FIVE years ago today, voters went to the polls in the 2015 General Election. Fifty per cent of voters in Scotland voted SNP and the party returned 56 out of the 59 Scottish MPs. The outcome was unprecedented and was described by some as the ‘SNP Tsunami’. I was lucky enough to be one of those 56 MPs and I have been reflecting on the experience and the lessons to be learned.

For me, the biggest lesson is that simply winning elections under the current constitutional set-up of the United Kingdom is not enough to further the cause of independence.

Despite the fact that members of the 56 worked hard in the 2015-2017 Westminster parliament, and in their constituencies, when the snap General Election came in 2017, the party was ill prepared to defend our record. We struggled to articulate the benefits of having such a large representation at Westminster with the result that we lost 21 seats and some very talented colleagues. In the end, that proved a setback for independence because First Minister Nicola Sturgeon felt impelled to “reset” the indyref2 timetable.

In the 2017-2019 parliament, despite our decreased numbers, we made a more significant impact because we held the balance of power in a hung parliament. In contrast with the shambolic official opposition, undermined by Labour’s internal warfare, we shone as disciplined, organised and united and earned the title of “the real opposition” – even from commentators furth of Scotland.

In particular, when it came to Brexit we spoke with one voice, representing the views of the overwhelming majority of voters in Scotland. Our MPs were at the forefront of cross-party working which led to some major defeats for the Tory Government.

In the 2019 General Election, the esteem in which the Scottish electorate held us for that performance led to an increase in our MPs from 35 to 48. But now we are stuck back in a parliament where the Tories have a massive majority from English constituencies and where, like the 2015-2017 parliament, we are relatively powerless, because we can always be outvoted. The startling lack of democracy in the make-up of the Scottish Affairs Committee pretty much tells you all you need to know.

Despite our election promises, Brexit has not been stopped and our request for a second independence referendum has been refused. These harsh facts mean that the SNP needs a major rethink of our strategy, and not just at Westminster.

Last weekend, an opinion poll predicted a resounding victory for the SNP at the next Scottish election. While these results are to be welcomed as a quite amazing achievement for a party that has been in government for 13 years, I would caution against complacency.

Currently, we are at the peak of a crisis led by a leader who is widely respected and trusted. However, when the peak of the crisis is over and we start to return to some degree of normality, that won’t be enough. After the Second World War was won, when Britain went to the polls, voters chose not the leader who won the war but Clement Attlee, who had a radical plan for the peace. After this crisis is over, people may well be in mood for radical change in Scotland. We need to make sure the SNP is the party of that radical change.

We exist to win independence for Scotland not for the sake of it but to make sure that the vital decisions about how we run our economy and our society are taken closer to home so that we can do things differently and better. This means that despite the current crisis, work should be continuing apace within our party on policy development and strategic direction.

While dealing with the public health emergency and saving lives must be the priority of the Scottish Government, the SNP as a party rather than as a government should be looking to our overall strategy and our policy direction. There are many party members, elected officials and office bearers in the SNP, who are not members of the government and who currently have time on their hands. Whilst parliamentarians’ primary focus must be on their constituents’ concerns, we have more bandwidth than usual because the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments are running to very reduced timetables.

There are plenty of resources to call upon both in and outwith the party. It is clear from reading this newspaper that many of those who write for it and read it are brimming with ideas. Think tanks like Common Weal and the Scottish Centre for European Relations are churning out interesting papers.

It is worth remembering that the Beveridge Report was written during the Second World War. This crisis, although very different, offers a similar moment of clarity that we should seize and use to embrace fundamental change.

The FM has made it clear that easing the lockdown will be something that happens over months rather than weeks. Many of us can expect to be working from home for quite some time. Whether the party’s October conference can take place in the normal way must be in doubt.

This means the party will have to use online platforms to maintain party democracy and facilitate policy development during the pandemic. This should not be too much of challenge. If the dinosaur of the Westminster parliament can adapt so quickly – and surprisingly well – to virtual working, then so can our party.

Debate is good and healthy. It is only by entertaining new ideas and sometimes by disagreeing with each other that we move forward to develop policy and strategy. Now is the time for the SNP to do the work to create the vision for the Scotland we want to see at the other end of this crisis.