WE don’t often get the opportunity to take stock of where we are and have a serious, open and far reaching debate about the future of our party and our movement.

That’s why it’s important that the SNP leadership election gives us the space to raise and discuss fundamental issues about our approach – issues we might normally refrain from airing due to our natural over-riding focus on unity and collective responsibility.

If we miss this opportunity to understand where we need to do better, where there is a need for a change of approach, we will not do ourselves, our party, or Scotland any favours.

At the heart of this lies a simple message. People will vote for independence when they think it will make their lives better – and they will come to believe that when they see government delivering for them with the powers it has. They need to see us walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

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Yes, we should continue to robustly call out Westminster on energy policy; on links to our European neighbours; on the lack of borrowing powers to invest in our economy; on the restrictions on immigration that hamper our businesses and public services; on inadequate support for families and businesses facing the cost of living crisis; and on UK Government’s unwillingness to respect the devolution settlement.

Stephen Flynn and our Westminster team do this admirably on a daily basis, as do myself and my ministerial colleagues. But that of itself is not enough. We also need to deliver.

Our success is important, not simply for the continuation of our party in government but for the independent future of our country.

And change is not something to be viewed negatively. When Nicola Sturgeon became leader in 2014 she charted a different course from her predecessor, taking the opportunity to press the reset button, and delivered election win after win as a consequence. We are now in different times and a fresh approach is needed.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon has been at the pinnacle of Scottish governmental life for more than 15 years Picture: Jane Barlow/PA

So what do we need to do differently, to reset and re-invigorate? I believe it comes down to three things.

Firstly, focus. We need to understand what the key issues are that are important to people in their daily lives. Top of the list are NHS waiting lists; available and affordable housing; the skills to take advantage of the wide range of well-paid jobs that are already available in our economy; reliable and affordable transport to get us to and from work (and to our islands); and support with energy costs and the cost of living.

A country that enjoys those services and opportunities is a country that will vote for independence in large numbers.

And while Scotland does perform better than the rest of the UK on many of those, no-one can say our performance is what it could or should be.

Over time, a long-serving government gets constrained by its commitments – initiatives, policies, strategies, activities. This is a natural process, not something unique to us.

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Forever announcing new funds or initiatives under different titles isn’t the answer. An example – we have identified a total of 130 different funds and schemes across government and agencies all providing different types of business support, built up over many years to satisfy immediate needs to be seen to be doing something.

It's a system that’s difficult to understand and navigate, expensive to administer and disconnected from our strategic priorities. It is something we are taking steps to streamline and focus.

Pressing the reset button, clearing the barnacles off the bottom of the boat if you like, and having the courage to refocus and streamline our approach isn’t easy. We don’t get many opportunities to do it. We have one now and shouldn’t miss it.

Secondly, delivery. Soundbites aren’t strategy. No matter how useful they are in spicing up speeches or grabbing headlines. Politicians, and pundits, love policies. But important as they are picking policies is only the start of the process.

Good policies badly delivered can be worse than useless. We need to make a virtue of excellence in delivery, and not just as politicians but right across the whole, often overlooked but critically important, machinery of government and its agencies. Focus on outcomes rather than trumpeting inputs.

“Record, Team, Vision” propelled the SNP to majority win in 2011. Above all else we need to deliver good public services for the people of Scotland.

Of course we would want more cash but one of our key arguments for independence is that small countries are better connected, more effective at service delivery and more responsive to people’s needs. The international evidence shows that. We need to demonstrate it with the powers we have. And finally, empowerment. And this is the hardest home truth we need to absorb. We are not good at “big tentism”.

From Cabinet government, that is often just a rubber stamp, to backbenchers and a committee system that’s expected to follow rather than encouraged to scrutinise and add value (when Westminster has a more democratic committee structure than Holyrood we are clearly doing something wrong).

We have a party membership that is viewed as a piggy bank and leafletting fodder (important as those are) rather than a hugely diverse and talented resource than can provide the ideas and energy to deliver for Scotland, and a wider Yes movement that is at best marginalised and ignored rather than mobilised and organised.

Local government can be seen as a problem rather than a partner, whereas it needs to be viewed as a sphere, rather than a tier, of government and be empowered to deliver for communities.

This requires a culture change.

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A letting go of levers of control. Not a comfortable thing to do but a necessary one. Not just for our continued electoral success – in 2024, 2026 and beyond – but as part of the process of maturing into an independent state.

To do this, the next leader needs courage as well as vision. My view is that Kate Forbes is the only candidate who has demonstrated the talent, qualities, depth of thinking, courage and fresh approach to truly understand and deliver this agenda.

But this is, of course, about more than one individual. It’s a team game and whoever wins needs to recognise that “more of the same” with some extra bells and whistles will not take us where we, and Scotland, needs to go. Continuity won’t cut it.

I spent almost 20 years in the (New) Labour Party. I’ve seen what happens when political parties start to believe the narrative of their own invincibility and turn inwards to mutually re-inforce that message.

The hardest thing any organisation has to do is to recognise the need to change before being forced to do so – because by then it’s usually too late.

It’s difficult to give up something that has worked well previously but circumstances change and recognising in time when a change in approach is needed is the key to enduring success for the long term.