PERHAPS it was a sense of propriety that led the Yes movement to resist adopting a Project Fear approach to its 2014 independence campaign. More probable is that by preferring to project optimism and good cheer they would appeal to voters’ sunnier dispositions at a time when Better Together was putting the fear of the apocalypse into them.

The outcome seemed to confirm the wisdom of this strategy: in little over a year the Yes side gained almost 20 percentage points in a contest where the British state was forced to deploy every lever of power at its disposal to maintain its precious Union.

Yet, even if the nationalists had given vent to their darkest imaginations few could have predicted how much the UK Government would undermine the Union in the six years that have since elapsed. If you wanted a single work of art to capture the End of Days shadow that currently stalks the UK I’d recommend a study of the right-hand panel of Hieronymous Bosch’s triptych, the Garden of Earthly Delights.

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The UK is teetering on the edge of an abyss marked Pariah State. For long enough its delusions of power were indulged politely by the world. But you knew that when its backs were turned they gently mocked our obsession with past glories and told their children not to get too close to the old soak who talked about Trafalgar all the time. But no-one had the heart to interrupt his ramblings because, after all, he’d had a good war.

Brexit changed that and has hardened attitudes to the British state. And not just Brexit itself but the conduct of it. The ridiculous initial arrogance as Britain attempted to dictate terms soon gave way to overt xenophobia as Europe didn’t seem as appalled at the prospect of losing us as we thought they might.

When the EU steadfastly refused to indulge this conceit the Conservatives fell back on the trusted old tropes of isolation, empire and racial superiority. These had served the Brexiteers well during the EU referendum and the general election and now they are being used to shift all blame for the consequences of a No-Deal Brexit onto the obstinacy of Europe.

Back in 2014 not even the most assiduously anti-UK, Scottish nationalist would have dared predict that the UK would be happy to put itself beyond the reach of international law and seriously attempt to annexe large parts of the devolved settlement. Even the Royal Family, which provided the English establishment with cover when it was finagling the people, can’t be relied upon. The Windsors have now become the UK version of the Kardashians but without the integrity.

And at the top of all this, like a spoilt child misbehaving at his own birthday party sits Boris Johnson who seemed to represent to many Scots the recent worst of England: the stench of corrupt finance; the petty arrogance; the pandering to hard-right sects. And now carefully constructing another fiction to mask the inadequacies of his leadership coronavirus. As a dramatic rise in infections springs in England’s north-east a few familiar aspersions are being cast towards these communities. This was the area chosen by Dominic Cummings to conduct his audacious experiments in eye-testing for car drivers.

Yet, something much more profound than all of this has fuelled the remarkable spurt in favour of independence. Two forces have begun moving in tandem to re-kindle the fire. During lockdown the reality that we are already living in an independent Scotland has begun to take root.

The reality of mortal danger to our families and communities has conferred a sense of independent nationhood on Scotland, as it has in the other countries of the UK. This is what lay at the heart of those alarmed unionists attempts to cancel Nicola Sturgeon’s daily coronavirus updates. The behaviour of this pathogen remains largely unpredictable and, as yet, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Thus, our reliance on the decisions of Scottish ministers and Scottish medical professionals is absolute.

The survival instinct brings a tunnel vision which extends only to those communities in which both we and our loved ones reside. It’s not that we don’t care about what is happening elsewhere in the UK or beyond, only that decisions taken in Scotland, using data collected in Scotland will determine how we emerge from this health emergency. Scotland right now is behaving like an independent country in all but name by assuming all responsibility for matters of life and death and being seen to have done it well.

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The clumsy machinations to prevent Scotland’s First Minister imparting information crucial to the nation’s health is the latest in a series of maladroit moves by Conservatives and unionists since 2014. They too, effectively have been treating Scotland as though it were already independent.

During the first referendum they swore on their Highland grannies’ graves that Scotland was a valued and equal part of the Union. In the six years that have elapsed though, they have seemed eager to show that it is anything but. Despite Scotland’s overwhelming desire to remain in the EU, Scottish ministers have had virtually no say in negotiations with Europe and are batted away contemptuously for even asking. It’s not the SNP who have been divisive during this period.

No one can say with any degree of certainty if the surge towards independence was inevitable following the 2014 campaign. But it’s fair to assume that if the UK Government really had cared about the Union they might have shown it more. They are currently acting as if they, more than any other, want to destroy it. That they have signalled their intention to wreck the devolution agreement by pursuing a one-sided internal trade bill seems to suggest that they now regard Scotland as too troublesome to be treated as anything more than a vassal state within the Union.

In the eight months before the Holyrood election we will discover something interesting about the SNP. Does the thought of independence excite and inspire them, now that they seem closer to it than at any other time in their history? Or have they instead contracted a nasty bout of stage fright?

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.