FIVE years ago today, many Scottish hearts were broken by the result of the Scottish independence referendum. Top of the list was Alex Salmond, who resigned immediately, insisting that “the dream will never die”, though he accepted it might go into abeyance for a generation.

The legions of boisterous Yes campaigners plunged into a state of near depression. Ultra nationalists claimed that the ballot had been rigged.

Everyone congratulated themselves on a campaign that was hard-fought but honest. It had engaged unprecedented numbers of Scots in the democratic process: an astonishing 97 per cent of voters registered. But most of them – even some who voted Yes – were privately relieved at the result. There was little doubt that independence would have led to short-term disruption as Scotland disengaged from the old United Kingdom.

But nothing could have prepared us for the disruption that has been caused by remaining in it.

Had Scottish voters known five years ago that voting No would lead to Scotland being dragged out of the European Union against its will the result might have been very different. If we’d known that Boris Johnson would be Prime Minister, and launching a phoney war with Europe, more than a few minds might have been changed.

Scotland is governed, yet again, by a Tory Party it has repeatedly rejected at the ballot box. The difference now is that this party, according even to David Cameron, has morphed into a populist parody of Conservatism. It is led by a delinquent PM who says he will refuse to obey the law and compares himself to the Incredible Hulk. This superannuated superhero is prepared to expose Scotland to the wholly avoidable tragedy of a no deal Brexit.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union in 2016. However, the Scottish Government’s reasoned proposals for keeping Scotland open to the European Single Market (ESM) were rejected out of hand by the UK Tory Government. Yet Mr Johnson is now proposing to allow Northern Ireland to remain in regulatory alignment with the ESM, the very halfway house outlined in two Scottish Government white papers. Scotland has been offered a fantasy bridge to Ireland that everyone knows will never happen.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament’s powers have been curtailed as a result of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. The Sewel Convention, that the Scottish Parliament should consent to any UK legislation that cuts across its powers, has been discarded. The proposal by the then Lord Chancellor Michael Gove that Scotland should control immigration after Brexit has been conveniently forgotten.

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Hardly surprising, then, that Ruth Davidson has found it impossible to remain as Scottish Conservative Party leader, and has resigned to spend more time with her family. Imagine if Scottish voters had been told, five years ago, that the dynamic face of Scottish Unionism would find herself unable to suffer this catalogue of broken promises and right-wing demagoguery. Had the Yes Scotland campaign suggested in 2014 that all this would be the result of a No vote they’d have been ridiculed.

We can’t rerun history, of course. The result was what it was: independence was rejected by a clear majority. However, we could rerun the independence referendum. The tantalising question is whether more Scots today, knowing what has happened, would vote for independence. The opinion polls are ambiguous. Most Scots apparently believe Scotland will ultimately become independent, but support for Yes has risen painfully slowly and is barely above 50 per cent.

But let’s be clear: the case for a repeat referendum on Scottish independence is unanswerable. “Material circumstances”, to use the First Minister’s criterion for Indyref2, have changed out of all recognition. Even the former Conservative Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, has conceded that, if there were to be a majority after the next Scottish parliamentary elections for Indyref2, the UK Government would have no choice but to accept a Section 30 order legitimising it.

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, announced in Edinburgh last month that Labour would “not stand in the way” of a repeat referendum. Labour realises that it would be undemocratic to call for a second referendum on Brexit, and then block a second referendum on Scottish independence.

However, it is not clear that Scots would necessarily vote for independence right now. The Brexit backwash has left most voters angry and confused, and many have turned away from the political process altogether. Only the brave say we should hold a referendum on Scotland leaving the UK before it is known whether and how the UK is going to leave the EU.

READ MORE: New indyref poll - Fewer than three out of 10 want another vote before 2021 

So perhaps it is just as well that Scots will probably not be asked to consider independence any time soon. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she’ll apply for a Section 30 order for a referendum next year, but she knows perfectly well that it will be rejected with a snort of derision from Number 10. This rejection will generate the top line of the SNP’s 2021 Scottish parliamentary election campaign.

Ms Sturgeon is likely to return with another landslide, and with the help of the Scottish Greens will probably win a second Holyrood mandate (she already has one from 2017) for a referendum. What happens then is anyone’s guess.

Mr Johnson may be history, and Labour may be in government in Westminster, perhaps with SNP support. That could mean a referendum in around 2023/4. If Mr Johnson is back in office he may still reject a referendum on the grounds that Scotland would try to rejoin the EU. Equally, the Brexit experience may have turned many Scots against the idea of holding a referendum at all, given the divisive consequences of such binary ballots.

However, a referendum is not the only way to achieve independence. Scotland is already behaving increasingly like an independent country. The psychological break with Unionism was in 2014. Another decade of fractious disputes overpowers, finance and relations with Europe might well lead both sides to conclude that Scotland and England should go their separate ways.

Full separation is anyway inconceivable in the modern age, but a velvet divorce, leaving an economically self-governing Scotland as part of a new confederal United Kingdom under the Crown is not inconceivable. That, after all, was what the 2013 Scottish Independence White Paper asked for.