HERCULE Poirot looked at the assembled room full of potential suspects and caressed his generous moustache. The silence was ominous while everyone waited for the great detective to reveal the murderer.

Humza Yousaf tried to make a joke: “Why are there so few men here?” No one laughed. They never do when Humza cracks a joke.

Instead, everyone stared nervously at Poirot. “Mes amis,” he began. “Before I expose who murdered the SNP, let me explain how my little grey cells have led me to the answer...

“There is no shortage of clues in this mystery. Perhaps too many. Where, for instance, is the missing £600,000 donated by independence supporters? Is it available for campaigning in the next referendum? Might it have been used to finance some progressive cause, such as … er, political polling? And if the £600,000 has not fallen down – how do you call it – the back of a bench, then why did the CEO lend the party £100,000 of his own money without telling his wife?”

Poirot’s words caused most of the people in the room to look at their feet. Only the First Minister was unabashed.

“I can’t recall when I heard that Peter had made this generous offer to help the movement,” she explained. “We never talk politics at home, especially if I have important political visitors round for tea. Unfortunately, Peter is so busy winning elections that he neglected to inform the Electoral Commission of the loan for a year, as he was supposed to.”

Poirot coughed, twirled his waxed moustaches again, and continued: “Then there is the problem of the missing 32,000 SNP members.

“That is, mes enfants, an awful lot of missing persons. Yet no one at party HQ seems to have noticed, even when their subscriptions disappeared. Instead, the party media spokesperson was informed – by whom? – that there were no lost subs. No missing members. Nothing untoward anywhere.”

The former media spokesperson looked shifty. Rather too hastily he tried to defend himself: “I am blaming no one. I blamed no one in my resignation letter. I know nothing. I am just a journalist. And I know what you are all thinking. That I wrote the ‘Vow’ back in 2014, in the Daily Record, that persuaded people to vote No, because they would get Home Rule and stay in the EU. That I must be a closet Unionist still and have been working secretly inside the SNP to ruin the chances of independence. God knows, someone has been sabotaging the party. But it wisnae me. I know nothing.”

Poirot was kind. “Calm, calm, mon ami. Do not shoot yourself in the foot. I comprehend that no one at party HQ knew anything about anything. No one at the National Committee knew anything. The newly elected national treasurer, Mr Chapman, resigned his post because no one told him anything. Bravo! But that is why you have called in the great Hercule Poirot. To find out the truth!”

This was accompanied by more nervous shuffling of feet. Standing behind the curtains, Chief Inspector Japp sensed the denouement was approaching. He fingered his hidden Webley revolver. Usually the culprit, when revealed by Poirot, would blurt out a satisfying confession and bolt for the French windows. That would be difficult in the confines of Bute House. But Japp was ready for any eventuality. He had his eye on becoming the next head of Police Scotland, where his intellectual prowess would be a welcome acquisition.

“Then there is the final clue,” said Poirot. “The missing referendum. For years, the independence movement was promised a second referendum. Usually set for every October. But Octobers came and Octobers went, and no referendum appeared. Mes amis, this is the Case of the Missing Referendum. There is no corpus delicti. Someone has buried it!”

Poirot looked closely at the three people sitting closest to him. These were the three potential beneficiaries of the First Minister’s political will.

“The great detective continued: “So I asked myself, who will gain the most from the death of the SNP? Is it Mr Yousaf, who had it on good authority from Mr Swinney and Mr Robertson that he was due to inherit everything? And how did he respond when he heard the FM’s will might be declared invalid?” The great detective continued: “Have no fear, Mr Yousaf. You lack the brains to be a criminal mastermind, but you did follow orders.”

Poirot fixed another suspect by the eye: “Then there is you, Ms Forbes. You have a convenient alibi. I asked myself: too convenient? But no. However, like Mr Yousaf, you too were part of the conspiracy. You were the financial brains of the Government and you were a member of the infamous SNP Growth Commission. How can you claim to represent a new brush and demand greater party democracy?”

Poirot now turned to the third possible beneficiary of the will: “And you, Ms Regan. You at least had the presence of mind to resign from the Government. You have indicated you would reach out to all the Yes movement, including those who feel alienated from the party leadership. But there are some who worry you are not speaking on your own behalf, but represent a Mr Big.”

A hush fell over the room. Captain Hastings was sure he knew which of these strange Scotch folk was the guilty party. It was obviously ... No, maybe it was … As a stout Englishman, Hastings realised that he had no idea what these Scottish people wanted.

“Mes amis, the time has come for me to unravel this interesting case.” Poirot waited just the right few seconds for all his suspects to hold their breath.

“First, I suspected the FM herself. She is clever and articulate. But she promised too much in the way of an easy second referendum, when such a referendum was bound to be rejected by Westminster. Then there is Mr Murrell, He is definitely guilty of protecting his wife. Is that a crime? Perhaps not. But he should never have been in that position and for so long. It led to a dangerous conflict of interest and an atmosphere of secrecy that compromised accountability.

“Then we have the government ministers and the members of the National Committee. The ministers are guilty of growing too complacent, too detached from the people. Has anyone resigned over the Ferguson ferry scandal? As to the elected party leaders: how could £600,000 go missing, and no one know? How could 32,000 members disappear, and it not be a matter for discussion? How could a leadership contest start with a proposal to ban the media from attending hustings? Is there an adult in the house?”

Poirot paused then continued: “The more I studied this case the more I realised everyone had something to hide. That everyone owns part of the guilt. That the conspiracy is a conspiracy to ignore political reality. To pretend that everything was perfect when it wasn’t.

"To invest too much hope in leaders, when it was the movement that counted. To prioritise process over argument and campaigning. To fear truth because it might upset the voters. To pretend there were no costs to building a new nation.”