THE resignation of Nicola Sturgeon means that the SNP will have its first leadership election for nearly 20 years.

This could be a turning point for the independence movement but only if we can honestly appraise where things have gone wrong and radically reset our approach.  

The time for shooting the messenger is over. We need a frank recognition of the shortcomings of the SNP at party and government level and a plan to put things right. Prospective leadership candidates will be challenged to come up with the answers in the heat of the contest to come.

But if we are to learn anything from our recent past, we must recognise that the answers are not to be found in one person. Successful leaders build teams, and it is for the next leader and her team to take us forward together. It’s a tall order but it’s doable.  

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There can be no doubt that Nicola Sturgeon was a consummate political campaigner and very good at getting her message across. However winning elections and making big promises is not enough in politics.

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Delivering change is what counts. The SNP now has a chance to pause and reflect how we do that. The reason our party exists is to win independence for our country, but we also exist to make life better for everyone who lives in Scotland.

In order to realise those goals, we need to reset the policy programme of the devolved government as well as our independence strategy.  

Everywhere I go in my work as a constituency MP businesses, charities and third-sector organisations tell me that while the SNP government has high ideals and makes great promises it is deficient when it comes to delivery. This needs to change. So too does the way our party makes policy and the tenor of the debate which accompanies it.  

What went wrong with the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill is a microcosm of everything that has been wrong with our party’s approach in the last few years. An ill-thought-through policy that was never debated on the floor of conference, a refusal to listen to those with legitimate concerns, the demonisation of dissenters and above all, as the opinion polls show, a failure to take the public with us. 

It is also pretty much what has gone wrong with our independence strategy. Testing the competence of Holyrood to legislate for a second independence referendum and the idea of a plebiscite election were ideas that when first mooted were shot down in flames, without a debate and with opprobrium heaped on those who dared to suggest them.

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Against this background it is hardly surprising that when these ideas where belatedly taken on board their execution should have proved so problematic. 

I agree with Stephen Flynn that the special conference set for March 19 should be postponed. The debate about strategy and the way forward can now take place as part of the leadership election and whoever wins must be allowed to develop her stance and vision in collaboration with a new team unfettered by the strategy adopted by the previous leadership.  

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I also agree with Stephen that it will be very important to hear from the leadership candidates about what they propose to do about the cost-of-living crisis, the economy, and the NHS as well as other big issues including energy policy, and current challenges facing the Scottish government over ferry delivery, the deposit return scheme, the dualling of the A9 and bridging the attainment gap. 

The public find it hard to understand why so much priority has been given to the GRR Bill when there are so many more pressing issues.  

The reset which the SNP’s new leader and her team must achieve should extend beyond the independence strategy and government policy to reform of our internal party democracy and to reform of the democratic institutions of our parliament and civic society.   

Never again should our party be run by a small impenetrable cabal with the democratic choices of the party membership for NEC outvoted by members co-opted without a democratic mandate. 

The rules for selection of candidates should be designed to ensure people of talent step forward to represent our party and movement rather than abused to marginalise independent thinkers. Our complaints procedure should be applied fairly to all rather than utilised to marginalise those guilty of "wrong think".  

Several party members have been suspended on spurious grounds and without due process. The party needs to put this right as anyone wrongly excluded from voting in the leadership election could legally challenge the result. 

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Given the multiple failures in due process at SNP HQ and the question mark hanging over the current chief executive’s management of party finances the election for the party leadership should not be run under his control. I suggest we have an interim CEO drawn from the ranks of elder party statespersons, someone like Roger Mullin.   

Over the last two years the party has lost many members who have left in despair at the failure to progress the cause of independence and the treatment of women with concerns about the policy of self-identification.

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I am aware from discussions with colleagues across Scotland that we have lost some of our most hardworking activists. All those who left over that period should be invited to re-join the party and participate in the leadership election. This could reinvigorate the party’s finances as well as party democracy.  

Finally, turning to our parliament, the progress of the GRR Bill has illustrated some of the shortcomings in Holyrood’s structures. The partisan blinkered nature of the committee scrutiny which took place, shockingly overlooking any balanced analysis of the human rights implications of the bill, could be addressed by having committee chairs elected by backbenchers rather than appointed by party whips. 

The cross-party review currently being undertaken by Professor James Mitchell on issues of accountability and scrutiny in our parliament should be compulsory reading for the new leader. 

We also need to look at the closeness of some of our third-sector organisations to government, the way in which those who give evidence to committees are selected and the way in which organisations almost entirely dependent on government funding have such easy access to policy development and effectively become cheerleaders for government policy. This is not a healthy aspect of our democracy.   

Beyond parliament the independence of our justice institutions could be improved by addressing the anomaly whereby the Lord Advocate is both government legal adviser and head of the prosecution service.

Because of the way the Scotland Act is phrased this might require a Section 30 order, but it is hard to believe one would not be forthcoming, as in this respect we would be emulating the English system which, unusually, is more in tune with international requirements regarding the strengthening of the autonomy of prosecution services. We also need a renewed look at reform of local government and its financing.  

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Finally, as it seems unlikely the new leader will want to fly in the face of public opinion with a legal challenge to the Section 35 order vetoing the GRR Bill, I suggest we park the issue of GRA reform until it has been properly scrutinised in line with our manifesto commitment.

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This could be achieved by setting up a Citizens' Assembly to report to parliament. In parallel the new leader should set up an independent review (like England’s Cass review) into the operation of the Sandyford clinic and look at the reasons for the exponential rise in the number of young women seeking to transition. Evidence-based policy making is the way forward.  

I won’t be running for leader of the SNP this time. The gerrymandering of the rules for Holyrood selection before the last Scottish election have made it a practical impossibility for me to do so.

Our next leader must be able to become First Minister and so she must come from within the current Holyrood contingent and it should be someone with at least some ministerial experience. I stand ready to give my support to the candidate who I believe is best placed to break with the past and to put together a team to deliver the root and branch change needed.  

That change must involve a recognition that independence will only be achieved by a team effort. The messianic leadership model has not worked.

The new leader needs to reach out across the party and the movement and to adopt a more collegiate approach. If we are to go forward united to achieve our goal of independence, we need to face up to what has gone wrong and put it right.