FOR some reason, the Scottish National Party has never been much interested in its history or philosophy. Its members tend to live in the here and now – not to mention the future – and tend not to dwell on past events or the sort of intellectual debates that preoccupy Labourites, Liberals and even Conservatives.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find the Paisley MP Mhairi Black talking about SNP ideology in a recent interview with Holyrood magazine. “The SNP has that wee string of neoliberalism through it and that kind of Edinburgh pandering to banks and to businesses,” she said, “and I get that I’m totally the opposite.”

“I think it’s almost like I’m a micro example of what the SNP is as a party, in that you’ve got Karl Marx in one corner and then you’ve got somebody who’s basically got a conservative point of view in the other, and the two of us argue it out and by the time that’s done, we reach something that’s pretty digestible for most people.”

This, I thought, was a pretty serviceable definition of what the SNP is all about, and also a refreshingly honest one, although I’d question whether its neoliberal (ie tax cutting) strain is all that “wee”. Former leader Alex Salmond certainly belongs in that camp, as does his former adviser Andrew Wilson, who is currently putting the finishing touches to his Growth Commission report on the economic case for independence.

In the same interview, Ms Black revealed that Salmond had once suggested “Taz” (Tasmina) take her clothes shopping and, by coincidence, Ms Ahmed-Sheikh also attempted to define Nationalist philosophy shortly after her election in 2015. “The beauty of the Scottish National Party is that it’s a mix of people from different backgrounds,” she said. “Some have come from the right, some from the left but everyone has something to offer.”

Challenged as to whether this meant the SNP was Blairite, she replied: “Absolutely not.” Rather it was an “inclusive party with a civic nationalism that puts nation first”. Given that Ms Black was famously elected on the basis that Labour had left her rather than the other way around, one suspects she’d also reject the New Labour comparison.

Yet Ms Black’s description of an internal debate between left and right wingers is self-evidently Blairite, not least the idea that this intellectual joust then produces policies that are “pretty digestible for most people”. Salmond-era advisers used to speak of the SNP’s “big tent” approach, and indeed that governed Nationalist policy making and campaigning for much of the last decade.

It’s also nothing new. Remarkably little has been made of the fact that the SNP was formed in 1934 through a merger of left and right-wing nationalist parties, the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish (Self-Government) Party respectively. The latter comprised former Conservatives (or Unionists) like the lawyer Andrew Dewar Gibb and the Duke of Montrose, both of whom passionately believed in Home Rule but had little truck with the movement’s more romantic elements.

And, after 1934, they brought to their new party some right-wing thinking that lingered for a while, chiefly support for the British Empire, prejudice towards Scotland’s Irish population and suspicion of too much government. Right up to the 1950s, for example, the SNP wasn’t that keen on the post-war Welfare State the party now deifies, for it saw an ever-expanding state diminishing the rights of the individual.

Most of that Conservative strain, of course, dissipated over time, giving way – ironically – to a vehement anti-Toryism that ended up masking the SNP’s co-option of Thatcherite orthodoxy from the late 1980s onwards, that “wee string of neoliberalism” Ms Black referred to in her interview. I’m thinking here of Mr Salmond’s unquestioning support for the Royal Bank of Scotland during its hubristic expansion, as well as his long-standing belief in cutting Corporation Tax.

Until a few months ago, Nicola Sturgeon had more or less maintained the left-right balance of her predecessor, although the Corporation Tax pledge was downgraded rhetorically. Yet with September’s Programme for Government and last week’s Draft Budget, there’s been a modest shift to the left, not least in terms of fiscal policy.

And the SNP’s “neoliberal” wing isn’t at all happy about it. Apparently, Mr Salmond thinks the income tax policy is ill-advised, while many in the pro-business camp worry that increasing income tax, however modestly, sends out completely the wrong message, especially in the context of sluggish growth forecasts. They’re not very happy about independent schools having to pay more in business rates either.

The thing is, about a year and a half ago, the current First Minister would probably have agreed with them. Using the new tax powers, she said in March 2016, couldn’t “become some kind of political virility test”. Labour, she added, “seems to want to wear this cloak of ‘we are going to tax everybody more and therefore that proves that we are more left wing’. Well actually, does it?”

Something has clearly changed Ms Sturgeon’s mind between then and last week. And strategically, this could be dangerous. The reason (argue those on the right) the SNP hoovered up so many votes in 2011 and 2015 is because they governed from the centre, offering something to everyone. Now it looks as though the SNP has written off small “c” conservative Scots and thinks the only fight worth having is with the Labour Party.

That might be true, but what if it has over-reacted to Labour’s modest recovery? What if Jeremy Corbyn has peaked and Richard Leonard never quite finds his fight? Under that scenario, the SNP will have prematurely vacated the centre ground just as Ruth Davidson’s moderate Scottish Toryism is getting into its stride. Next year, in other words, could be very interesting.