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'The best of times, the worst of times,' Indyref five years on

A 'Yes' supporter ahead of 2014's Independence Referendum Credit: Press Association

It was the best of times, and the worst of times - for both sides of the momentous constitutional debate that consumed Scotland in 2014.

For the proponents of independence the best of times came during the campaign as polls suggested movement their way, and supporters seemed to be everywhere in Scotland, riding a wave of optimism and motivated by their true belief.

The worst of times for them was the morning after, when it became clear 'Yes' with 44.7% of the vote, had been defeated by the 55.3% backing 'No', the option of remaining in the United Kingdom.

Dejected pro-independence supporters after the 'No' victory Credit: Press Association

For the supporters of Scotland remaining in the Union, the worst of times was pretty much all of the campaign and in particular less than two weeks before the vote when a poll suggested they would lose, and the United Kingdom was about to be disunited.

And for them, of course, the best of times came when that result came though their reaction was more a deep, collective sigh of relief rather than jubilation, a telling contrast to the trauma, tears and heartbreak the 'Yes' side endured.

As the smoke of constitutional battle cleared on the day after the referendum, most observers - including this one - though that the independence issue had been resolved at least for a generation, which was what some SNP politicians had claimed.

'No' supporters celebrate their victory in 2014's Independence Referendum Credit: Press Association

The resignation of the then First Minister, Alex Salmond, who was succeeded by Nicola Sturgeon, seemed to signal the end of an era. No-one thought for a minute Ms Sturgeon would give up on the idea of independence, but that she would proceed with caution.

And perhaps politics would, for a while, go back to 'normal' with divisions not over the constitution but on 'traditional' left/right issues such as tax and spend, the state of the NHS or education.

Yet in the aftermath of the referendum it soon became clear that paradoxically the winners had become the losers, and the losers the winners. In the 2015 UK general election the SNP, the party of independence, won an astonishing 56 seats.

But the year after that the Scottish Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, campaigned on a message of opposition to a second referendum and overtook Labour to become the main opposition at Holyrood, winning 31 seats to the SNP's 63.

And in 2017 again with a strong message of opposition to independence the Tories surprised even themselves by taking 13 Westminster seats, up from just one, and the SNP slipped back to 35.

So what the heck was going on? Well, it was clear that constitutional politics had not gone away in terms of Scotland.

And into that mix there was the additional constitutional complication of Brexit, with a vote to leave in June 2016, though Scotland voted by a majority to remain.

Credit: Press Association

Constitutionally confused? You might be forgiven for being. The question now is where is all this likely to lead. It in the age of political uncertainty, it would be foolish to predict anything with certainty, but we can be sure the issue of independence is not going away.

The argument will be this: if the UK finally leaves the EU, supporters of independence say that Scotland would be better off economically leaving the UK.

Supporters of the Union, even those who oppose Brexit, will argue that it would be damaging for Scotland to leave the UK as it's largest market for its goods and services.

Those backing independence will argue that the claims made by the pro-Union side in 2014, that an independent Scotland would not be guaranteed membership of the EU and would stay a member as part of the UK, have been shown to be false.

On the other side it will be argued that the SNP is merely using the Brexit crisis to make their case, that Scots are still not convinced and are, frankly, fed up with debates over constitutional issues, whether it be leaving the EU or independence.

Is either side right? Well, there is some evidence from the polls suggesting an increase in support for independence. And there is a suggestion that Scots who supported 'remain' in the Brexit referendum but 'no' to independence are moving towards supporting leaving the UK.

Credit: Press Association

You can read details of poll analysis from Professor Sir John Curtice here:

But that is not exactly overwhelming support, and will pray on the minds of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP leadership. This time they want to be certain they can win.

The second consideration is whether there will be a second independence referendum. The SNP is currently putting legislation through Holyrood for a second vote. They say that along with the independence supporting Scottish Greens there numbers amount to a mandate for a referendum in this session of Holyrood.

However, for it to be legal Westminster has to give 'consent' as it did in 2014. The UK government, in the shape of Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, is saying a firm 'No' for now.

Ms Sturgeon and the SNP claim that a good performance by the SNP in the expected UK general election later this year, will mean the pressure on the UK government becomes irresistible.

Legal action to try to force the UK government to act following Holyrood legislation is possible, but if that does not materialise, all the signs are the UK government will tough it out.

Which will make the 2021 elections to Holyrood even more important. The SNP go into that saying a vote for them will give them a cast iron mandate for indyref2, as it is known. As will the Greens.

The Tories will try to stop them, as will the Liberal Democrats. Labour will say indyref2 is not a priority but Jeremy Corbyn has left the door open to a second referendum some time in the course of the term of a government he hopes to lead.

Where does all of this lead? Well, we can't predict where it will all end. But we can be sure we will be debating constitutional issues for some time yet in Scotland, and indeed the UK.

Depending on your perspective, that will be deeply joyful or deeply depressing.

And what lies ahead? The best of times, or the worst of times? Well here is a bit more of that Charles Dickens opening to A Tale of Two Cities. It seems apt:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...."

That may well be how many voters, north and south of the Border, feel about where we are politically.