VETERAN SNP MP Pete Wishart has insisted his party needs to give people a reason to keep believing its mission as he described current independence referendum tactics as “a total mess”.

In a revealing interview with The Herald, he said the current approach to achieving a second poll is “confusing and contradictory” and will not encourage supporters who are tempted to stay at home in the General Election.

He insisted the party has “not sufficiently addressed the difficulties it’s having” with a sense of “fatigue” setting in around its agenda, adding it can no longer take for granted the support it has received since 2014.

The Perth and North Perthshire MP described the leadership contest earlier this year as “distinctly uncomfortable” with not one candidate setting out a “new vision” for the party.

Back in October, SNP members backed a strategy based on the party winning the majority of seats at the next General Election.

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The party agreed that if it wins a majority, the Scottish Government would be “empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country”.

Also accepted was an amendment that demands for a transfer of powers to allow Scotland to legislate for a referendum if it wins the General Election on that basis.

Wishart set out at conference he believed the party should go down a de facto referendum route and make the trigger 50 +1% of the vote, but this was emphatically rejected.

In the interview he said: “We’ve decided on a policy at conference which I just don’t understand.

“It’s a total mess, it’s two contradictory things: if we get a majority of seats, we start independence negotiations, and almost concurrent we ask for more powers. It just doesn’t work.”

Backing a de facto plan, he added: “I can’t see a cleaner, more elegant way, having had a clear ‘no’ from unionist parties. There’s nothing left other than this.”

Wishart admitted that Westminster would still likely tell Scotland to “get stuffed” if the SNP won the hearts of more than half of the electorate, but said it would also mean the country had voted for independence. 

The National: Pete Wishart

“That changes everything. We could start to act like an independent nation, push beyond the Scottish Parliament’s powers as we had the backing of the majority of the Scottish people,” he went on.

“We’ve got to give people a reason to believe in us, a sense that if they’re voting SNP it’s aligned with their values. We’ve got a lot of soul-searching ahead of the 2026 [Holyrood] election: what we’re about, how we govern, the things we consider priorities … we can’t take for granted anymore that support is just always going to be there because we’ve seen in opinion polls in the past year people are looking at other alternatives.”

Given that after the next UK election the SNP “might be in a worse position than we’re currently in with the number of MPs”, Wishart added “nobody seriously believes” independence negotiations would begin.

The SNP has been getting “bogged down” in a number of issues such as the overbudget and heavily-delayed ferries at Ferguson Marine, Wishart said, and more recently the issue of Health Secretary Michael Matheson’s near-£11,000 iPad data bill that he racked up while on holiday in Morocco earlier this year.

“We seem singularly unable to deal with these constructively, put them behind us and move on. We’ve got to get better than that,” he said.

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Elsewhere in the interview, Wishart was asked how he felt about the SNP leadership contest between First Minister Humza Yousaf, ex-finance secretary Kate Forbes and the now Alba MSP Ash Regan.

He said he didn’t feel any candidates gave “a new vision” or convinced him they would refresh the agenda.

“We’re not giving the right type of democratic environment for ideas and new people to emerge and say something different,” he added.

“We really handled it so badly. We got to a stage where we just didn’t get the best out of people that were available to come forward and stand.

“I hope we never do that again. It was a distinctly uncomfortable moment for us.”

Detailing how an appeal went out to senior members to take on the leadership of the party “almost like a caretaker role”, he said he would’ve wanted someone to be “nurtured” to redefine the party’s objectives.

“You were looking at a series of people who’d said that they were interested, and thinking ‘surely we’ve got more than this’,” Wishart added, who in the end voted for Yousaf.

Reflecting on Yousaf’s strong stance on the situation in Gaza, Wishart said: “I’m genuinely surprised just how well Humza has navigated his way through. He comes across as a leader with great empathy.”

However, he believes the public have still not made their minds up about Yousaf and wishes he had dealt with the Matherson iPad scandal more constructively.

“We didn’t deal with it, we let it go on and on. I’m not necessarily saying Michael should have been sacked but this could have been managed a lot better,” he said.