SEEING Nicola Sturgeon ask a question at FMQs last week was slightly surreal. The former first minister certainly doesn’t have her problems to seek, as we await the outcome of the as yet unresolved investigation into SNP finances.

But there’s no denying she cut a much more relaxed figure than we saw towards the end of her tenure. From her appearance at FMQs, there was certainly no hint that she longed to be back in the hotseat.

Aside from Anas Sarwar, there are probably very few people who would be willing to trade places with Humza Yousaf right now. He has faced a bruising first year as First Minister. There was no honeymoon period to ease the transition into his new role.

And now, he faces his biggest electoral test yet, as we all look ahead to the upcoming General Election. The task before him is enormous. Gone are the days where the SNP could romp to victory by virtue of the fact they are the country’s main party of independence.

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While the polls show that support for Yes is holding steady, the same can’t be said of the SNP’s fortunes. Yousaf has a difficult balancing act to pull off.

In recent weeks, we have started to see how the SNP’s General Election strategy might play out. During a speech in Glasgow, the First Minister told party representatives and activists that voters need to back the SNP to keep independence on the agenda.

He argued Keir Starmer already has the election in the bag and doesn’t need the votes of Scotland to get over the line.

This is, of course, the opposite of what Scottish Labour will be telling voters in the months ahead. They will make the case that Scotland must back Labour to finally get the Tories out of Downing Street.

The First Minister’s message was echoed by the SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn at the weekend. He told the BBC Sunday Show only SNP MPs will stand up for Scotland’s interests and keep the prospect of Scottish independence on the table.

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There is a double standard incoming that everybody can see a mile off. The SNP’s many electoral victories over the last decade were never deemed enough of a mandate – in the eyes of some elements of the media and Unionist politicians – to justify revisiting the constitutional question.

But there is no doubt that if the SNP lose the election in Scotland, or win the most seats but see a significant drop in support, that will be characterised as a death knell in the fight for Scottish independence.

As we’ve seen from recent polls, the fortunes of the independence movement and the SNP are not as tightly woven as they once were. But in politics, spin is king. And the SNP are not above it.

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To win votes in the next election, they need to capitalise on the genuine fears of independence supporters that indyref2 is drifting out of reach. This, “if we lose, you lose” strategy is not without its merits but it’s a message that is difficult to control once it starts to take hold.

In a column for the Sunday National last week, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said “if the SNP lose the election in Scotland, the debate on independence stops”.

We can expect that quote to be repeated with the same vigour and relish as the “once in a generation” line from Alex Salmond.

Logically, we all know that the cause of independence is bigger than any one party or politician. Nobody has the power to take independence off the table for good, or even for a defined period of time.

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The fortunes of the SNP will ebb and flow, as they do for all political parties. But the desire to see Scotland become an independent country is not a fringe issue. It commands the support of nearly half of the population. Younger people overwhelmingly support Scottish independence.

The mechanism by which we achieve a second independence referendum is the subject of ferocious debate – not least, within the independence movement itself.

But we should be wary of hyping up the notion that at any given moment, the possibility of Scotland ever becoming independent can rest or fall on one election campaign.

Independence will be a talking point in this election as it has been in every one since 2014 because, despite nothing much new happening, independence is still a live issue. Politicians from all sides will exploit the constitutional question for their own ends.

The SNP are taking a gamble in so boldly declaring that if they lose, independence loses. It might win them some votes from disillusioned independence supporters who would have otherwise stayed at home.

But there is also the risk that it could come back to haunt them.

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