THE SNP not only ignored the lessons of last year’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, pretty much exactly the same people are in charge of learning the lessons of last week’s gubbing.

We cannot run away from the fact that we didn’t just lose, we lost very badly. We need a moor burn and everything needs to be on the table.

None of last Thursday’s events lie at John Swinney’s door – the tram tracks were laid long before that and the malaise is deeper. Difficult as it is to contemplate, had he not been leader I suspect the results could have been worse.

There was a spectacular swing against us, of course. But to conclude we could not have done more or there wasn’t anything we could have done differently will guarantee a similar result at the Holyrood election in 2026.

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In the same way as winning suggests you got it right and don’t need to evolve, a loss on this scale might risk us wallowing in the scale of the defeat and ignoring the lessons.

We can come back from this (indeed I think there is a very plausible scenario that sees this stolid UK Government becoming deeply unpopular really fast) but let’s have some hard truths about ourselves first. You put on a brave face for the sake of the party and the cause and for a few weeks I’m not going to do that any more.

Our short campaign was lacklustre and reactive, I don’t recall one day we had the initiative. Beyond our commitment to bring forward legislation to protect the NHS from privatisation, there was little in our by-the-numbers manifesto for anyone to unite around or get excited about or even pay attention to.

Fundamentally, we did not give the voters a reason to stick with us, opting instead to parrot the regime change theme of the election, blithely assuming the electorate agrees with us that we’re the good guys and ignoring the fact Labour had a better regime change proposition. There was tactical voting against us on a significant scale. The Scottish electorate is one of the most sophisticated in the world, and well able to get what it wants. It wanted rid of the Tories but wanted to give the SNP a bloody nose as well. We need to reflect deeply on why and how we regain trust.

Independence was indeed page one, line one of the manifesto, but absent a credible roadmap to deliver it. We allowed Labour and Tory undemocratic unreasonableness to be our problem rather than theirs, and in any event we did not adequately link the independence case to the cost of living crisis, which was the main driving factor other than regime change.

But the short campaign was not, to my mind, the biggest issue. For a few years now I fear we have collectively looked out of touch and unresponsive. Even in parts self-indulgent in our conduct and the issues we focused on while the people were looking to us for serious action on their priorities.

THE party put more resources than ever into polling and focus groups, then ignored their findings. People were telling us they were concerned about the cost of living and the state of the NHS and public services. We have simply not been talking their language.

We also did not adequately defend the record of the Scottish Government from the scorched-earth onslaught we have been subjected to for years. It has sunk in. Too many people do not believe us when we tell them things are better in Scotland.

They are unimpressed that we seem so unresponsive to their genuine criticism and concern. And as a crystallisation of this drift, the defence of the indefensible over an iPad bill because within the Holyrood bubble the Tories were being malicious – that was precisely the sort of issue we used to destroy Labour for.

So we need to change. The good news is that the electorate has started the job for us.

Losing third-party status at Westminster is a good thing. It will free up our MPs from pointless busywork and covering events rather than driving our priorities.

We need an entirely new structure for our Westminster group and a new job spec for our MPs. I am glad Stephen Flynn has started that process. It will also rebalance the party – Holyrood is the centre of our universe and it is ultimately Holyrood where we win or lose, deliver or die.

But there’s the challenge. Running Scotland’s government, holding the UK Government to account in Westminster and promoting independence are three different things. The party has become too in thrall to the Government – the devolved government.

The party has seen a crucial number of our people who should be driving independence achieve elected office, with all the demands on their time that entails.

We have allowed ourselves to be too driven by the structures and restrictions at Westminster and Holyrood and need to break the promotion of independence free of the machines.

There’s a need for an honest appraisal of whether the party structures and staffing are fit for purpose. I would suggest not but that is for another article.

We can turn this around, I’ll always be true to independence in Europe and believe we have plenty reasons to be confident. But not unless we change.