As we mark the third anniversary of the independence referendum, it is possible to look on its significance in a way that was not possible in its immediate aftermath.
Two conclusions stand out. The first – obviously – is that the issue of independence has not been resolved. Even if, right now, there seems little likelihood of a vote in favour of independence, it is clear that there's a very significant proportion of voters who remain committed to ending the union. The steep fall in oil prices and the under-performance of Nicola Sturgeon's government have not led to a collapse in support for independence. For the committed, it's not the economy, stupid; it's about the evaporation of any sense of British identity and the acceptance of the logical corollary of this – Scottish independence.
With there being little likelihood of a resurgence of British identity, the future looks nationalist. Up to a point. That point being that independence was rejected 60-40 by every prosperous area in Scotland. For this group, the majority, it was the economy and a bit more.
This brings up the second conclusion which is that the referendum proved to be a disaster for the Scottish left. This is counter-intuitive. The referendum campaign appeared to be the Scottish left's finest hour. Without the movement of a significant part of the Scottish political and cultural elite to the nationalist camp, there could have been no vote in September 2014.
The campaign itself was a demonstration of the strength of the Scottish left. The names of those those involved do not need to be rehearsed. The books and articles that flooded out, the new campaigning groups that arose and the meetings from one end of the country to the other; overwhelmingly they were premised on the creation of a independent, left of centre Scotland.
And yet, it failed. The failure was in its inability to come up with a viable template for an independent Scotland. Again, it was the economy.
On 18 September 2014, the voters rejected the left's ideas, such as they were. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, this was seen as merely a delay before an inevitable second vote secured independence. It is now clear that the voters understood much better than the politicians involved that this was, indeed, a one-off decision. They had looked seriously at what was on offer and concluded that it was not good enough.
There is little prospect of the present SNP government being able to resuscitate the cause of independence. It relies on Nicola Sturgeon's erratic judgement. The programme for government involved a tack to the left. There was no coherent explanation why a previous policy – Andrew Wilson's growth commission – had been superseded. To an outsider, it resembles a gambler's throw of the dice to regain what was lost on the previous throw.
In the short term there appears to be no way forward for the SNP. Longer term, prospects are much brighter. This will depend on the SNP evolving into what Professor Paul Collier called a party of the 'pragmatic hard centre' – a very different beast from the one campaigning in 2014. Under Alex Salmond, there was more possibility of this happening. He was very much a man of the east of Scotland: Linlithgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Banff. This did not prevent him winning a landslide victory in 2011 and setting the scene for the referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon is equally clearly the product of the west of Scotland: Irvine and Glasgow. A future, economically successful Scotland will not arise from the ashes of post-industrial Scotland. Instead, Scotland's centre of gravity has moved east and outward – from cities to suburbs. The SNP will have to accept this to achieve independence. Constituencies such as Renfrewshire East and Aberdeen South have moved from Labour to SNP and the Conservatives in the last three years.
Once the reality of a Scotland comfortable voting Tory – or, more exactly, abandoning pseudo-leftism – sinks in, the SNP can follow the voters' lead. At present, there is no obvious leader but the opportunity for an able and ambitious candidate will be there.
Three years on, the Scottish left appears tired and unable to come to terms with its failure. A minority sees hope in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, hardly a newcomer to the political scene. Scotland, mythology aside, has never had a strong Labour left. Revival seems likely but the recovery of dominance improbable. The weaknesses of the leadership candidates stand out more than their strengths.
All this points to calmer politics in Scotland than we have recently experienced. Hopefully, there will be more productive thinking than in the run up to the great vote. If this happens, a more realistic and successful independence campaign is the most likely outcome.