SOMETIMES, it seems, political parties get the election results they deserve. The Conservatives, having contrived a General Election and run a studiously anodyne campaign, did not deserve to increase their majority while the Labour Party, which fashioned a better-than-anticipated pitch, deserved to increase its number of seats and share of the vote. I think it’s called karma.

And the SNP, having swept all before it since 2007, certainly didn’t deserve to repeat its unprecedented 2015 landslide. Obviously caught unawares, its General Election campaign lacked focus and changed every few days: one week it was about independence, then it wasn’t; early on Jeremy Corbyn was mocked as unelectable, then later on the “progressive alliance” was alive and well.

At points, Nationalists appeared to be fighting the same old battles, railing against the Conservatives as if, Thatcher-like, Mrs May was intent upon personally removing the word “Scotland” from road signs and ancient institutions. If it sounded shrill and desperate that’s because it was and the upshot was the loss of 21 seats, roughly double what many assumed would happen on a bad night.

As has been clear for some time, not only did the SNP (and Nicola Sturgeon) “peak” two years ago, but the Scottish Tory revival that many Nationalists refused to believe existed was real. “Now is not the time” declared the Prime Minister shortly after the SNP leader demanded another independence referendum and, embarrassingly for Ms Sturgeon, it turned out that a majority of Scots agreed with a vicar’s daughter from the Home Counties.

Even more awkwardly, that renewed push for independence turned out to be a vote loser, which is a bit of a problem for a party leader who believes that issue to “transcend” all others. The First Minister’s March press conference proved a gift, paradoxically, to the auld enemy, which then took skilful advantage of a growing anti-independence, anti-SNP and anti-Sturgeon backlash at, initially, the local government ballots and then, even more handsomely, Thursday’s General Election.

Responding yesterday morning, the SNP leader could not credibly deny that the prospect of a second referendum was a significant factor in the loss of so many seats (and near misses in half a dozen more), but where does that leave her strategically? Frankly, between, a rock and a hard place. Sensibly, Ms Sturgeon is taking the weekend to “reflect” on the message sent to her by almost two-thirds of the Scottish electorate, but it’s almost impossible to believe that she’ll conclude from that period of reflection that another referendum should remain on the table, certainly before the next (scheduled) elections to the Scottish Parliament.

But nor can it be removed completely, for the more “fundamentalist” wing of the SNP, impatient for another date with destiny regardless of public opinion or political context, won’t like any watering down of the independence dream, yet if the First Minister does not convincingly park the whole affair, then the Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson will continue to make hay, potentially making further inroads when Scotland next goes to the polls in May 2021.

On the other hand, therein might lie an opportunity for the SNP leader to derive something useful from a bad situation, for opposition to a second independence referendum only remains salient for as long as it’s a credible “threat”. Thus if Ms Sturgeon were to call Ms Davidson’s bluff and convincingly park the constitutional question, then something of the Conservatives’ obvious momentum and their unique selling point might be lost.

Similarly, a sensible course of action for the SNP would be to further cosy up to Mr Corbyn, the only real winner (despite having lost) from this whole sorry affair. Independence is once again more popular than its main party political vehicle – as it was for much of the 1980s and 1990s – but it can only be won if Ms Sturgeon recaptures idealistic younger voters and convinces them that “social justice” is more realistically attainable via independence than a UK-wide Labour victory.

That will be hard, as will managing the independence question, navigating the equally choppy waters of Brexit and also defending an increasingly problematic domestic record, not least when it comes to education. Political momentum, once lost, can be fiendishly hard to regain, but that is where the SNP finds itself. Hard to remember, now, the Sturgeon-mania that characterised the 2015 General Election.

But if a second independence referendum bites the dust as a consequence of this weirdly memorable election, then surely so too must the prospect of a “hard” Brexit. The UK Government’s most enthusiastic Brexiters have already begun backsliding, as has Ruth Davidson in Scotland, although giving form to yet another colossal U-turn will be hard for a party reliant upon the hard-line (in several senses of the term) Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The DUP makes uneasy bedfellows, not just for Mrs May (whose authority is shot) but also the more moderate Ms Davidson. Northern Irish Unionism is very different from the Scottish variety and electoral expediency isn’t really a compelling argument for holding the Union together, even if it looks safer now than in several years. Beyond “standing up” for Northern Ireland, it’s not yet clear what impact Arlene Foster will have upon UK and Unionist politics.

In other words, it isn’t plain sailing for any of Scotland’s three main parties – the SNP, Conservatives and Labour – that will now operate within a much more competitive political environment. The independence tide has undoubtedly ebbed, but it won’t completely disappear from view, and nor would either the SNP or Tories want it to. The former needs a “reset” of some form or the other, while the latter need an agenda beyond simply saying “No! No! No!”

Scottish politics, meanwhile, has lost none of its capacity to surprise: electoral dynamics are constantly shifting, while the popularity of party leaders can be uncomfortably brief. The kaleidoscope has been shaken once again; who knows where the pieces will end up over the next four years.