WE are barely out of the traps in the race to the next independence referendum in 2023 and the future of the UK is already on shaky ground.

With the respective Yes and No campaigns still to tie their shoelaces, a Panelbase study published in The Times put support for independence on 51% backing, leaving the UK trailing when don’t-knows are removed. And if history has taught us anything, we can expect Project Fear to turn itself up to 11 in response.

A narrowing of the polls in 2014 was the catalyst for Westminster to finally realise that Scotland wasn’t just in the middle of a little strop, as the London-centric media had assumed, but a full-throated cultural debate over its future – and the threats quickly followed.

Scotland could be attacked from space if it leaves the UK. You won’t be able to watch Doctor Who after independence. Voting Yes will mean dragging Scotland out of the European Union … oops.

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The strategy was to heap as much doubt and danger as possible on to the prospect of an independent Scotland while deflecting any concerns over what staying in the UK could mean.

The head of Better Together, Blair McDougall, smugly quipped during a televised debate that the Yes campaign needed to get its scare stories in order. Was it the likelihood of a Conservative victory at the next General Election that should spur on people to vote Yes, or was it the threat of Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservatives? Well Blair, it turned out to be both.

However, the baseless and occasionally hilarious threats of the first No campaign will not be its undoing in 2023. If it is anything, it will be the litany of broken promises that undermines every claim and countenance that comes from the next iteration of Better Together.

The UK had a chance to look at the circumstances that led nearly half of the population of Scotland to back independence, a chance it squandered.

In the years that have followed the 2014 vote, it has become increasingly clear that the promises made by the No campaign were worth less than the paper on which the Code of Conduct for MPs is written. At best, promises were made with good intentions and total naivety to the political nature of Westminster. At worst, the No campaign said whatever it needed to to suppress the Yes vote, regardless of the truth.

The National: Former Better Together director Blair McDougall

Unfortunately, given that McDougall (above) later acknowledged that he didn’t believe the No campaign would have been successful if not for its relentless focus on scaremongering, I find myself leaning toward the latter.

The 2014 No Campaign’s scorched-earth strategy is coming back like heartburn after a glass of white wine in your 30s – and going into the next referendum, they face a serious credibility issue.

Obviously, the claim that voting No was the only way to protect Scotland’s place in the EU sticks out like a Tory councillor at a Pride march but it’s hardly the only promise that has been revealed as dangerously shallow.

Rather than the faster, safer devolution of more powers that was promised following a No vote, Scotland instead ended up in a constitutional cage match, with pro-Union parties scraping away as much as possible from the settlement. This was followed up with the undemocratic Internal Market Act in 2020, a legitimate threat to devolution that actively sought to bring guidance and regulations across the UK into line with the wishes of Westminster even in devolved areas.

In Wales at this moment, the 2017 Trade Union Act is under threat. It prevents agency staff from being used if public-sector workers go on strike, making this an attack on not only devolution but on the rights of workers.

On the issue of green and renewable energy, too, a key industry not only for the future of Scotland but the planet, we quickly went from voting No to protect subsidies to facing drastic cuts to the development of clean energy projects – not to mention that Scots pay higher energy bills on average than those in England and Wales because of the ridiculous transmission charges to access the National Grid.

Whatever form that the next campaign against Scottish independence takes, it will be hit repeatedly and fairly with the same simple question: why should we trust you this time?

The issue is likely only to be compounded by Boris Johnson’s lingering grip over British politics, a void of credibility in the guise of a floppy buffoon with the pompous title of Minister for the Union.

Should Labour make the mistake of getting the band back together – officially bringing the blue brothers to a televised debate near you – it would only worsen the credibility issues facing the British establishment.

The campaign for the Union, as it currently stands, will find itself under more scrutiny than ever before, so damaged has its reputation become – and finding itself fronted by a Prime Minister seemingly oblivious to how deeply unpopular he is can and should solidify the No campaign’s reputation as deeply untrustworthy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the extent to which the No campaign kept the public misinformed during the last referendum becomes a key part of the next official campaign for Yes. The 2014 No campaign ran a strategy that could only ever work once – and in doing so may have scuppered any chance it ever would have had of winning a second time.