FEW of the 3.6 million people who cast their votes on that emotionally charged day for Scotland – September 18, 2014 –would have dreamt that it would turn out to be a twice-in-a-generation exercise. All the more so when the result revealed that No had won more decisively than had generally been forecast.

Eight years later, however, here we are, potentially on the brink of a re-run of that independence referendum, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week firing the long awaited, or long feared, starting gun with the first of a series of briefing papers.

It has to be acknowledged at the outset that the SNP has every right to continue to push its dream of an independent Scotland. It has nourished this dream, and only this dream, for many decades, in and out of power. There were surely times when the party was so peripheral to Scottish life that the thought that, under the SNP, Scotland might one day secede from the Union was unutterably surreal, a Walter Mittyish daydream.

But the party has diligently transformed itself into a vote-winning machine, stirring passionate hopes of independence in the hearts of many Scots and, in recording 11 election victories in its 15 years in power, it has deservedly replaced Labour as the real power in the land.

Successive election results in Scotland – parliamentary and local – have shown that the SNP has a genuine mandate to push for a referendum, even if last month’s local elections indicated, as the Tories’ Douglas Ross was quick to point out, that the vote for pro-UK parties was at 55% and the vote for pro-separation parties at 45% – exactly, he added, where Scotland stood eight years ago.

To the extent that Indyref2 is a perfectly valid objective to aim for, the Scottish Government’s series of briefing papers is to be welcomed. At last, flesh can begin to be put on the bones, though confidence was not exactly inspired by the admission that the order and dates of the other prospectus papers has yet to be decided.

There was at least a welcome splash of realism when Ms Sturgeon said that independence, for any country, does not automatically guarantee success.

Clarity on the key issues, however, is paramount.

Detailed, tested and costed proposals relating to currency, pensions and cross-border matters are necessary. Even if Ms Sturgeon could not quite bring herself to use the “B” word – borders – her acknowledgement that there would be customs and regulatory “issues” is a step in the right direction.

But she would do well to bear in mind the words of our columnist, Iain Macwhirter: of course there will be issues – and they would be far in excess of those that have caused a crisis in Northern Ireland that threatens the very peace of the province.

Much has changed since that tumultuous day in September 2014. For one, Brexit and its manifold uncertainties (and, yes, opportunities) for one. The cost-of-living crisis, already upon us, for another. The war in Ukraine is not going to end shortly and its impact upon the crisis can only be guessed at.

It is instructive to recall what the eminent historian, Sir Tom Devine, noted in an analysis of the 2014 defeat: that Yes lost mainly because it signally failed to provide convincing answers to the economic uncertainties that had been triggered in the minds of most of the electorate during the campaign.

Such uncertainties are even worse now. Is this really the best time for Scotland to embark on another costly exercise to vote on independence – particularly when one thinks about the many disruptions and adjustments that would follow on from a successful Yes vote? Ms Sturgeon will need to address this, and not deal in bluster or evasion.

There are some Yes 2014 voters who are uneasy about the determination to push ahead with a second vote. They will have to be reassured of the wisdom behind such a move. That will not be easy. Other issues need to be addressed. Given that Boris Johnson, in an act of rare decisiveness, has indicated that the 2014 vote has to be respected, just how is Edinburgh going to bring about a second referendum? If Ms Sturgeon opts for a plebiscite without a Section 30 order, the legal battle that would ensue would be formidably time consuming.

And will the SNP make a genuine attempt to reach out to all those people who voted ‘No’ eight years ago? She has made no discernible attempt to address them since the referendum. Many of course are profoundly hostile to even the vaguest notion of independence; good luck with trying to argue with them. Others, though, might be more open to intelligent argument.

Given that there has yet to be a lasting, clear-cut majority in favour of Scotland quitting the UK, it might make sense to at least reach out to those latter No voters and try to bring them onside by quelling their fears. Again, it will not be easy.

Furthermore, the SNP’s managerial qualities have been dented by a succession of controversies. A reasonable voter might ask, if the Scottish Government can make such an unholy mess of two ferries, how can we expect it to run an indepedent Scotland satisfactorily?

It is not difficult to understand the impulses of those whose patience with the status quo has run out, who long to see Scotland breaking free from the UK and seeking to emulate the success of other small countries. Keeping them enthusiastic has not been an easy task for Ms Sturgeon over the last few years but she has now given them renewed hope.

We have no doubt that, everything else being equal, an independent Scotland could in time become another small, successful country, like Denmark. But rigorous detail needs to be forthcoming before we can glimpse the road ahead.

Will we, for example, require Scandinavian levels of taxation in order to enjoy Scandinavian levels of public spending?

As Scotland squares up to an uncompromising post-Brexit, post-pandemic future and starts to reconsider going it alone, there are so many tough questions that must be answered candidly. Mere aspirations will no longer suffice.

A helping hand

THE cost-of-living crisis is festering. Food and fuel are becoming ever more expensive. Rising interest rates contribute to fears of a world recession. UK inflation is at a 40-year high of 9%.

More needs to be done to aid struggling families and, although there is no bottomless money pit, Westminster and Holyrood should look at all avenues. Examining tax thresholds in the context of the lower-paid could be a useful approach in Scotland; London could look afresh at winter fuel payments for the elderly as well as the levels of petrol and diesel fuel tax. Doing nothing is not a palatable option.