SO farewell Angus Robertson as the SNP’s depute leader.

It is typically magnanimous of Angus to retire from this position in order to let Nicola Sturgeon recompose her leadership team. Without a seat of his own, Angus has no power base in the party to bring to the political table.

Of course, a rich party like the SNP could have found Angus a serious job in its apparatus and then put him into Holyrood, where it lacks weight among the new generation of MSPs. Angus will be wasted if he joins the swelling ranks of former politicians working in PR.

We should muse a little on what Angus did for the party. I was offered the SNP nomination for Midlothian for the first Holyrood election in 1999 but declined. That suddenly left a vacancy which was filled by a certain Angus Robertson, fresh from a stint as a correspondent with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, ORT. He didn’t win on that occasion. Angus brought to the SNP a calm professionalism under fire that you learn from broadcast journalism.

He also brought international experience that punctured the narrow “I kent his faither” parochialism we often suffer from in Scottish politics. Above all, he took a long, strategic view of political campaigning. While engaged in campaigning, Angus developed a strong interest in defence issues. Until he came along, the SNP’s defence policy had been written by well-meaning armchair generals mostly concerned with arguing over how many tanks the putative Scottish army should buy (and what kind). Angus took a different tack, preferring (correctly) to talk to the existing UK and Scottish military establishment with a view to diffusing their concerns regarding the uppity Nats.

Angus is one of nature’s diplomats and he used these skills to win the confidence of sections of the military and former military. As a result, he was able to put the Ministry of Defence under constant political fire for its serial incompetence.

Angus was elected to Westminster in 2001. He took to the Commons life like the proverbial duck to water. Some chuckled behind his back because he looked and sometimes sounded like an old-fashioned Tory MP. There was his quintessential blue suit and the ubiquitous rolled umbrella as prop. But there was method behind the disguise. Angus Robertson was determined to play the Commons game like a professional in order to make the big Unionist parties take the SNP seriously. He succeeded. While Tory MPs talked through the early PMQs of Jeremy Corbyn, they were always silent when Angus got to his feet.

How will history judge Angus Robertson’s tenure at Westminster? We will never know what might have happened if Ed Miliband had done better in 2015 and entered Downing Street with Angus and 56 SNP MPs to nudge his elbow in a more radical direction. As it turned out, I think Angus became too immersed in training our new MPs for business as usual. Instead, with such a parliamentary army, we should have been less accepting of arcane procedure and more demanding of Scottish rights and needs from the Cameron government.

Just before the 2017 election, under pressure from Alex Salmond, the parliamentary group decided to spend less time in the Palace of Westminster and more time campaigning in Scotland. If the new depute leader comes from our Westminster ranks, that should be their priority.

But the king is dead, so long live the king. In the brutal world of electoral politics, the question now is who will replace Angus as deputy leader. This is no ordinary decision. The SNP leadership team has always been tiny and close-knit. Adding someone new will not be easy. On the other hand, my advice to Nicola is now is the time to build bridges to the party in the country, which has a distinct lack of political direction at the moment. Witness the spontaneous re-emerging of local Yes groups to fill the vacuum.

Under Alex Salmond the top team was composed of … well, Alex. Salmond was a class act, so his hegemony over policy and tactics was generally seen as a good thing.

If I had a criticism it would be that Alex relied heavily on his own expertise in economics. That said, Alex Salmond was good at delegating the bits he got bored with to young Turks and letting them get on with it without too much interference. Thus Angus Robertson got to run the nuts and bolts of the SNP’s formidable election machine and run it with devastating effect (at least till last June).

Under Nicola, the SNP leadership circle has remained tiny. Basically, it is her, Peter Murrell and a few trusted confidants – Angus included. In fact, it was at Nicola’s insistence that he stood for depute leader.  A small leadership group makes for quick decisions and clarity. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. It is no secret that the party membership in the country was less than enamoured with the support it got from HQ during last year’s General Election. A surfeit of SNP-branded pencil sharpeners or generic leaflets turning up at your local campaign hub a few days before polling does not win elections.  In fact, the perceived disconnection between SNP headquarters and the branches served as the subtext for Tommy Sheppard’s unsuccessful bid for the depute leadership in 2016 when Robertson won.

Sheppard’s criticism of the SNP HQ centred on the lack of staff in general to manage a party of more than 100,000 members. In particular, he cited the lack of full-time, dedicated officials at a local or regional level to structure campaigning. That lack of professionalism impacted negatively on the 2017 election. The idea of appointing regional full-timers remains contentious. But choosing a deputy leader tasked with coordinating and energising grassroots campaigning by the party would be top of my agenda. Or why not have depute leaders covering Westminster, local government and campaigning?

The SNP are now firmly a party of government at Holyrood and have a strong group at Westminster. The central strategic question is what do they do next? If the SNP are content to play the same parliamentary game, then inevitably the electoral cycle will turn against them.

How does that advance independence? The time has come to use the power and position we have to challenge the status quo.

At Holyrood, we need to use the limited powers we have to rebuild the economy and restructure the welfare system in a way that is humane. Both require radicalism and a willingness to confront a UK Tory Government that is bitterly divided and lacks a working majority.  While dealing with Brexit is important, is it not also the case that – with May on the political ropes – the Scottish Government should be making its own a power grab. At Westminster, there is no point in playing Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition for the next decade.  We should be prepared to disrupt and delay Westminster legislation to get Scotland more powers and more cash. If Westminster says no, then we will have a mandate for a fresh indy referendum.