IN a properly-functioning democracy the SNP would be facing a significant level of jeopardy right now.

Independence, the cause which drives them more than all others, has not even slightly progressed since the first referendum on independence more than eight years ago.

Nor by any reasonable analysis can the party claim, after 15 years of virtually unopposed government, that they have improved the educational and health outcomes of Scotland’s most marginalised communities.

The fate of independence rests upon the judgment of a handful of men and women who are the British establishment made flesh. Beyond that, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, the SNP itself doesn’t yet seem to have nailed down a firm position on an independent Scotland’s future currency and how that chimes with its desire to join the EU.

“We don’t need to adopt the Euro,” say its senior personnel. “Oh yes you will,” says assorted EU apparatchiks. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” say the rank and file. “Let’s just get independence done,” they say with the same implacable glibness of Boris Johnson saying, “Let’s get Brexit done.”

Beyond this, there has been a pledge to make the next Westminster election, which must be held no later than January 2025, a de facto independence referendum. Or is that the next Holyrood election in 2026? No one is quite sure. Nor is anyone sure about how robust that result would be in the face of international or legal scrutiny.

Thus far, three White Papers have been produced detailing how an independent Scotland would work. The latest of these, on the economy, drew a withering response last month from the Yes movement’s foremost campaigning group, the Common Weal, who dismissed it as “the latest dismal paper in a series of dismal papers”.

Its director, the respected analyst Robin McAlpine, tore it to shreds. This was one of his milder observations: “Since it seems very unlikely that the UK will tell commercial banks they can reduce the deposits they must keep with the Bank of England, Scotland’s entire monetary wellbeing is almost completely dependent on a significant surcharge on commercial banks operating in Scotland. Let’s see how that goes down.”

Even when Nicola Sturgeon seems to have been backed into an irrecoverable position, such as when she was forced to answer for Scotland’s ferries crisis last week, there is always a way out of it. No one in what passes for the opposition at Holyrood seems capable of causing her lasting damage. Similarly, when having to answer for Scotland’s appalling drugs deaths crisis. Nor has the First Minister endured much scrutiny over the clandestine ditching of her oft-repeated pledge to reduce the educational attainment gap.

There is a well-worn and, so far, robust formula here that has become a pattern whenever anything emerges which would cause other political leaders sleepless nights. Pledges are made; political commentators wail and gnash their teeth; myriad agencies in receipt of vast quantums of government funding set some targets and apologies are made.

Within a few weeks the caravan has moved on and a few more special advisers are hired (a sector which has experienced remarkable growth in recent years) to ensure positive messages land next time around. Support for independence flutters around the 48%-52% mark and, as a Herald survey revealed last week, a clear majority of voters seem to trust the SNP to govern better than the Scottish Tories or Scottish Labour.

Laughably, several SNP figures and their acolytes point to England and claim that the Westminster political system is broken because we’ve had four Tory Prime Ministers in as many years. You might also argue though that this is evidence of a healthy degree of accountability and dissent in the UK’s governing party. Barely two years out, the result of the next general election remains in the balance, although you’d probably still back Labour to win it.

Contrast this with Scottish politics. There is virtually no dissent within the SNP that threatens Nicola Sturgeon’s position (although her clumsy and arrogant handling of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill might yet pose a challenge). The next Holyrood election is virtually certain to return another SNP government and probably the one after that.

The chief executive officer of the party she leads is also her husband, who forms an extra barrier of protection from any organised resistance within the SNP. If this absurd arrangement was permitted to proceed within the UK Government we’d be citing it as further evidence that Westminster politics is “broken”.

As one former Scottish Conservative politician pointed out to me last week, Nicola Sturgeon is the only leader of a western democracy who is entirely in charge of her own destiny. This man also stated that, as a parent, his expectations of the Scottish Government amounted to ensuring that Scotland was a good place in which his children could grow up and make a rewarding future for themselves.

He further suggested that if he were to see any evidence of the SNP delivering this he might even be tempted to vote Yes in a future referendum. But there has been none.

The only political party at Holyrood capable of breaking this 15-year political drift is Scottish Labour. Yet, while they stubbornly refuse even to entertain the notion of a second independence referendum, they will always be on the margins of Scottish politics.

After a decade and a half looking for a purpose this party is now reduced to hoping it will secure a handful more Scottish seats in the bounce that might accompany a Keir Starmer triumph in the next Westminster election. Westminster politics isn’t broken and, while this debilitating impasse in Scotland remains, you can’t say the same about Holyrood politics.

The arid and parched nature of Scottish politics over such a long period begins to erode the framework of our civic institutions and stakeholder organisations. This encompasses the Third Sector, all of our quangos and any other organisation that relies on the Scottish Government for public funding.

When all power is collected in one ruling couple, surrounded by a hand-picked coterie of acolytes and with no discernible opposition for the foreseeable future you simply fall in line and adopt every ukase and every personal whim without protest or hesitation if you know what’s good for you.

Organisations delivering art and culture, education, health, policing, housing and employability must adopt the path of least resistance if they want to remain in favour or secure patronage. It’s how medieval courts worked. Only a second referendum can break this sense of stagnation. And any outcome would be better than this.

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