IMAGINE it’s two years after the referendum that saw a narrow majority for leaving, and we’re reaching the end of the negotiating period. The trouble is that it isn’t going very well.

A lot of the people who voted Remain are saying that, if anything, their dire predictions understated matters; financial calamity is certain, there will be a hard border within the UK and we’ll be so cut off from EU trade that there will be shortages of everything from food to medicine.

Hundreds rally in Edinburgh, and a millionaire pledges money for a push for a second vote, in the hope that people will change their minds. Polling suggests that rising numbers (48 per cent at the last count) would like another referendum on the final deal.

I say imagine because, though all that is happening now, I’m thinking of a similar situation in an alternate version of 2016, two years after Scotland narrowly voted to leave the United Kingdom. Leavers predicted an oil boom worth £57 billion, based on a price around $150 a barrel; the oil price is now (as it was in the real 2016) falling, and currently below $25 a barrel.

The EU is insisting that either Scotland effectively abandons the main elements of independence or has a hard border with England. Half the Leavers now want a very soft independence deal (devo ++); the other half want the hardest possible exit. Unionists think that by telling everyone disaster is looming, just enough people will change their minds in a second vote. Everyone on both sides is astonished that nobody seems to have thought about any of the details.

Does another go at the referendum, in such circumstances, sound like a recipe for improving the situation? Or like a desperate bid by increasingly hysterical losers to overturn a democratic decision with breathtaking assertions about future catastrophes which are entirely hypothetical?

Both Julian Dunkerton, the co-founder of the Superdry clothing chain, who is giving £1 million to the campaign for a “People’s Vote” – so-called, presumably, because it is designed to reverse the vote the people have already cast – and the unofficial Leave campaign’s Arron Banks, who claims to have drummed up £2 million to depose Theresa May and abandon her deal (whatever it might be) in favour of a hard Brexit, are throwing money at equally chimerical problems.

The simple point about both the Brexit and independence referendums is that they were democratic decisions about the future. And no one knew or knows now what will happen in the future.

That’s as true of the “remain” side of both votes as the “leave”; the only status quo that remains exactly the same forever is the band. In real life, Remainers were signing up to the future direction of travel of the UK or the EU with no more certainty about it than Leavers had about the future outside either union.

That is why all counterfactual claims are worthless and unverifiable. Claims that, for example, the UK economy has grown less than it would have done if we’d stayed in the EU are neither true nor false – they are meaningless, because we don’t know what would have happened had the vote gone the other way. For the same reason, we can’t know whether any of the “Project Fear” claims made in the independence referendum would have come about.

We can guess that the fall in the oil price would have put paid to the SNP’s pre-referendum predictions, and point out that Alex Salmond’s oil boom didn’t happen. But even if we think it likely, we can’t say with certainty that economic disaster would have followed, or that an independent Scotland would be worse off because it didn’t happen.

So we can’t assess whether people are worse off or growth is lower than would have been the case if the Brexit vote had gone the other way. What we can know is that the vast majority of the predictions made by the Remain campaign about what would happen immediately after the vote were not only wrong, but the reverse of what did happen.

Unemployment did not go up by 500,000, but fell to its lowest level since 1975. Interest rates did not rise, but fell. Foreign investment in the UK increased, as did the number of foreign students. There was not, as George Osborne assured us there would be, an “immediate recession with four quarters of negative growth”; the economy grew every quarter, and UK growth is currently higher than Eurozone growth. There has been no enormous exodus of capital or foreign firms.

All those things could, of course, happen in the future, along with plenty of other bad things. But their failure to materialise so far is not a compelling argument for believing that those who wrongly predicted them now have access to a better crystal ball.

Naturally, Remain voters regret the result. It’s even reasonable that some Leave voters might now vote differently. Votes, however, are not conducted on the basis of time travel, or “if I had known then what I know now”. No one could have known, to take the most obvious example, that Theresa May would be the worst prime minister in living memory, and making a pig’s ear of the negotiations.

But the case being made by campaigners for a second referendum is not even that. They know now no more than they knew at the time of the vote. Their earlier warnings having been disproved, they are just shouting other ones, more loudly. Some, such as Professor AC Grayling, Lord Adonis, and the former BBC journalist Gavin Esler, now resemble the demented 19th-Century Millerites who were constantly predicting the Apocalypse, and changing the date when it failed to turn up.

Even if you calculate that the current Government is bound to mess things up, the solution would not be to reverse a democratic decision before it been implemented; it would be to get rid of the government. A rally of several hundreds of Remainers in Edinburgh at the height of the Festival, and even the 650,000-odd signatures on a petition calling for a “Right Kind of People’s Vote” should not invalidate the biggest popular vote for anything ever, and especially not before it has even happened.