This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

First Minister John Swinney launches the SNP general election manifesto tomorrow and as all readers of The Herald will know, because of numerous reports our paper's reporters have written about it, a pledge to put independence on "page one, line one" will feature on "page one, line one" of the document.

Mr Swinney's unveiling of the manifesto will be a key moment of the campaign for the party – and will be watched closely by their opponents.

The latest polling, conducted by Norstat and published on Sunday, has put the SNP behind Labour by 4 percentage points (34% to 30%) with analysis by Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University suggesting such a result would lead to the SNP getting 18 MPs and Labour 28.

Such a result on July 4 would mark a major reversal in the fortunes of the SNP – more used to winning elections in Scotland since 2015 than losing – and a remarkable boost for Labour, which in the past decade has been plagued by habitual defeat at national elections north of the Border.

Read more:

Analysis'Move over John, it's my turn to be First Minister now'

So to rather understate the situation, Mr Swinney and his election campaign team, led by director Stewart Hosie, will be under significant pressure to put the SNP on the front foot and gain some momentum as polling day approaches.

The details of how the party intend to do that will become clear when their manifesto is unveiled tomorrow morning.

However, what is less certain is the role the party's founding goal will have in the fightback.

Despite the official position that the constitutional objective is central, a consideration of the party's actions in the campaign tends to suggest otherwise.

As my colleague Kevin McKenna pointed out today in his column the SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn was keen to stress last week "This election is about much more than independence".

And on Sunday, Scottish actor Brian Cox and yes supporter raised his own fears that the SNP could be "backing away" from independence in this election perhaps in reference to Mr Swinney seeking to engage with a future PM Starmer on more powers for Holyrood.

The dynamics of the election are difficult for the SNP. They face the challenge of many of their supporters open to voting for Labour as a way of removing the Conservatives from power. Against this backdrop the party appears to have downplayed its constitutional objective.

Read more:

UnspunThe Euros have been a ballache for Scotland's spin doctors

Professor James Mitchell of Edinburgh University told Unspun today there has been a shift of emphasis since 2022 with the dropping of Nicola Sturgeon's plan to use the general election as a "de facto referendum". He also noted Mr Swinney did not even mention the i word in his opening statement in the first TV leaders debate.

"While few doubt the commitment the SNP has to independence, how it figures in this election has changed over the last couple of years," he told The Herald. 

The senior scholar pointed out that the resolution passed by the SNP at its conference eight months ago not only said ‘Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country’ would be the first line in the party's general election manifesto, but also that it would seek to add the words “Independence for Scotland” to the party’s name and logo on ballot papers "to make it clear beyond doubt what’s at stake at this election".

A resolution was passed at the last SNP conference to include 'Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country' in the first line of their general election manifesto (Image: Newsquest)
"Since then the SNP sought and gained Electoral Commission support to include ‘Independence’ on the ballot paper but that does not appear to be happening in this election," he said.

"There has been a lack of consistency in the SNP’s position on independence in this election and the language it now has adopted is at best ambiguous."

So instead of a major focus on independence, the SNP have instead tried to challenge Sir Keir Starmer's party on their own terms by presenting themselves as a more left wing version of Labour.

Hence Mr Swinney's statement at the beginning of this week that only the SNP would offer a "left of centre" manifesto to voters at this election.

It remains to be seen if this offer will help persuade soft Yes supporters in the central belt back to the SNP.

But while the SNP are keen to attack Labour from a left-of-centre position some observers may raise their eyebrows over the SNP's own credentials of being left-wing.

Their most popular politician Kate Forbes is certainly not seen as a socialist firebrand and arguably the party has been most successful when they have presented themslelves as a broad church in terms of uniting centre left and those slightly more right of centre - a party which seeks to reflect all of Scotland rather than just those Scots with left of centre social and economic views.

Indeed, the SNP's support fell when they linked themselves to much more left wing causes such as those championed by the Scottish Greens such as the ban on alcohol advertising, restrictions on fishing and socially liberal policies including the reform of gender recognition laws (all now shelved for various reasons).

Get Scotland's top politics newsletter straight to your inbox.

We'll find out if the "we're more left wing that Labour strategy" proves successful on July 5, but whatever happens the SNP have considerable soul searching to do if they are to make progress on their central goal.

With Scots split evenly on the national question, we're not in a position currently where independence is dead, however for the SNP to prevent such a situation coming about they will need to rethink their strategy once the dust has settled on polling day and come up with an offer which will stop those soft Yes voters currently inclined to vote Labour giving up for good on the independence cause.