We are on the cusp of the most momentous vote in living memory and, regardless of the outcome of Thursday's poll, Scotland and the rest of the UK will never be the same again.

September 18, 2014, is our date with destiny and, when we cast our votes, we will be setting the course of history for this country and beyond.

Since the timing of the referendum was announced, The Herald has not only presented the arguments from both sides, it has also subjected the claims of each to rigorous and impartial analysis. Unlike the legion of Private Frazers who have raised their tremulous voices recently in a chorus of doom, we reject the notion that independence would be a catastrophe for Scotland. Scotland is already a successful country and could come to be so, in time, with independence.

Yes Scotland's campaign, brimming over with optimism, has awakened in Scots a slumbering desire for a country that is better, stronger and fairer. Short of winning independence, that will be the Yes campaign's enduring achievement. But the supporters of independence do not hold the monopoly on caring passionately about Scotland and wanting change to help bring about a more just, equal and prosperous society.

The question is whether that vision is best pursued as part of the UK or outside it. We keenly understand the appeal of independence. Who would not want to believe that, by putting a cross on a ballot paper, Scotland could be set on a sure path to becoming a country where poverty, inequality and unpopular governments are vanquished?

But, amid all the excitement and hope generated by the prospect of wholesale change, it is important to recognise that aspiration, assertion and belief in the benefits of independence are not enough.

Such a huge, irrevocable, decision about Scotland's future must be accompanied by a realistic assessment of the risks and problems associated with it, so as not inadvertently to condemn Scotland, and particularly the poorest members of our society, to a less prosperous and more unstable future. That, surely, is the responsibility of every one of us. Some will choose to opt for independence regardless, and we respect their decision, but it is our view that the case has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The hard truth is that independence carries considerable risks with the promise of uncertain benefits. Instead of taking such a gamble with Scotland's wellbeing, our nation has the chance to seek transformative change by pursuing greater autonomy within the UK.

We do not endorse the status quo, which has fallen drastically out of step with Scotland's needs and aspirations, but stand with the people of Scotland in demanding much-strengthened autonomy; something the main pro-UK parties have a profound responsibility to deliver.

It is time to look at the realities facing Scotland. The UK is a successful political union and one of the most successful democracies in the world. It stands more firmly in the face of global economic crosswinds than smaller nations such as Ireland, which was so badly battered by the recent financial crisis. A Scotland that stays in the UK will continue to enjoy the economic and social benefits, such as the certainty of an ongoing currency union backed by political union. That is what Scotland turns its back on by opting for independence.

This newspaper has been a passionate advocate of Home Rule for Scotland and continues to be so. In 1979, prior to the vote on a Scottish Assembly, the then Glasgow Herald argued robustly for a Yes vote, while in 1997, The Herald did the same in the Scottish Parliament referendum, declaring that "for too long we have had the excuse of blaming all Scotland's ills on others". In 2014, we believe Scotland's journey as part of the UK is far from over.

Devolution has been a success. It has allowed for progressive, innovative, government that seeks distinctively Scottish solutions to Scottish issues, but our confident government and nation are rightly straining against the limitations of that arrangement and are ready to take on more responsibility. Devolution has made it harder for the Scottish Government to "blame all Scotland's ills on others", but has not ended the habit. Greater responsibility for raising the money Scotland spends would make simplistic Scottish Government attacks on the UK much harder. That must be the next step forward.

Polling evidence has suggested that, if greater autonomy for Scotland had been an option on the referendum ballot paper all along, it would probably have won the day. Achieving that goal could satisfy many on both sides of what has been a highly divisive debate. The attractions of greater autonomy for Scotland have largely been lost in this campaign, however, partly because the impressive pro-independence camp has dominated the theme of positive change and partly because the pro-UK campaign has failed to sell the considerable benefits of enhanced devolution.

In Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, Yes Scotland has had two of the UK's most able politicians and the campaign has energised Scottish grassroots politics like nothing else in a generation. It has achieved this with relentless optimism, wreathing itself in hope. The Yes campaign has allowed disparate groups - socialists and business leaders, right-wing advocates of small government and left-wing environmentalists - to project all their hopes onto it, even though many of these are mutually incompatible. It has, in short, sought to cast a Yes vote as a vote of confidence in Scotland.

But in promoting its manifesto for Scottish independence, a Panglossian emphasis on the best-case scenario has at times strained its credibility. On oil revenues, entering a currency union, achieving EU membership promptly and smoothly, securing affordable rates of interest for borrowing on the international markets and its capacity to withstand global economic currents, the case for independence has been built upon a string of ideal outcomes.

Even the other party in this great divorce, the Government at Westminster, would, it is assumed, act at all times during separation negotiations in accordance with the Scottish Government's wishes. The currency union is just one major hurdle.

This approach has inevitably produced a clamour of dissent. A formidable line-up of independent experts, including think tanks, academics, leading oil industry figures and the Governor of the Bank of England, has contested the reliability of these assumptions. Unfortunately, a tactical decision appears to have been made by Yes Scotland to portray most objections as contemptible negativity or the pessimism of the fearties. A sense of realism and healthy scepticism has been derided, especially in the latter stages of the campaign.

Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher and politician, famously advocated pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. The Yes campaign, understandably, has emphasised the latter but effectively ignored the former.

Meanwhile, Better Together has struggled to find its momentum. It has failed repeatedly to put forward a positive vision of the future. In fairness, however, the pro-UK campaign has one major disadvantage, in having to serve three political masters with three divergent blueprints for the future of Scotland. With no agreed legislative framework to put before the Scottish people, it has found itself in the role of a corporate marketing department without a product to sell.

This has had serious consequences. The erosion of Better Together's lead over the last month betrays a dire lack of cohesion, trust perhaps, among the three main pro-UK parties when it comes to handing over the extensive extra powers that Scots want.

The Liberal Democrats and even the once devo-sceptic Conservatives have demonstrated their readiness to meet voters' aspirations with far-reaching proposals on fiscal devolution but Labour, fearing the diminishing relevance of their 40 Scottish MPs, has shown greater timidity.

It is critically important all three parties, and Labour in particular, show greater ambition and determination to implement a substantial expansion of Scottish Parliament powers. The proposals of the LibDems and Conservatives are a good potential starting point but Labour's simply do not go far enough. A radical reassignment of tax-varying powers and elements of welfare policy are a widespread public expectation in the event of a No vote. What cannot be allowed to emerge is a constitutional settlement for Scotland that panders to that lowest common denominator, put together in a backroom deal at Westminster.

This plan must be made in Scotland, for Scotland, with the full participation of Scottish civic society. Better Together's proposed timetable for change, with legislation being brought forward by January, is desirable, but a superficial exercise in public consultation will only undermine the process. It will be The Herald's mission to harry the pro-UK parties every step of the way, to ensure they deliver the devolution Scotland wants and expects.

To them, we say this: The Herald backs Scotland staying within the UK at this stage. But fudge this process, stitch it up and fail to deliver far-reaching further devolution, and make no mistake: you will be guaranteeing another referendum - one that you will lose, and deserve to lose.

Greater autonomy for Scotland would be best achieved within a federal United Kingdom. A federal structure would create less antagonistic relationships between all the constituent parts of the UK.

A UK constitutional convention should therefore be established, separately from the process of greater Scottish devolution, to consider issues such as the setting up of an English parliament (answering the West Lothian Question), reform of the House of Lords, greater power to the nations and English regions, and renaming the Bank of England.

Why not just circumvent such questions, it might be asked, by voting for independence? A Scotland with much-enhanced autonomy, within a flourishing UK, offers a surer route to meeting Scots' aspirations than do the uncertainties of independence.

Even if a currency union with the rest of the UK were possible - and the three main pro-UK parties have ruled it out - an independent Scotland would, as no less an authority than the Governor of the Bank of England has indicated, have to accept unwanted constraints on borrowing, tax and spending, imposed on it externally and without democratic mandate. How this would allow it to deliver the expectations of many Yes supporters for more generous public spending has not been explained.

The alternative of using the pound outwith a currency union is still less appealing. The Scottish Government would have to build up massive currency reserves to guarantee bank deposits and act as a credible lender of last resort for its indigenous financial services industry.

If Scotland carried through on its threat to walk away from its share of UK debt, it would possibly have to borrow at punitive interest rates. Scotland's reliance on one volatile commodity, North Sea oil, would subject the economy of an independent Scotland to greater uncertainty.

With a much larger and more diverse tax base, the UK Government is in a stronger position to provide economic stability, with Scotland's employment rate holding up rather better since the recession than that of the other nations of the UK.

A great many Scots are understandably attracted by promises that an independent Scotland would be fairer and more equal, but it is political and economic decisions that make a difference to levels of poverty. The SNP position going into this referendum, with a tax-cutting agenda and an uncertain economic plan, offers no clear path to reducing poverty; indeed, if the "best-case scenario" failed, it would be the poorest who suffered the most.

Scotland could go it alone. The question is whether it is in Scotland's best interests to do so at present.

The Herald is the world's oldest national newspaper in the English language. In its 231-year existence, Scotland's status within the Union has evolved significantly.

At the time of The Herald's founding in 1783, Scots were formally represented at Westminster by MPs elected by a paltry number of voters. A century later, the Scottish Office and the post of Secretary for Scotland were created.

The process of change has accelerated since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1997, with Holyrood achieving further powers in the 2012 Scotland Act. The next step would be equally momentous: much greater fiscal devolution and powers of decision-making in areas such as welfare.

Substantive autonomy for Scotland's parliament and government could unify Scotland. Such autonomy is not merely an aspiration: it is a demand.