WILLIAM McIlvanney, as ever, had said it better than anyone else. “Isn't it time to come out of history's deep-freeze and explore for ourselves who we really are? Whatever that reality turns out to be, let's confront it. It's time to grow up and take full responsibility for ourselves.” Now, as Alex Salmond prepared to become the first leader of an independent Scotland in 309 years, he reflected on the events that had guided him to this place.

It had really all begun in the early hours of May 6, 2011. That was when his life had begun to change utterly. At times, it felt like he existed in the eye of a storm and was observing people and events hurling past him. On that morning when it became clear the SNP had been returned by an overwhelming majority at the Holyrood election he knew there would be an independence referendum. But today, well … he could hardly bring himself to dream that today might happen; March 24: Independence Day.

Thank God for Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire, he thought. These places were where it was won and lost. As an elderly lady had said to him one sunny day in Dalmarnock: “We’ve no problem wi’ austerity; we’ve been livin’ with it from the day we were born … but only if we’re a’ in it thegither, which we’re no’.’”

Even after Scotland had said Yes 18 months ago he wondered if, by some other force, the day of Scotland’s independence would ever dawn. He had expected the negotiations, still ongoing, with Westminster over the terms of severance from the rest of the UK to be an exhausting process, but that only began to describe those 18-hour days disputing line after line on page after page of the settlement. There they all were: the massed ranks of the entire UK establishment, their brightest and best and all of them tutored in the fell arts of diplomacy in the country that that practised them better than anyone else.

Gradually though, they had all grown to see something of the other’s humanity and some enduring friendships had even been forged. England might have lost its great northern territory but overnight it had also gained a very close ally.

As expected, within hours of the referendum George Osborne had been on the phone: “Look, First Minister, can we have a discussion about the, er, currency thing?”

“I thought there was nothing to discuss, Chancellor.”

“Well, you know, all’s fair in love and war old chum, what, but we both know it makes sense for you chaps to have the pound.”

He had enjoyed that little conversation. Of course currency union made sense: England imports more than it exports, running up a massive trade deficit in the process. Scotland exports more than it imports and has a healthy surplus. Take Scotland’s contributions away and the economy of the rest of the UK would begin to look somewhat exposed and the pound begins to feel the heat.

And when he had leaked that negotiating paper to The Herald showing advanced plans for a Scottish currency and a central bank it had – how could she put it – concentrated minds on the other side. Currency union was easy-peasy, lemon squeezy; not so Scotland’s putative 8.3 per cent share of the UK’s £1.5 trillion national debt. It was crucial that Scotland assume only a small fraction of that number. Once David Cameron and Mr Osborne had been reminded of the £325bn share of the debt held by the Bank of England and the cost of agreeing to keep Trident for a few years the headline figure began to tumble.

And, for reasons best known to itself, the UK Government had already pledged to stand as guarantors for the debt during the referendum campaign. So, all in all, “the Scots were batting on a good wicket from the outset” as Boris Johnson had put it. And when international ratings agency Fitch declared that it was issuing Scotland with a triple-A credit status based on that statement, the UK side had all begun to bicker among themselves.

Of course, Trident may have to stay for a few years longer than anyone would have liked. But this was a small price to pay for currency union and a manageable share of the debt. It also helped that they were negotiating with Mr Cameron, a man who was putting himself out of a job in a couple of years; so what did he care about trying to relocate the nukes?

The outpouring of joy across Scotland that had begun at 4am on September 19, 2014 had continued ever since and the people had lifted his spirits when it seemed that England wanted to make life as difficult as it could. The world’s media had thrummed with pictures of beautiful, happy Scotland and the world had seemed grateful to it for changing the news agenda away from the misery of the Mediterranean and gun attacks.

There had been a 50 per cent increase in tourist numbers to Scotland in 2015 and this was set to continue for the next five years. Exports of whisky and salmon were going like a fair and there was renewed demand for our world-class research facilities and expertise. Suddenly every bright young person on the planet wanted to study here. No more Scottish money paying for London transport projects and time to re-forge the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures accordingly.

Mr Salmond had lost count of the number of multi-nationals who wanted to exploit this rare wave of boundless optimism and invest here. And he would treasure the call from President Obama welcoming Scotland to the league of independent nations and apologising for his ill-advised remarks about Scottish independence which the Prime Minister had begged him to make. “And now that we’ve got a bit more time on our hands, Michelle and I have decided to buy a small holiday cottage near Loch Lomond.” The whole world, it seemed, wanted to invest in Scotland.

“This independence malarkey seems to have a lot, um, going for it,” Boris Johnson had even said to the First Minister over the smoked salmon tarts and pickled fennel.