RECEIVED wisdom can, in truth, be urban legend. Common beliefs about politics especially so. In The Referendum that Changed a Nation, four eminent political science academics put the 2014 vote and its aftermath under their microscope.

An attempt to distil years of original survey data into one explanatory work, it is at its most striking when calling into question many of the things we thought we knew about why Scotland voted No.

“The Vow” and the leader debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling? Short shrift. Nothing to show any significant effect on the outcome. Was the result one of head-over-heart? Perhaps, but not entirely the way you might think.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond: Every pro-Union promise from 2014 has been broken

The research shows gut feelings of Britishness were much stronger at making people vote No than gut feelings of Scottishness were at making people vote Yes. The EU? Regardless of the No campaign’s assurances, voters at the time actually found the prospect of the UK leaving the EU quite likely.

These conclusions leap out for challenging accepted myths, but the book also abounds with examples of the data vindicating common beliefs.

The Yes support base was indeed very much among progressives to the left of the political centre. Almost all the Yes voters did go on to vote SNP thereafter.

And the 2016 Brexit referendum, while having a noticeable impact in many ways, did not rewire Scotland’s political soul in the same way as 2014 did.

A strength of the book is that conclusions like these are not just based on an individual poll, such as those that come and go each month to frenzied media speculation. At minimum, conclusions are formed from trends across many such polls.

And the research includes the gold dust that is panel work – where people are polled and then those same people re-contacted months or years after the first survey to see whether their views had changed.

For example, this lets the authors track the many independence-sceptic voters who backed the SNP and Greens in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. They were indeed won over in great numbers by the time of the referendum, fuelling a large part of the great surge in support for the Yes campaign.

Independence supporters keen to find new material for the frequent discussions about whether the media influenced the referendum result will find interesting new titbits to chew over.

Using their panel data, the authors create what amounts to a league table of how well each Unionist newspaper sold the message to their readership across the summer of 2014. And, as they say in internet adverts, the results will surprise you.

The media question is however one of the areas where academic inclinations of the authors win out and they are candid about the limitations of what they are working with, rather than trying to ignore gaps in their evidence.

The National:

While they recognise there is a contention that BBC coverage may have been influential, they point out there were few respondents in their surveys who didn’t consume BBC news and so they have no real grounds for comparison. The matter is discussed but left unresolved.

This commitment to the scientific method is equally commendable and frustrating. There are big questions left answerable only with theories. For example, why did Yes lose when more people appeared to believe that campaign’s arguments than those of their opponents?

The authors suggest the economic argument may have trumped all others, or uncertainty and risk aversion as possible explanations but they do not adjudicate between them because their evidence does not definitively answer either way.

It all leaves me wanting more. I want chapter four to be three full chapters. I want to know how the realignment of chapter five occurred across the voter groups set out in chapter six.

And I want to read the next book that brings it all up to the present day. But this is a book very obviously trying to speak to several audiences at once – satisfying the academics who crave statistical regression tables, while not overloading the lay person.

Many books have been inspired by the 2014 referendum and its aftermath already. Polemics abounded in the run-up to the vote, beating the drum for both No and Yes. There have been blow-by-blow accounts built on juicy interviews with insiders. And authors have tried to put it all together to convince readers of their preferred grand narrative of how Scotland’s politics are and should be.

This long-awaited book does something else, something that has long been needed.

The Referendum that Changed a Nation examines the independence vote through a numerical lens, substantiating beliefs and repudiating myths alike with academic detachment and rigour.

Any questions that have faced its trial-by-statistics and been left unresolved may well now always remain so.