It was Enoch Powell who wrote, “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and human affairs.” His words could equally well apply to the shelf life of democratically elected governments.

William Gladstone’s Liberal government of 1868 -74 was one of the great reforming administrations, but it eventually ran out of steam. Hence Disraeli’s jibe about the Liberal front bench resembling “a row of extinct volcanos”. Labour’s landslide victory in 1945 made the UK a hugely better place for ordinary working people. Yet, like Gladstone before him, Attlee’s government inevitably lost traction and electoral support.

There have been more recent examples of ossification of long-running administrations. In 1964, Harold Wilson made much of “13 years of Tory misrule”. In 1997, Tony Blair offered the prospect of drawing a line under 18 years of “Thatcherism”. In 2010, David Cameron’s soft sell of One Nation Conservatism ended Labour’s run of three consecutive election victories.

Apologies for the history lesson, but it’s relevant to present-day Scottish politics. The SNP has been in office in one form or another since 2007. Precedent suggests the upper limit of governmental longevity is not far off. Researchers such as Timothy Heppel of Leeds University, have attempted to identify the common factors that contribute to the decline and eventual fall of long-lasting administrations. He calls them, “degenerative tendencies”, usually a combination of intra-party and inter-party tensions. Multiple “degenerative symptoms” are indicative of an administration in terminal ill health. Worryingly for the SNP, it’s currently exhibiting those very symptoms.

According to Heppel’s research, declining competence is a common characteristic of degeneration. Political opponents always talk up supposed policy failings; that’s their job. Labour profited hugely from events such as Black Monday that destroyed the Tories’ reputation for economic competence.

Covid apart, the SNP hasn’t experienced such a cataclysmic event, but the constant drip of successive mini-crises is eroding confidence. Health and education failings, the ferry fiasco, the ambulance shortage and so on, are having a cumulative impact on the electorate’s faith in day-to-day competence.

Absence of credible leadership is a further sign of a party and government in trouble. THe Scottish LibDem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton’s description of the First Minister as “looking knackered”, was crude to say the least. Ms Sturgeon has every right to be tired, given her workload and responsibility, but worryingly for her party, there is no obvious heir apparent.

Her position is made no easier by another of Heppel’s symptoms; ideological divisions within her own ranks. True, some of those have been of her own making. While the timing of any future independence referendum is a legitimate topic for internal debate, the majority of Scots are baffled by the ferocity of tangential feuds over issues such as transgenderism. When will the penny drop that ensuring an elderly person doesn’t lie for hours waiting for an ambulance or hospital bed is way more important than contrived culture wars?

All in all, precedent and research paint a depressing picture of the SNP’s long-term prospects, but there may be a silver lining. In the UK context, long-serving administrations finally crumbled when there were credible alternatives waiting in the wings.

In 1964, Harold Wilson invoked the white heat of technology to put clear water between himself and the aristocratic throwback, Sir Alex Douglas Home. Margaret Thatcher offered a way out of the winter of discontent. Tony Blair and New Labour disassociated themselves from the loony left and factionalism to offer an alternative to Mrs Thatcher’s thraldom to neo – liberalism. In turn, David Cameron convinced the electorate the Conservatives were no longer the party of nasty and greedy people.

In the present Scottish context, Ms Sturgeon would have real cause for concern if any of her political opponents had the wherewithal to convert the multiple degenerative symptoms into a convincing manifesto for change. She can sleep easy.

The leaders of the Scottish Tories and Liberal Democrats may have a glittering future, possibly as a Chuckle Brothers’ tribute act. As always, the Lib Dems have their eye on the main chance. Unfortunately for them, most of us haven’t forgotten 2010, Nick Clegg and student fees. Mr Cole-Hamilton has called Anas Sarwar “his friend”, which must be enough to hole the Labour leader below the water line. Mr Cole-Hamilton must have forgotten 2010, if he sees himself at the head of an anti-SNP coalition.

Hey, why not enlist the Tories for good measure? After all, in Aberdeen, we are blessed with a Labour/Tory council. My father, a life-long Labour member and activist, must be birlin’ in his grave. Political principle comes a poor second to committee convenorships, responsibility payments and associated jollies.

Nevertheless, the warning signs are there for all to see. It’s no easy task for long-serving administrations to regenerate themselves while in office. Opposition promises of change and modernisation become increasingly difficult to counter. Wilson, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron all milked that agenda.

From an SNP perspective, defeat in the next election wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing. A dolly mixture coalition led by Messrs Sarwar, Ross and Cole-Hamilton might well demonstrate the past 14 years haven’t been so bad after all. It could be what is needed to breathe fresh life into the case for independence.

Defeat at the polls might also clear the vision of the SNP culture warriors, enabling them to focus on what really matters to the people of Scotland. Even Lenin suggested that it’s sometimes necessary, “to take one step backwards to take two steps forward”.

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