A year on from the vote that dashed her dream of independence, Nicola Sturgeon remains convinced that the Yes campaign won a majority in the hearts of the Scottish people, if not their heads.
The now First Minister travelled thousands of miles criss-crossing the country in an effort to align the two as her predecessor Alex Salmond’s loyal deputy during a gruelling two-year run up to last year’s referendum.
It was the experience of the hundreds of public meetings she attended the length and breadth of Scotland which, looking back, defined the campaign for the SNP leader.
“They demonstrated the sense in which the Scottish public had really become engaged and enthused and empowered and informed about the referendum and all the issues associated with it,” she told the Press Association.
“That is what I remember most about the campaign, just the sense of exhilaration and excitement and sense that the country really was alive with discussion about its future, and although the result was devastating for those of us who wanted a Yes vote, the memory of the campaign is entirely for me a positive one.”
The first anniversary of the poll has triggered a wave of reflection from key pro-independence figures as to why they were unable to win the argument.
Ms Sturgeon attributes the result to a failure to convince enough people to back independence in both heart and head.
“I know many people who in their hearts wanted to vote Yes but they couldn’t in their head just convince themselves that that was the right thing to do given some of what they perceived as the uncertainties.
“And I think when you couple that with the vow of more powers, that for many people perhaps appeared to be the safer and the better option.
“I think we had a majority for Yes in people’s hearts but we just didn’t get that majority with head and heart aligned.”
Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has argued that the failure to articulate a plan B on the money that an independent Scotland would use if denied a currency union with the rest of the UK was a “serious error”, but that is a view not endorsed by Ms Sturgeon.
She said: “Anybody who thinks that, however difficult currency might have been as an issue, there is just some simple alternative to that I don’t think is correct.
“If I had my time again I’m sure there’s lots of things I would do differently. I don’t think there’s one single thing though that if we’d just done it differently the result would have been different.”
Despite the so-called cybernats her party is regularly called upon to denounce, Ms Sturgeon disputes any suggestion that the referendum has left Scotland a deeply divided nation.
“Yes there are people who passionately wanted independence and there are people who passionately didn’t want independence and at the margins of that debate there was some behaviour, particularly on social media, that was completely unacceptable,” she said.
“But in the main, most people I speak to, whether they were Yes or No, thought the campaign and the experience of the referendum was a positive one because it brought politics and issues of government alive in Scotland.
“Scotland is a better place in my view as a result of the referendum campaign.”
Few predicted the political transformation that would sweep the nation in the weeks and months after the referendum, leading to a surge in support for the SNP and the party’s landslide victory in May’s General Election, winning 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
The party’s rise shows no sign of abating with polls suggesting they are heading for another decisive victory at next year’s Holyrood election.
Mr Sturgeon said the momentum behind the SNP had grown out of the “sense of empowerment and engagement” during the referendum.
She said: “I was devastated at the result but what in hindsight is maybe a bit strange is how quickly that devastation didn’t go away but it kind of gave way to something much more optimistic.
“I think that people on both the Yes and the No sides of the debate felt that although the referendum was over, the result had been decided, we didn’t want to lose that sense of being in charge of the country’s destiny and being much more empowered.”
With the huge influx of new SNP members, Ms Sturgeon has come under increasing pressure to set out a roadmap for a second referendum as the party’s conference in Aberdeen approaches next month.
Speculation has been intensified by a new opinion poll suggesting that 53% would back Yes if another vote was held now.
The First Minister has said the SNP’s manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election will include more details of the “circumstances and the time scale on which a second referendum might be appropriate”, but insists the ultimate decision will be down to the Scottish people.
“I’ve always believed that Scotland will become an independent country,” she said.
“I think that’s the direction of travel we’re on. But that’s my opinion, I’m one person, one politician.
“Whether I end up being proved right or wrong will be down to what the majority of people in Scotland decide.”