BARRING a seismic political upheaval between now and Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon will be returned as First Minister at the head of a majority SNP Government. Even rival parties concede that the real race in this election is for second place.

If many of the polls are to be believed, Labour could conceivably be relegated into third place and the Tories promoted to the status of Scotland’s official opposition. Just a few years ago, any political commentator suggesting such a scenario would have been greeted with the type of hilarity usually generated by the likes of Kevin Bridges or Elaine C Smith.

We should give credit where it’s due to those who have rescued the fortunes of a party which not so long ago looked to be in terminal decline. So step forward Jim Murphy and Gordon Brown.

It may not happen, but if it does, the cold war between the Blairites and the Corbynites within the Labour Party is likely to burst out into open, flame-throwing warfare. And where that might lead is anyone’s guess. ‘Hell mend them!’ will be the attitude of many – not least the legions of betrayed, disillusioned former Labour voters. The downside, however, is that the for the next four years the Scottish Government will be under daily attack from an official opposition bankrolled and propped up by big business and the landed gentry. That poses some serious questions for the left. Many, including some of my own family and friends, see the SNP as the vehicle for social change. But for me, this election has been disappointing. In the 2015 General Election, the SNP played a blinder. They mobilised a broad coalition of progressive, anti-austerity forces, and inspired hundreds of thousands who would never have thought of voting SNP in the past. But this election has been frankly boring. Despite having some great candidates with radical and visionary ideas, SNP HQ has played a safe, plodding defensive game, capped off with a calamitous own goal. It’s surprising that no one intervened to stop Nicola Sturgeon posing with a copy of The Sun on its front page in the week the Hillsborough verdict was delivered – especially after the paper had come under fire from all angles for callously relegating one of the momentous stories of recent times to the inside pages. Who will influence Nicola whenever she has a bad judgement day?

In this context, I’m getting nervous about how the SNP will deal with a Tory official opposition – and how that might impact on the wider independence movement.

I’d hope that the likes of Jeane Freeman, who is on course to get elected for the SNP in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, will have influence in proportion to their abilities and succeed in steering the SNP left. If that doesn’t happen, I fear that with the Tories harrying the Scottish Government from the right, the adhesive that binded independence to the idea of radical change could become unstuck, which in turn could discourage and demoralise at least sections of the 45 per cent who voted Yes.

Not that I have much sympathy for Scottish Labour, whose demise in Scotland is entirely self-inflicted. Maybe the party will swing back to the left, or even to a more pro-independence position in the wake of this election. But I suspect that the inevitable post-election night of the long knives will see the Corbynites put to the sword. This will be a difficult election for the new kids on the block, Rise, and maybe even for the Greens, who are more established. But I’d like to see these parties pick up enough list votes to cause something of a stooshie. And beyond the election, these parties and others on the left – including SNP members and non-aligned people like myself – may have to do a bit of creative thinking.

For example, do we need an even broader alliance than Rise presently offers? Is it not in the radical independence movement’s interest to think about and work towards a wider movement, capable of becoming the main opposition force in Scotland?

I recently heard one Labour list candidate estimate that 30 per cent of Labour Party members voted Yes along with 50 per cent of their voters. We know from research that a majority of trade union members voted Yes. Many of these will never join the SNP, and may not be too enthusiastic about voting for the party either. And they probably don’t yet see Rise as a credible alternative. And they may not feel they can identify with the Greens.

For want of a better term, we’re talking of people who are in essence radical social democrats with socialist and green sympathies.

Particularly if we achieve independence, we need a big, left credible opposition ready to go. Last time round, we didn’t prepare enough for Independence Day. We hadn’t prepared properly to run with amendments to the SNP’s proposed constitution, for example. We hadn’t formed a credible, fully worked out alternative to keeping the pound.

Politics in Scotland has never been more fluid. We can sit back and wait to see how it all pans out or we can try and plan for the future. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who will tenuously vote SNP because of the single issue of independence. They see the Greens and Rise as too niche. Their natural alignment would be a pro-independence Labour party, with a small l.

When I campaigned for the SSP, the people who said they agreed with us far outweighed the votes we pulled. Time and again, I heard the refrain, “I like what you say but you’ve no chance of winning”.

So maybe after this election is out the way, some of us on the more radical wing of the independence movement need to consider creating a space where genuine discussion and debate could flourish, with a view to creating something new, broad and popular that reflects where many people in Scotland are right now. Some will say that’s premature and that we should wait until independence has been signed and delivered. Others might think the opposite – that to guarantee independence, we need to drive more deeply into Labour’s former heartlands, and to do that we need a more powerful vehicle.

We may decide to do nothing. But is it not worth at least talking about?