THE perennial babble about whether Scotland needs a new national anthem is back.

Given our political climate, perhaps we should settle on No Fun by The Sex Pistols. It is, after all, no fun to live in a country where we effectively talk of nothing but independence, yet the proposition advances not one millimetre in almost a decade. If this is fun, then the Marquis de Sade must have redefined the notion while most of us weren’t looking.

That Sex Pistols number is fitting for more reasons than one. At the end of the Pistols’ first and last American tour in 1978, Johnny Rotten howled his way through No Fun, then crouched on stage at San Francisco’s Winterland ballroom and sneered at the audience: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

It’s hard not to feel cheated in Scotland right now, whether you’re for or against independence. Unionists are sick to death of the SNP, and Yes voters are wondering what the hell is happening to their beloved project.

Neil Mackay: It’s not the Supreme Court holding back independence, it’s the SNP

It’s nearly nine years since the last referendum, yet the SNP is still trying to work out how to get another vote on independence. We were told that the next Westminster election would be a "de facto referendum". Although, ever calling it a de facto referendum was absurd. It would simply have used a 50%+ vote for Yes-supporting parties as a means to open negotiations with the UK Government.

Now, however, the party is to debate, at its "special conference" in March, whether the "de facto" scheme should be used at the next Holyrood rather Westminster election. Or maybe both? Who knows?

Forget the sheer presumption of telling the electorate what an election is about – it’s for us, not politicians to set priorities – but hasn’t the SNP fought every election on independence since its foundation? Isn’t that the point? Saying "de facto" doesn’t change anything, it’s just the same thing in a new pair of pants.

It’s a great distraction though. It keeps you from remembering that we still don’t know what independence means. What really is the plan for currency, borders, Trident, the EU, Nato, and just about everything apart from the Saltire? How can a party fight for independence when it neither knows what independence is, beyond an abstract noun, nor how to achieve independence?

Talk about the "Great Rock ‘n’ roll Swindle". It’s a political long con.

The Herald: Johnny Rotten crouched on the stage in 1978 and bellowed 'ever get the feeling you've been cheated?' – a new national anthem for Scotland?Johnny Rotten crouched on the stage in 1978 and bellowed 'ever get the feeling you've been cheated?' – a new national anthem for Scotland? (Image: Newsquest)

Of all the SNP’s leading figures, Stewart McDonald is among the best and brightest, which makes it all the more absurd that he had to quit as defence spokesman during the latest spot of rebellion in the Westminster party. Absurdity, though, becomes an enduring SNP theme.

Amid confusion at the weekend over what on earth the SNP’s roadmap to independence really is, Mr McDonald nailed an important matter: “We’re debating Scotland’s future and the decision we take in March is hugely consequential. We owe this the energy it takes to think, draft and re-draft ideas. The country deserves our most critical approach.”

Absolutely. This country deserves so much better when it comes to the debate about our future than the SNP has provided. Nicola Sturgeon has turned independence into a sort of constitutional Michael Myers – the killer in the Halloween slasher movies. It’s always there, it never changes, it never succeeds, yet it never dies either. It’s a phantom, a franchise.

One starts to see a plan emerging: that this state of constant delay and unfulfilled promise allows the First Minister to remain in permanent campaign mode, rather than in a permanent state of governing. It creates a perma-future in which every election is about independence, yet never takes us any closer to independence. In that future, the only winner is the SNP. It’s about power, not country.

Neil Mackay: What does independence stand for today?

The party continually debates "why not try this, or try that" as a path to independence. Here’s a suggestion: why not try governing well? That may get you there faster.

The SNP can scream about anti-democratic Tories all they like – and they’re correct: it is anti-democratic to deny the right to hold another referendum when there’s a Yes majority of MSPs in Holyrood. However, they’re the Tories, they were never going to do Scotland or the SNP any favours. Was Tory intransigence not expected? After Brexit, did the SNP really think Conservatives would just roll over for them? A child could foresee what would happen. Yet the SNP seemingly failed to do so. Aye right.

Ms Sturgeon should just stop with her current plans. They’re going nowhere. All she’s done is divide the country 50-50 on the constitution. A campaign for independence should be about uniting Scotland, bringing the majority of us together in support of independence, with, crucially, a clear plan of what that means. That’s the canny time to take demands for another referendum to Westminster.

Govern like you mean it. Lead the country, not the Yes movement. Give people a vision – a real vision, not another dull rehashed government paper – of what an independent Scotland will look like. If Ms Sturgeon did that, she’d at least have a hope of getting support for independence to 60%, at which point refusal by London becomes impossible.

That doesn’t mean submitting to the Tories, or falling silent on independence. At every turn, the Scottish Government can point to the state of the nation and say ‘this is what we’re going to do with every power we have to improve things; and this is what we would do if we were independent – but we can’t as Westminster won’t let us, and oh, by the way, the reason everything is falling to pieces is because England foisted a rotten government on you since 2010". Let campaigning follow naturally behind governing.

Neil Mackay: Here's how to break the deadlock over independence and the Union

Ms Sturgeon clearly has the talent to govern well, but she seems to think simply campaigning for independence will make it happen. It won’t. That’s magical thinking. Govern well until independence support hits around 60%, then go absolutely ballistic with London, take to the world’s stage and shame Westminster for holding Scotland hostage.

Just stop cheating the country and the people. It’s no fun. And eventually the party will pay the price for this swindle we’re currently enduring.