POLITICS never stays the same. Eras come and go. The key to success is adapting, changing and renewing – and not remaining stuck in old messages when times move on.

Scottish Labour were at their peak decades ago; a family that then became dysfunctional, defined by inner conflict and neglecting who they were meant to serve. Subsequently they lost to the SNP and endured their wilderness years, but now they have a hunger to win.

The SNP were, until recently, a relatively inclusive family that became a winning, large movement which then lost shape and definition, and has since instead become defined by infighting, a lack of strategy and trust. On this trajectory only one fate beckons: losing votes and eventually power.

After the Rutherglen by-election there should be no shock at the state of politics. The SNP have been in office for 16 years. For too long the party has been coasting, retaining its ascendancy with little effort, with smugness and conceit rising – reminiscent of Scottish Labour at its peak before that fall.

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The explanations offered for this are increasingly threadbare. There is the “blame the Greens” perspective which is handy for many and excuses the SNP of any responsibility for their fate. One former SNP MSP said at the weekend about the Greens that it is “deeply undemocratic they are in government after polling just 600 votes last week – they’ve the political credibility of Screaming Lord Sutch”. This is an argument so ridiculous that, taken to its logical conclusion, would see the SNP resign from office.

Another is to blame problems on the current leadership of First Minister Humza Yousaf. There can be little doubt that Yousaf has no real direction or purpose beyond keeping the show on the road, but he is a product of what came before. The Nicola Sturgeon era built up a huge welter of problems – in the party, government and independence – which have cascaded into public view since her resignation as party leader and FM.

The National: Ms Sturgeon was released without charge following her arrest in June.

Then there is the continued obsession with the fairy tales and myths peddled in the Sturgeon era. First is the “de facto referendum” which the leadership – with no other idea of what to do – are peddling as some kind of route map when it is nothing of the kind. It is a dead-end for a party which is increasingly talking to itself.

Even worse are the outlandish ideas that, come the next Westminster election, the SNP should stand on a withdrawal ticket. The argument goes “what has Westminster ever done for us?”, “when has it ever respected our mandates?”, and “what good has having even 56 MPs had?” Such a position is born of impatience, but it is bad politics, showcasing SNP impotence – and would be a gift to Labour, who would say “a vote for the SNP is a wasted vote”. It will not happen, but it is a diversion from thinking about the impasse that the SNP are in.

Similarly is the pronounced bunker and base mentality in a significant section of independence opinion that repeats the same worn-out mantras. “We are being denied our self-determination by Westminster” is one widely articulated, often followed by “we have a mandate to have an independence referendum”.

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Apart from the cul-de-sac of citing the tyranny of ironclad mandates against Westminster to escape Westminster, what this repeatedly ignores is public opinion. Mandates are not legal, or just about winning elections. They are about what the public wants.

Here some home truths are needed. Scottish voters’ priorities are the health service (71%), economy (63%) and education (45%). Independence is seventh with 18%, and only the top issue for 36% of 2019 SNP voters. This needs to be reflected in SNP politics. Otherwise they will represent a minority interest, leaving what voters are really worried about to be embodied by Labour.

The mantra “we are being denied our self-determination” is independence talking to itself, believing the problem is wicked Westminster, rather than in Scotland. There is no desire or want for a referendum for now, nor is there any offer, plan or vision from the SNP – and hence no real denial. Westminster read the same polls as the SNP and its ministers know the state of Scottish opinion and what drives them.

A second meme is that “we need independence to stop Scotland being governed by Tory governments”. This is an over-simplification – with problems. An independent Scotland could have right-wing governments; shorn of the independence question the Tories could cease to be pariahs. Instead of looking just at party popularity, which goes up and down, a more subtle take is to emphasise that “Scotland would cease to get Westminster governments it does not vote for”. That is more accurate and makes the problem Westminster and the British state.

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A further line is the “there is no real difference between Labour and Tories today” and the former being nothing but “Red Tories” – pro-Brexit, pro-austerity and committed to changing little. Yet despite the limitations of Starmer’s Labour, there are still fundamental differences between Labour and Tory. It is a politics of caricature to pretend otherwise.

Scotland has a different relationship with the two parties, not having voted Conservative since 1959 and enduring 13 years of Cameron-Osborne austerity that we did not vote for.

The SNP need a new story and approach, and must ditch the old tunes. They do not need to continue to repeat the same old tired lines which play to diminishing audiences, while Labour now have the wind in their sails. The line “vote Labour as the easiest, simplest way to get rid of the Tories” has traction; it has more reach and edge than the cul-de-sac of a “de facto referendum”. And Labour’s message has more appeal with swing voters.

Scotland is not two fixed camps, one independence and one pro-Union. Underneath headline figures is movement. A major part of opinion was once Labour, then became pro-independence, and then shifted to the SNP in successive elections.

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That part of Scotland is shifting back to Labour, while remaining for now pro-independence. A major dynamic in this remains who can best speak for anti-Tory Scotland. Once that was Labour, for the past 16 years it has been SNP – and for many voters, it will be Labour again.

Two final observations. The election of a UK Labour government is a major positive. It calls time on this rotten Tory government with its debasement of public life, corruption and blatant xenophobia, racism and culture wars.

It is a last chance to see if the UK can be reformed – economically, socially, democratically, and geopolitically – which is critical for those swing voters who will decide Scotland’s future.

The SNP need to stop clinging to the wreckage. They have manoeuvred themselves into a dead-end. Getting out will not be easy. George Kerevan said yesterday change must happen “immediately”. That is not how political parties operate, and certainly not ones which have been incumbents for 16 years. Change in such circumstances only comes through external shocks causing people to wake up and face uncomfortable realities.

The elections of 2024 and 2026 are going to be hard for the SNP. By 2026 the party will have been in office for 19 years, its record open to criticism, while the mantra “time for a change” will have an appeal.

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For the SNP and independence to reset and be the change, it cannot just stick to what it has done. The SNP have three interconnected crises to address: party, government, independence. The way debate and democracy were suffocated in the party’s corridors needs addressing and a new culture of more collegiate leadership established. The Government need to stop acting in the style of “Holyrood knows best”, which is as tiresome and limited as Whitehall thinking it knows best.

Finally, alongside dealing with the broken politics of the first two, independence needs a new offer, one which will take time and effort to create, and is not fixated on process politics (“de facto referendum”, abstentionism) but substance. That would entail honesty, talking about risks as well as opportunities, and grounding it in detail on the economy, wealth and prosperity.

The times they are a-changing and the SNP and independence need to change with them. There is no point in the age of disruption clinging to last year’s mantras and representing the forces of conservatism. Labour are about to realise the limits of such an approach next year. It is time to start thinking about that new song and the next generation of change.