THE thing about wake-up calls is to make sure you don’t sleep through them. By-elections are always strange beasts, things of their time, and Rutherglen and Hamilton West was no exception.

First, the mitigations. Winning was always going to be a big ask for the SNP. We should never have pretended otherwise. Our MP broke Covid rules, was expelled from the party and the seat has been adrift from us for the last three years. There’s a palpable scunner factor with politics of all colours and, post-Covid, people are still anxious/crabbit/apathetic.

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Anyone seeing too much into a 37% turnout needs to think carefully. Labour threw the kitchen sink at it, from the recall petition onwards, with lots of slogans about change but not one single memorable policy. Everyone but the SNP and Labour lost their deposit. The near-horizontal rain on polling day didn’t help anyone.

All these things are true but the SNP would be foolish to take too much comfort in them and we’re not fools. The win can be discounted to an extent but a swing of 20% cannot be ignored by anyone sensible – nor, to my mind more importantly, should such a palpable lack of enthusiasm in our own support.

So it was a sair one and we have taken it with good grace. There’s plenty time to reflect, learn and change tack because I remain of the view we are in a hugely strong position. But we need to heed the wake-up call. I’ve proven I will defend my party to my last breath, but I think the SNP looks like we’ve forgotten how to listen.

We look out of touch, both in our perceived priorities and how we manage the day-to-day business of government, such as procuring ferries, recycling bottles, upgrading roads and protecting our marine environment.

This matters. Our credibility is built on diligent competence.

Too many of our ministers and spads seem behind the curve on how benignly intended consultations are perceived outside the bubble until a DRS-style collapse is unavoidable. Humza Yousaf has made decent strides in sharpening up the Government – this needs to accelerate.

The people of Scotland are living through an appalling cost of living crisis which Westminster mismanagement has inflicted upon us. Winter is coming and that is their focus and what they want to see their politicians working on. We have not yet sufficiently linked the cost of living crisis to the UK’s democratic deficit and Scotland’s lack of powers to deal with it.

Independence in Europe is an upbeat, hopeful vision, the path out of the misery, but right now independence is not seen by a substantial amount of our fellow countrymen and women as the answer – it is seen as another layer of drama when people want credible action now.

We need to persuade them by talking about and working on the things they’re concerned about. And for those who say we should simply shout independence louder (pointing as evidence polls from the Tony Blair Institute, no less), I have to say come out canvassing in Stirling with me – or indeed in Rutherglen.

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Yes, in a hypothetical referendum people are well disposed in principle to independence. That is a good thing, but we have to also recognise it is not top of everyone’s agenda.

In the absence of a credible legal route to get to a referendum and actually deliver independence it is just navel-gazing. If there is no robust route to get there, the discussion falls at the first hurdle and they’re open to other offers.

So at SNP conference next week, we have an important choice in front of us. I think it will be as significant as when the SNP decided back in the 1990s to participate in devolution. The leadership motion on the strategy is, I think, robust – in paragraph six, winning the most seats empowers the Scottish Government to start talks with the UK Government.

The arithmetic in Westminster is whoever wins the most seats has won. I don’t see why we should not use their own logic against them.

Also in the leadership motion, 6a-c outlines some of the things we can unilaterally do should anti-democratic Tory intransigence be continued after the election, whoever sits in Downing Street.

Again, this is robust and will ratchet up the pressure on an unreasonable and out-of-touch UK Government. But I think more is needed, and that is why I’m backing an amendment drafted by Tommy Sheppard to the effect that we also, in addition to independence, campaign for the transfer of the power to hold a binding referendum.

And we seek the transfer of the powers to take serious credible action on energy costs, employment rights, the just transition and more.

For example, the Scottish Trades Union Congress recently backed the transfer of employment law powers to Holyrood, because it believes, rightly, that Holyrood will make a better fist of them. The Labour Party, amazingly, has declined to support this. Surely this would be a good campaign to win converts to a stronger Holyrood and thereby to independence?

And 72% of Scots want back into the European Union, yet Labour, the Tories and LibDems will not offer it: there’s a campaign we can use to build the coalition we need.

The manifesto, and the campaign, will then not just be about independence – because a vote for the SNP is, has always and always will be a vote for independence. It will also be about the powers to choose independence, and to tackle the cost of living crisis where Westminster has demonstrably failed.

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We’ll be able to bring forward ambitious policies not just for a devolved Scotland but also an independent one. We’ll be able to credibly say not just that we want the powers but what we’ll do with them and why we’ll make better use of them than Westminster.

It will be about a strong voice for Scotland to keep a potential Labour government honest, because we’re trusted to put Scotland first in a way nobody else is. I want Scotland’s government to be decided by Scotland’s votes, but until we’re out of the rotten Westminster system we need to use that forum to show how we could do better, and set out real action on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland.

Rutherglen was sair, but if we adopt the right strategy in the wake of the Rutherglen result we can win big for Scotland and independence in Europe.