NICOLA Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party aged 16 in 1986. John Swinney joined the SNP aged 15 in 1979.

When they did so they surely never expected to wield power. The SNP was a small, minority concern, facing a double domination. First there was the might of the Thatcher governments in London and secondly, on top of that, there was the domination of the Labour Party across the length and breadth of Scotland’s political class.

Ms Sturgeon’s and Mr Swinney’s formative years were spent in a niche, even eccentric, organisation whose only mode of political operation was the guerrilla tactic of hit and run. That is, point and shout loudly about how everything is Westminster’s fault and do as if that is all anyone is ever going to need by way of political strategy.

Four decades on and this, still, is what they offer. They are the grand masters of politics-by-grievance.

I do not blame them. When Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney were learning their trade such tactics made perfect sense. The SNP then was nothing but a minor irritant in the side of the Great British state. What choice did the nationalists have, when they were up against such a Leviathan, other than to grieve and moan and hit and run?

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Let us not be unkind. To an extraordinary degree, it has worked. For the SNP is now anything but small and niche. It is even more dominant in Scottish politics than the Labour Party ever was (there was never a Labour majority government in Holyrood, after all, and never did the Labour Party win four successive Holyrood elections).

Through the power of the purse, it has its fingers in every pie that matters in modern Scottish life, from the third sector to higher education, and from the unions to our local authorities. The church is now more or less the only institution of Scottish civic life that is not in the pocket of the nationalists. But the church, sad to say, is nothing like the force it once was. (How many of our religious leaders have made memorable or significant contributions this year to Scottish public and political life?)

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney, then, have enjoyed remarkably successful political careers. When, in 2014, the former replaced her mentor Alex Salmond as First Minister, Mr Swinney replacing Ms Sturgeon as Deputy FM at the same time, it was I suppose inevitable that the two of them would choose politics-as-grievance as the modus operandi of the government they would run. It wasn’t just their comfort zone. It was all they knew.

It was, none the less, a grave mistake. And now it has surely run its course. Scots are increasingly fractious that the ample powers of government bestowed on the Scottish ministers are not being used to improve our lives and livelihoods.

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We are growing weary of declining standards in our schools. We are losing patience with the failings of the NHS. We are fed up with sub-standard, pitifully poor, public transport. And we know these are not Westminster’s responsibilities. These matters cannot be blamed on the limitations of devolution, nor on Brexit, nor on previous Scottish administrations. They are foursquare the responsibility of the Scottish Government and that means they lie entirely at the SNP’s door.

I don’t believe for one minute that Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney will grasp these bulls by the horns. The First Minister used to proclaim that she wanted to be judged by her record in education, but even she has now long since given up that pretence. No, the First Minister and her deputy are stuck forever in the rut they made for themselves in their formative years. Grievance politics is all they will ever know.

But the next generation of nationalist leaders are – or, at least, should be – very different. The likes of Kate Forbes, Tom Arthur, Mairi Gougeon and Ben Macpherson, to name but four, did not join a small, insurrectionary organisation which offered them no realistic path to power. They joined Scotland’s party of government at a time it was still on the up and they knew, if they played their cards right, they would experience ministerial office (indeed, high ministerial office) within a few years, and certainly within a parliamentary term or two, of their first election.

These bright, young, ambitious men and women have not come into politics because they want to spend decades moaning about Westminster. They have come into politics expecting – demanding – to wield power, to do things, to make a difference, to govern.

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After the 2014 referendum the wrong choice was made. Instead of continuing with the politics of grievance, the rebooted, post-Salmond SNP should have rolled its sleeves up, reformed the NHS, taken on the wretched teaching unions and shaken up Scotland’s half-asleep schools, transformed Scottish infrastructure, and gone for broke. The message should have been “look what we can achieve with the limited powers of devolution and just imagine what more we could do with the full powers of independence”.

Instead, all we have heard is “what a mistake you made in keeping Westminster in charge – look what a mess they are making”. That message may have been enough to keep support for independence stuck at just under half the population. But if the nationalist leaders of the future want to kick on and move support for independence to the sort of level that is going to be required to show it has become Scotland’s settled will, the tired tactics of the Sturgeon/Swinney generation will have to give way to something altogether more suited to a party which is no longer stuck in the guerrilla trenches of old, but which occupies the highest offices in the land.

The time is coming for the old playbook of the Sturgeon/Swinney era to be jettisoned. The time is coming for a new generation to take over.

Adam Tomkins is the John Millar Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow School of Law. He was a Conservative MSP for the Glasgow region from 2016 to 2021.