A SCOTTISH election is upon us once more and, as with all the recent others, the SNP are guaranteed a comfortable victory. Soon, shoals of professional nationalist politicians will fish out their independence hashtags from cold storage and charge once more unto the breach with them.

The independence sector has been good to them: mortgages have been paid off and pensions have been topped up. Second homes have been purchased in hills and glens (wee bits thereof) and constituency office jobs secured for footless family members.

Just as certainly, Unionist politicians will point to the nearest passing opinion poll to insist that a majority of Scots do not want to see a second independence referendum any time soon. This, it seems, is all they have left in their armoury, having long ago given up on trying to actually win an election of any stripe.

In Scotland, ten of these – in all four of the UK’s electoral jurisdictions – will have come and gone by the time counting has been completed in next month’s council elections. And, as with all the others, it will pass without any of them having been able to lay a finger on the SNP’s election juggernaut.

Never mind. Happily, the benevolent Holyrood voting system will guarantee enough consolation places to make the journey seem worthwhile and financially rewarding. You just need to hang around; move in the right circles and keep your nose clean for long enough to be granted your platinum card.

Dozens of opinion polls are commissioned every year and fluctuate according to the excursions and alarums of each new clear and present crisis. In the ones that matter though, which return governments and bestow stewardship of the nation’s finances, Scotland has been choosing the main party of independence every time for the last 15 years. Judging by the outcome of the Holyrood elections last year and the predicted numbers for next month the SNP are set fair for another long stretch.

At a given signal, usually prior to an election, those on the nationalist side will pledge fresh timetables for the next referendum. Unionists will re-heat old lines about getting on with the day job. Politics in Scotland has entered a deep sleep and while the question of Scotland’s constitutional future remains unresolved it suits the small coterie of professional politicos not to disturb Holyrood in its reverie.

Occasionally, someone from either side will be roused to stoke the fire and keep the embers glowing. And thus convey the impression that Scottish politics is functioning according to the old norms: with a government working to pursue a clear and laid-down agenda and an opposition scrutinising it at every turn in the hope they can convince the voters of their arguments on polling day.

In other countries where the outcomes of elections remain uncertain sitting governments will campaign on their records and strive to make the numbers match their manifesto commitments. Transparency will be crucial. In Scotland, though, such is the SNP's dominance that the party's ruling NEC is packed with gerrymandered leadership shills who bully and intimidate those who fail to bend the knee.

It doesn’t even have a defined political agenda that identifies as either left-wing; social democratic or right wing. It doesn’t need to. Occasionally, it hands out folderols and civic favours seductively to keep both left and right happy. One week nationalising its failing rail network; another week selling off its coastal energy assets cheaply to global corporations. Sometimes they’ll play to the audience by shaking Ian Blackford awake to stamp his feet at Boris Johnson. At other times it will prevail upon its puppet administration in Glasgow to excoriate the trade unions.

In 15 years, the SNP has made no headway in improving the prospects of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities. Ms Sturgeon’s repeated pledge to bridge the educational attainment gap now hangs around like an uncomfortable family secret. “We don’t mention that.”

Stewardship of the NHS proceeds on blueprints; strategy papers; fresh initiatives and now, apparently, a Covid recovery plan that was stitched together without input from the professionals. Its management of the pandemic is now seen to have been no better than the UK Government’s. It didn’t have to be. So long as the prospect of independence can be dangled enticingly at each election nothing else seems to matter.

The Scottish Labour Party who have had 15 years to become an effective opposition now exists merely as a hologram. Its leader’s chosen method of opposition is to emote at the dispatch box as he reads out letters from distressed members of the public. The SNP may have no social strategy beyond ‘independence tomorrow’, but Labour has nothing other than ‘no referendum’. Thus, it has removed itself completely from the game.

It’s puzzling why the main parties of the Union recoil at the prospect of a second referendum. Leaving aside the fact they have an even chance of winning it, they must know that their repeated admonition to get on with the day job applies to them too. But how can Holyrood and Scotland get on with the day job while they all acquiesce in this pallid, Rip Van Winkle existence?

At any other time a party such as Alba might have been capable of applying pressure to the SNP by at least forcing them to get serious about independence or at least pursue a recognisable industrial strategy. But while Alex Salmond remains as its chief this will never happen: he remains an irredeemably divisive figure. And while Nicola Sturgeon runs the SNP as a tightly-controlled personal fiefdom in which obeisance and not talent are rewarded and where “five more years” is her government’s only strategy, Scotland will remain suspended in this twilight existence.

There was a time when these towering figures lit a charge under Scottish politics and changed it for the better. That spark was extinguished long ago and now they are the main obstacles to change. Time, I think, that they were both forced to consider their positions. They have run their race and Scotland needs to be shaken from its slumbers.

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