WHEN the story of a long night was as good as done, one of those who had lost the most sent me a text message.

He would mourn for a day, he said, and then get back to work. He did not elaborate.

There was no need. The exchanges between a father and son - between a Scottish father and son, especially - often become a kind of rough shorthand. I knew what he meant. He had known that I would know. The fancy version of his message might have run: "We lost; we try again; we don't give up; we have no right to give up." Busy, I simply responded: "Exactly."

A couple of weeks before the vote, I tried his patience with still another ancient anecdote. I had offered the weary tale a few times to those who were turning the Yes campaign into a phenomenon. It was the one about sitting up to see Thatcher re-elected, time after time, and how things felt on those mornings after.

The idea was simply to say: "You can lose, you know. You can lose and find it impossible to understand how losing happened, how anyone voted for that, or how you were outnumbered by any supposed adults who made such a choice. But it happens."

For much of the campaign I worried, now and then, about how the Yes movement might cope with defeat. Self-belief exacts a price. For those who have never felt the loss, reality comes in hard and collects, especially when it is fenced around with the choices of the timid, the fearful and the willingly deceived. As night fell into cold dawn last week, people I care about were hard to console. But stuff happens.

How would you pose the issue? Try this. On the one hand, a movement full of youth, art, ingenuity, fun, creativity and radicalism hell-bent on a better society. Against them, the querulous voice of bourgeois Scotland saying: "But what about my mortgage and the weekly shop and a future I cannot begin to imagine?" Last week, those who still entrust their betrayed future to proven deceivers voted down those who would dearly like a better future for all. So - says this battered skull - get used to it.

As the TV talking heads chatter away, a qualification has to be added. No-one saw the Yes movement coming. None of us who kept alive the hope of a nation's self-determination imagined the youth of Scotland taking matters into their own hands. As that No-supporting football pundit once said: "You don't win anything with kids." But thanks to those tireless people, and only thanks to those people, we came closer than ever before. That, as a genuine historical point, needs to be remembered.

When the London media crowd were air-dropped onto Glasgow and Edinburgh, they struggled for superlatives minutes after the ritual chats with the charming local cabbies. Such engagement; such registration numbers; such a "carnival of democracy": how terribly refreshing. Few asked what was really going on, or why. None asked why so many hopes were being pinned by so many of Scotland's brightest and best on the hope of self-determination.

The Yes movement understood something about the power of imagination. The essential idea was so brilliantly simple it can still rock you on your heels. For a while, in the teeth of everything the British state could muster, it upset every rotten apple cart. With every gesture, every event, every statement and picture, poem and song (and bit of cheek), Scotland's new generation treated the future as a mucky old window in need of a good wipe.

But they lost. Fear and Tory landowners, the new middle classes and a desperate Scottish Labour bet the house - and all their houses - on self-interest. They rebuked youth. They offered the legislative equivalent of last night's leftovers, warmed over a dozen times, and said it would have to do. In the course of the campaign many visitors observed that Better Together was on the wrong side of inspiring. The people paying for Better Together didn't care.

Amid the pain of loss, and amid their bafflement, many of those in the Yes movement will give up. That's a normal reaction. They threw their lives at a moment and found the usual dull hacks of politics and the media mocking their naivety. They filled the streets and filled their lives, but found too few of their fellow Scots prepared to do more than risk a punt on another Westminster lie. So why bother? Why press on?

Those younger than me can make their choices. I can only report that the Yes movement is without precedent in my lifetime. There has been nothing like it in western Europe in generations. I don't suggest that exhausted people have some sort of duty to continue. But the idea of self-determination will not be extinguished. There are some good questions waiting to be answered.

Where did the Yes movement spring from? Why did it take hold of the campaign? Why, by the end, did it leave Alex Salmond confessing that the vote was not about him, or his party, or about any party? What became Yes, three simple characters, also became a question from the Scotland yet to come. And it happened - with great craft, with much effort, with a deep knowledge of history - spontaneously.

Terse messages between a father and son serve specific purposes. He knows that I know that he knows. In someone's travesty, that would be the usual transaction between the generations. But I am also another of those journalists who didn't see the Yes movement coming. I had suspected no such thing. I had assumed that you don't fight a referendum with kids. But they were, always, the best of us.

That's a lesson to be learned for next time. That there will be a next time goes without saying, in my estimation. Scotland will not get what it needs or deserves from Westminster in the latest shuffling of the pack. Next time, those in the Yes movement will be ready, waiting and able. They fight a better campaign than the old political hacks who have only threats and menaces to offer.

That will be scant consolation. Some wounds need a lot of licking. Go up against the British state with goodwill and a sense of humour and you will find no reciprocating warmth. But you'll learn. The first thing you will learn is not to play the game of the dying cynics who defend Britannia as their jobs depend on it.

We lost and won an important truth. You can play differently and play better by refusing to know your place. The Yes movement has done something for Scotland that Scotland, voting in fear, does not yet understand. I don't care if losses accumulate. Better to lose and be alive than succumb to provincialism. To Yes, I say Yes. And thank you, for all of it. Just for a change, I learned something about what it means to believe without self-deceit. Fun never hurts, either.