I VOTED Yes in the 2014 referendum on independence yet didn’t encounter any sleepless nights when a majority of my fellow Scots voting No. I didn’t experience any sense of despair or resentment at those who had looked independence in the eye and then opted for the status quo. Those of us who voted Yes couldn’t have it both ways: we couldn’t on the one hand rail against the perceived arrogance and condescension of some Unionists and yet accuse our fellow Scots of ignorance and naivete because they voted with the other side. Any second independence referendum won’t be won until we start to respect the many reasons why 55 per cent of voters had no wish to leave the UK.

Scottish independence became for me a preference; not a life-defining mission. I was as engaged as anyone in the fervour and was enchanted by the vision of a saltire flying above the UN building in New York. The thought of Scotland making its own decisions on what sort of society we wanted to establish was seductive but was behind faith, family and friendship in my priorities.

And while I was dismayed at what I perceived as a lurch towards the hard Right in England and the unpleasant rise of xenophobia which was to characterise the Leave campaign in the EU referendum, we were hardly under an English jackboot. Few of us could say our lives would have been significantly improved in an independent Scotland. We shared many common values with the ordinary people of England and had stood strongly with them throughout many bitter industrial disputes.

It’s been four years since I declared my preference for Scottish independence. The Yes movement during this period has become stronger and more far-flung to a degree beyond the imagination of its die-hard adherents even a decade ago. Yet, overall, the three years since the referendum has not been kind to the cause of Scottish independence. The oil price crash undermined rosy claims of future prosperity contained in the first independence White Paper and the SNP have been sluggish at constructing an articulate response to the annual publication of the GERS figures, an event many pro-UK commentators now celebrate.

The UK’s chaotic approach to Brexit has often resembled Dunkirk without the happy ending, yet curiously the SNP have been slipshod in using this to their advantage. Instead, perversely, Scotland’s pro-UK contingent has deployed that chaos to warn against “a divisive second referendum”. In doing so they have successfully dodged the inconvenient truth at the heart of this position: That the UK has been dangerously and violently divided against itself since David Cameron announced the referendum on Europe.

I think it was Jock Stein who once said that though Celtic was not his first love it was certainly his most abiding one. I think this is an approximation of my own relationship with the cause of an independent Scotland. For, despite the reversals and vicissitudes of the last three years, I now know my support for self-determination will not now change. And it is now grown to be something significantly more than a mere “preference”; it’s now a moral imperative. And I think this invigoration has had more to do with the nature and tone of the pro-UK responses and attitudes to those who support Scottish independence. Certainly, the original reasons for my late conversion to the cause of independence remain. The UK Government’s insistence on pursuing a one-sided programme of austerity which punished the vulnerable and grants tax breaks to the most affluent has, if anything, become more relentless. The suspicion and tendency to blame foreigners that always lurked below the surface of the scarecrow elements of the UK Conservative Party is now part of its mainstream thinking, re-enforcing the depressing anti-European rhetoric of Britain’s hard-Brexiters.

The dismissive and supercilious tone of several pro-UK commentators, many of whom I admire, was on display this week when the latest GERS figures were unveiled. These figures are notional and no one now suggests they envisage what the economy of an independent Scotland would be over a prolonged period of time. They treat Scotland as a region of an unequal union dominated by the London super-state which sucks an increasing proportion of the UK’s wealth into it. Yet the pro-UK lobby in Scotland parrot them slavishly and uncritically and in a tone that appears to derive glee at something that shows the nation in a poor light.

The group Business for Scotland had also released research that compared the UK’s management of our oil and gas resources unfavourably with Norway’s. As Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, its CEO, said yesterday: “The UK Government over the last two years since the oil price dropped gave Shell £179 million in tax rebates, while Shell paid the Norwegian Government £4.5 billion.” Certainly, a degree of caution must be attached to the figures as Business for Scotland is a pro-independence group. Mr MacIntyre-Kemp’s numbers at least deserved some consideration; not the slew of deeply personal and insulting invective which has increasingly come to characterise pro-UK opinion in Scotland.

I’ve also been dismayed by the irresponsible tactics of the Scottish Conservatives. This outfit – they are not fit to be called a political party – don’t appear to stand for anything. The independence movement has been criticised for having no new ideas, yet its chief opponents have little to say other than “No referendum”. Their politically nihilistic approach is epitomised by Douglas Ross who replaced Angus Robertson as MP for Moray. Mr Ross declared that if he were Prime Minister for a day he would bring in “tougher enforcement against gypsies and travellers”. What could he have meant by this: transportation to the colonies?

Pro-UK leaders have been eager, on the back of the 2017 election results in Scotland, to claim support for independence has retreated. It’s curious then that their insults have grown uglier and their rhetoric more shrill and angry.

Yet, the tendency of some Scottish nationalists to turn on other, more uncertain Yes voters, also depresses me. Without these there can be no hope of gaining independence. Like me, many of them will never vote for the SNP; unlike me some of them have become so sickened by the abuse they receive from party supporters that they are in danger of walking away from the Yes movement for good.