by an evil puppet master, threatening to break international law and to poison the population with bacteria-laced chicken? Come on now, this is just silly. Does James Bond make a cameo appearance, shooting a blowpipe at Nicola Sturgeon from the Holyrood viewing gallery? Next you’ll be reigniting the Troubles in Northern Ireland and making a member of the royal family a sex offender. Simply not realistic.

The cinema adverts would have looked like trailers for some kind of disaster movie – even before the shock twist of a global pandemic. The only thing missing would have been a giant asteroid hurtling towards Milton Keynes.

In the run-up to the vote in 2014, independence was always framed as the risky option, with campaigners trying to persuade others that it was a risk worth taking because the potential reward was a better, fairer country. No campaigners were seldom interrogated about the risks of staying, despite the fact that the so-called “status quo” option was unpredictable and the rise of the far right was undeniable. Some may have attempted to muster up a “positive case for the Union”, based either on historical ties or recent policies, but none of these have aged well.

Those who favoured staying in the Union – particularly older voters worried about their pensions – were portrayed as cowardly, selfish, and fearful of change. They were persuaded that if they voted No, things would carry on as they had before, which wouldn’t have sounded too bad to those who were living comfortable lives and weren’t lying awake at night pondering the democratic deficit.

But if there’s been one constant since six years ago today, it’s been change. And not just the usual cycles of political change at regular elections but irreversible, harmful mutations ... and permanent damage to the reputation of the United Kingdom.

In another year’s time, where will we be? It’s impossible to say. So the question we must all ask ourselves is this: which risk do we wish to take – the risk of staying on this path, or the risk of charting a new one?