IN the post-2014 era, Nicola Sturgeon towered above politics. Partly down to her own undoubted talents and abilities, she became for at least a period, the most popular Scottish politician of the devolution era.

But her leadership was also a product of a set of politically advantageous circumstances, aided by the structures of a centralised party machine and the use of effective public relations.

Many who campaigned and voted for Yes during the referendum rationalised the outcome as a mere stepping stone to the inevitable destiny of Scottish independence. Defeat was never fully registered, nor its consequences interrogated.

The SNP in general, and Sturgeon in particular, became vassals through which the movement could prolong the sense of agency developed in the referendum years. While understandable, such a dynamic laid the foundations for deference in place of irreverence, and thus decay, over the long term.

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Promises of a new referendum were mechanised, with some skill, to marshal electoral support and satiate the new mass membership of the party. At the same time, these members were de-fanged of their insurgent properties. Policies would pass at conference and never see the light of day.

The prospectus for independence itself was farmed out to the corporate lobby, far away from the impulses driving the movement. Domestically, despite the unrivalled power supplied by votes from Scotland’s working-class heartlands, a meek agenda failed to deliver on the radical energies of 2014.

Now, the SNP are bruised and rocked by a series of scandals. The question of legacy is one which plays on the minds of political leaders. Whatever views one might hold of the former first minister, that now looks increasingly derelict.

In addition, with the route to a referendum blocked by the Supreme Court – a strategic misadventure in itself – there is a deep sense of decline and demoralisation within the remnants of the movement.

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There is a tendency, amid the derailment of such a project, to reduce the problems independence supporters face, and their potential solutions, to personality.

That might provide an outlet for frustration, and indeed, fractiousness. But this often highly personalised approach cannot answer the deeper problems that remain, nor provide the kind of vision required to re-animate the idea of independence in a changed world. For that to happen, a rather more fundamental examination is required.

In that vein, it is perhaps useful to go back in time, and come to some appreciation of how the make-up of the SNP has evolved. Unlike newer recruits, who joined the party in a period of great success, previous generations cut their political teeth in a wholly different political environment.

As outsiders, often enduring the experience of defeat, the layer of nationalist cadre that came to play a central role in altering the parameters of Scottish politics were steeled through highly contested battles over strategy, tactics and political philosophy.

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Importantly, some involved in these discussions came from the Labour movement, disaffected with the prospects of the Labour Party within the confines of the British state, and brought with them a brand of politics which understood the importance of competing class interests within the political and economic system.

This is quite the opposite to the kind of careerism which saturates political parties at their height, and the willingness in the neoliberal age to bury questions of social class for the sake of expediency.

In the mid-1970s, the SNP had 11 MPs. At the time this was viewed as great progress, given such a clutch of elected members represented a record-breaking tally for the party. Yet there were ideological complexities to navigate.

While unity existed on the basis of self-determination, weaknesses in their wider political orientation would always limit progress against the dominance of the Labour Party. Jim Sillars, then a Labour MP, said of the SNP at the time: “They were among the most right-wing people in the House of Commons.

“They didn’t understand the class factor at all. They just thought, ‘We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns – from the Duke of Buccleuch right down to your average plumber.”

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However, other developments were taking place that would set in motion a change in direction.

Margo MacDonald (shown celebrating above), in one of the most pivotal results in Scottish electoral history, won the Govan by-election of 1973, displacing the Labour candidate.

This stunning victory brought with it an influx of members. And they brought with them new ideas about the meaning of Scottish nationalism.

The heat of Thatcherism; the onset of industrial decline; the result of the 1979 referendum, and the new debates developing inside the party had an impact on the nature and direction of the SNP. In addition, the discovery of North Sea oil transformed Scottish nationalism.

As James Foley, academic and author of The Scottish Economy And Nationalism: Constructing Scotland’s Imagined Economy, argues: “It’s difficult to imagine the contemporary independence movement and the growth of the SNP without it. There’s a cultural shift in what it means to be Scottish that is connected to this energy discovery.”

The slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil” denoted the idea of common ownership, and intimated that a brighter future for Scottish workers need not be tied to the fortunes of the British trade union movement, but to the potential of Scottish self-determination. We cannot say this is the case today, when Scotland’s renewable energy grid is being squandered and sold off at rock-bottom prices to private companies such as Shell and BP.

Indeed, the SNP – and, more recently the Greens – have repeatedly rolled out the red carpet for international capital, eroding the economic base required for a new Scottish state to build up its resources.

Combine this with the policy of indefinite sterlingisation, leaving a post-independent Scotland without its own central bank, and you have a recipe for national dependence on multinational corporations, the City and institutions like the IMF, rather than meaningful independence.

In that case, what’s the point? In truth, there is no quick fix to these matters, nor the structural obstacles to achieving independence.

Political parties may like to pretend that there is, for obvious reasons. But what is needed now is a critical debate about the reality of the confrontations necessary around the national question, and to conduct a serious appraisal of the last 10 years – beyond personnel and factional intrigue.

This column will seek to present perspectives on this basis – as well as zooming out to cover interconnected questions of class, economics, foreign policy and social movements.