As in war, no man’s land for a political movement isn’t a good place to be, but then nor is it the worst.

When the alternatives are sitting at home watching others fight the good fight, or getting obliterated on the front line, sitting things out in a (relatively) safe space isn’t a bad strategy.

And that’s where the SNP finds itself half way through its annual conference, in a sort of political no man’s land. Furthermore, it realises it might be there for some time. “We’re just waiting to see what happens with Brexit,” reflects one former adviser, “at the macro level, that’s what it’s all about.”

The situation has also stabilised. Back in March, the First Minister’s Big Push for a second independence referendum met with a volley of enemy fire and, come June’s election, many civilians gave it the thumbs down. Nevertheless, Nicola Sturgeon has been a good general in that she’s taken those setbacks on board and consolidated her position.

Yesterday, the SNP leader boasted that even after a decade in government, her party remained “in a commanding position”. Judging by weekend polls, that is true, although it’s all relative. The party still undeniably peaked in 2015 although, as ever, it’s lucky in its opponents: “There is chaos on the left, and chaos on the right,” John Swinney told delegates. “And through it all, the SNP government stands firm.”

Ms Sturgeon’s approval ratings are another matter. Good generals aren’t necessarily popular ones, and while the First Minister remains respected, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is more so. But then such is the fickle nature of modern politics. A few years ago, Sturgeon was feted by the “London media”, now it’s Davidson’s turn, although her moment in the sun will also pass in time.

But if, as one poll suggests, the SNP emerges from the 2021 Holyrood election having lost only six seats, then it could – after 14 years in power – justifiably regard that as a triumph. Nevertheless, there’s a whiff of hubris about all of this. In the 1980s it looked as if Thatcherites would govern forever (although in a sense they have), while the late Robin Cook spoke of New Labour being in power for several decades. Only a few months ago, some believed the same of the now hapless Theresa May.

Talk of internal civil war or challenges to Sturgeon’s leadership are, of course, overblown. Any Nationalist of a certain vintage will remember when their annual gatherings were proper bloodbaths, full of Conservative-like briefing or Labour-like splits. The First Minister’s speech tomorrow afternoon will most likely round off a rather dull conference, and purposefully so.

Some of the SNP leader’s critics, meanwhile, are more credible than others. Former deputy leader Jim Sillars has been writing angry tabloid articles since 1992, and his latest broadside is somewhat undermined by an almost touching faith in Brexit. Elsewhere he urged his party to ape Jeremy Corbyn’s “distinctive socialist answer”, but that makes the old mistake of assuming that Govan is a microcosm of Scotland. The current leadership shouldn’t fall into the same trap. As one former adviser puts it, “the SNP gets things wrong when it concludes everyone thinks like itself”, its initial response to Brexit being a case in point.

At the same time, Sillars is part of a clear cooling in some quarters when it comes to the European Union. Several speakers yesterday spoke of the EU not being “perfect” and not getting everything “right”. Former presiding officer Tricia Marwick returned from Barcelona last week finding little to love about Brussels, while yesterday former cabinet secretary Alex Neil accused the EU of supporting “unwarranted brutality and violence” by the Spanish police against Catalans.

Indeed, when it comes to Catalonia there’s quite a bit of projection going on; with their own Big Push having failed, championing another, more winnable, independence battle is naturally attractive. And although Ms Sturgeon has tread carefully with her public remarks, the fact she’s willing to risk Madrid’s displeasure speaks volumes about the likelihood of another independence referendum on home turf. More broadly, the SNP has fallen silent about the European Economic Area and various other fudges floated prior to the general election.

Sturgeon, of course, maintains the SNP’s position is “clear”, it being opposed to the Tories’ “extreme Brexit plans to drag us out of the single market and customs union”. Sixteen months ago, however, the complaint was about Scotland being “dragged out” of the EU, not just the single market, but then its European policy is clearly in transition. The party might even end up embracing a post-independence referendum on EU membership as a means of squaring a number of circles.

All this remains a work in progress. As one senior figure observes, there remains a “gaping hole” where a coherent strategy ought to be. At least no man’s land – without another election on the immediate horizon – gives Sturgeon et al space to put that right. Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission is also nearing completion and set to appear as three reports – on public finances, growth and currency – totalling 400 pages. Credible detail on all these areas is arguably long overdue.

Presentation is tricky. Publish it too early and the First Minister will be accused of banging on about independence, but surely better to go sooner rather than later. “Let’s be a bit humble, show we’re worthy of trust,” comments a senior SNP MP, who wants to move more slowly on this front. “Everything else will follow.” But the party can’t stay in no man’s land forever, at some point it’ll have to stage another Big Push, or risk falling back even further. The battle has to be faced.