WHEN Theresa May stood outside Number 10 Downing Street yesterday and proclaimed, “I will form a government,’’ there was an almost audible, weary laugh across the country. During her speech, she spoke of her “allies”

in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, but entirely omitted mentioning the actual result.

Theresa May is not so much the Iron Lady, but the irony lady. What became clear in the aftermath of Thursday’s night’s sensational exit poll was that her gamble hadn’t paid off. She had a majority – albeit a small one – but rolled the dice based on polls which predicted the Conservatives could be headed for a landslide. An election that was meant to be about strong and stable leadership, and a personal mandate for the unelected Prime Minister, ended up as anything but.

Theresa May chose to make this election one about personalities. Unfortunately for her, the more voters were exposed to hers, the more turned off they were.

She hid from TV debates and gave maddeningly vague answers to even the most unchallenging of questions. When the moniker “Maybot” began to gain traction, Theresa May tried to appear more normal and less robotic. She did this partly by giving us little titbits of information about her personal life. What’s the naughtiest thing the Prime Minister has ever done?

Ran through a field of wheat, apparently. Scandalous. The election was the Conservatives’ to lose, and with every gaffe, every U-turn, every robotic interview and cringe-worthy appearance from the Prime Minister – they managed to do just that. In Scotland, it’s fair to say Ruth Davidson had a better night than Theresa May. In taking 13 seats, the Scottish Tories had their best result since 1983. Labour too, did better than even they expected. The SNP won the election in Scotland overall; but there can be no denying that losing 21 seats was a devastating blow. Few expected they would reach the dizzying heights they did in 2015, but in losing Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond, as well as seats to all three Unionist parties, the SNP undoubtedly took a hammering. Questions are now being asked about what this result means for independence. I don’t think these results can be attributed solely to a Unionist rejection of indyref2. Many people who still support independence were tempted by Corbyn and voted accordingly.

Some are disheartened, even angry at the way the results turned out.

I get that, but I also think this presents an opportunity for the SNP, and the wider independence movement, to take stock, reflect and move forward.

The SNP are not the independence movement. Their electoral success can’t be used as a blunt instrument to measure support for independence. The polls show that what the country thinks about the constitution has remained largely unchanged since the Brexit vote. With the country split roughly 50/50, the question isn’t going to go away. Independence is far from being “dead in the water” as a result of the General Election.

But there is no rush. There are many within the SNP, and the wider independence movement, who questioned the wisdom of asking the question again at the end of the Brexit negotiations, while the polls remain at a standstill. Nicola Sturgeon has said she will take stock and reflect on the outcome of the election, which I think is canny.

It’s far too easy for the real case for independence to be drowned out in the noise of Ruth Davidson and her “get back to the day job” battle cry. Stalling the march towards indyref2 may be more beneficial to Yes in the long run. Without that hanging over the head of Sturgeon and the SNP, Ruth Davidson would be under far more pressure to answer for her own party and the self-serving wrecking tactics they’ve inflicted on the country.

There is a very real possibility that we could be heading for another General Election at some point this year. In many seats in Scotland, the majority they were won or lost by was tiny. With the chaos of the hung parliament, the power-sharing impasse in Northern Ireland and the impending Brexit talks, calls for a second independence referendum risk adding to the disarray at a time where Yes can’t even be sure they’d win it.

Nicola Sturgeon will be watching and waiting over the next few days. In these uncertain times, it’s difficult to play the long game, as the political sands continue to shift underneath us. But that is what she must do as best she can.

The case for independence remains. The mandate that the SNP secured to hold a second independence referendum has not been diminished.

But logistically and politically, a period of reflection and conversation is what we all need.