Change is coming. Big change. Lots of change. So much change that by this time next year you’ll be sick of the sound of it. Change, you say? Change the record.

When the country’s newest MP Michael Shanks, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and his boss Keir Starmer took a bow after the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election, there it was behind them on a mobile billboard: The Change Scotland Needs.

It was there in virtually every sentence the trio spoke as well. The people want change, they said, and wouldn’t you know it, Labour is the vehicle for that change.

You can’t blame them. Change is the oldest, simplest and most effective election message there is. Barack Obama ran on it in 2008 and became US President. ‘Change we can believe in’, the sign on his lecterns would say. Or ‘Change we need’. Because change works.

It works in Scotland too. Don’t just ask Mr Shanks, ask the SNP. It was the message that brought it to power after eight flabby years of Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

‘SNP: It’s time’, said the party’s 2007 manifesto, leaving voters to fill in ‘for a change’.

If any party in Scotland should know the power of that slogan, it’s Humza Yousaf’s.

Labour will therefore hammer the ‘change’ message from here until polling day. 

Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray even acted it out in the TV studio last night.

Sitting between Tory MSP Sandesh Gulhane and SNP MP Kirsten Oswald, he pointed at each one, said how long they’d been in power, and offered Labour as the alternative. 

Simple, straightforward, on the nose. The SNP, defending 45 seats, are right to worry.

As many of the psephologists observed after the Rutherglen result, it is only a single by-election, held in extraordinary circumstances, with a 37.2% turnout. 

But the scale of the loss, as SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn recognised, suggested there was more than the legacy of former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier at play.

That 20.4% swing from SNP to Labour wasn’t just down to her Covid rule-breaking.

Some SNP supporters switched to Labour, but more stayed home, withholding their vote.

There was a need to work out how to “re-inspire” and “re-motivate” them, Mr Flynn said, as if they could be conveniently reactivated in time for the general election. 

But it goes deeper than that. The SNP knew they had a problem with their voters blanking them from the get go. Canvas returns showed their support was soft.

On the final weekend of the campaign, the First Minister openly admitted it.

The result could well come down to “making sure that we get that vote out”, he said, saying the SNP would therefore concentrate on its “get-out-the-vote operation”.

Leaving aside the idea the result was on a knife-edge, if we take him at his word on the GOTV operation, then either that was a disaster or people stubbornly refused to budge.

Even with a rookie chief executive at SNP HQ, the party has enough old hands to run a GOTV effort, so presumably lots of their previous supporters were unpersuadable.

The significant tactical voting in the seat, with a collapse in Tory support, also showed a lot of people are now motivated by givng the SNP a skelp. 

Some of this will have been on pro-Union lines, but there is also the SNP’s record in office, its internal squabbling, the police investigation.

If a party stays in power long enough, eventually it’ll annoy everybody.

The SNP isn’t there yet, but 16 years  - 17 by the election - means a lot of baggage.

So what to do? It should apply Labour’s slogan. It should change. 

After the Rutherglen thrashing, campaign manager David Linden, the MP for Glasgow East, sniffed about Labour’s position on Brexit and Rwanda as he toured the studios.

He and other colleagues also moaned about the Tory vote going to Labour, saying Keir Starmer should explain why Conservative voters were ready to support his party.

It was awful stuff. Whiny, sterile debating points intended for SNP consumption only. 

Sir Keir won’t explain anything, just take those votes and pocket them, thank you.

Treating tactical voting as something to be embarrassed about is ludicrous for any politician, especially when there are lots of unhappy Tory supporters out there looking for a new home.

True, few would consider the SNP, but to just turn your nose up at them and wave them away in Labour’s direction is idiotic. 

The SNP’s forced, ungainly arguments about Labour and the Tories being secret kindred spirits are no better. The party tried them in Rutherglen. Look at the result.

Labour have a devastatingly simple message. The SNP need something to meet it.

Mr Yousaf also needs to consider parking his independence strategy at SNP conference this month. 

As currently framed, this says the SNP would have a mandate for independence talks if it won the most MPs in Scotland at the election, though not necessarily a majority of them. 

But the Rutherglen swing confirms what the party already senses - that it will go backwards at the election and Mr Yousaf will be a two-time loser in no position to demand anything. 

If the SNP wants to advance independence, it shouldn’t waste time on parlour games that leave most voters cold. If the party doesn’t change fast, change is coming for it.