THE SNP model of gaming democracy has brought rich rewards for the tiny cabal that revolves around its ruling couple. It’s not unlikely that the party will reach a quarter century of unimpeded power. To have achieved this in a polity that holds three elections every five years across three spheres of jurisdiction is proof of genius … or simply aptitude in the art of political sophistry.

Certainly, it helps when you can keep your core supporters mesmerised by the prospect of breaking free from a Union gripped by a Tory party displaying psychotic levels of reactionary behaviour. The SNP has become adept at this. In the last three years alone it has indicated its sworn purpose to hold a second referendum on independence with bewildering regularity, and at various different times.

Before May’s Scottish election the independence word, rarely previously mentioned by the leadership drones at Westminster and Holyrood, began to appear all over the shop. Independence has come to resemble the Cicada insect which lives underground for long periods before emerging at predictable intervals and in sufficiently large numbers to ensure the species’ survival into the next life-cycle.

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No-one would be so unkind as to suggest that the fresh Omicron variant of Covid has brought a sense of relief to Nicola Sturgeon. We must accept that the First Minister has worked tirelessly and honestly to lead Scotland through Covid. Yet, as the pandemic seems to have lost none of its ability to mutate, it seems reasonable to suggest that we’ll be living with the contagion for several more years.

At what point though, does the SNP begin to plan seriously for a referendum? Is it really asking us to believe that conducting a six-month long referendum during a pandemic is beyond its ability? Perhaps it simply doesn’t believe that the Scottish electorate could cope with the added burden of listening to the debate before taking a few minutes on a designated day to cast their ballots.

Not that you’ll be any the wiser following this weekend’s national SNP conference. Even before this age of virtual symposiums the party had turned these gatherings into festivals of ticker-tape acclamation brooking no dissent. Ms Sturgeon has deemed it acceptable for all other gatherings to be held in-person, but not her own party’s. She was even sufficiently relaxed about the risk of infection to mingle mask-less with 25,000 delegates at the Glasgow Cop26. Has she discovered a fresh mutation of the virus that targets only SNP supporters?

With or without the virus, the SNP is in no fit state to make an offer on independence anyway. There’s been no work on the currency; nothing about future Border arrangements with England and nothing about a central bank. All of these must be addressed before its aim of re-joining the EU can be taken seriously. They might even have been discussed in an open conference. There again, perhaps not: the party leadership has spent the last two years creating a hostile atmosphere for anyone who dares question this.

Moreover, if you’re concerned about the increasingly reactionary outlook of the SNP you’ll be dismissed as a disloyal Britnat or Red Tory. This party has spent the last decade telling us that the NHS in England is being hollowed out by stealth privatisation. Yesterday’s Herald on Sunday exposed the hypocrisy of this with its revelations that private firms have been invited to bid for 1500 Scottish NHS procedures.

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As the respected care specialist, Nick Kempe, said: “What is this tender if not about opening up the NHS in Scotland to market principles?” Perhaps it’s all about the “wider policy framework”, the new concept by which the SNP-Green coalition justifies all of its right-wing caprices. These have recently included its hostility to trade unions and striking workers and a vigorous endorsement of NATO and all its works.

Maintaining outright control of the party also rests on forming an internal security force to root out dissidents. This perhaps explains the latest cycle of orchestrated abuse aimed at Joanna Cherry. These now occur with such regularity and from the same cast of actors that they’re beginning to lose the power to intimidate their intended victim.

Much of this is about protecting the legacy of Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister, after seven years in office, is no nearer her sworn ambition of reducing the attainment gap in Scottish education. Despite spending more than a third of Scotland’s budget on health it’s still in such a state of disarray that she must rely on stealth privatisation. Another ‘legacy’ must be found and this is why her administration is intent on defaming feminism and replacing it with a bogus commitment to transgender rights. This is to be her legacy and it can brook no opposition.

The problem here though, is that unleashing the attack dogs on Ms Cherry carries a risk. The party’s former shadow Home Secretary remains very popular among the party’s wider support-base. This was evident when she gained more votes for the SNP’s ruling NEC than the combined votes of all the other candidates.

As speculation swirls around Nicola Sturgeon’s future intentions, several people have begun to panic. If Ms Cherry were to replace her as leader that big gravy-train on which many in the party’s Westminster group have been hitching a ride would screech to a halt. Very few of these political chancers have contributed anything meaningful to the independence cause or to public life. Instead, they have coalesced around an ugly and implacable campaign to “get JC”. This ensures the continuing favour of the First Minister on whom their affluent lifestyles rely. It also explains the frenzied nature of their recent Twitter activity.

Not so long ago, Ms Cherry would have retreated and perhaps considered a more lucrative legal career. Her allies though, have recently detected defiance. This might explain last week’s picture of her with Alex Salmond. It would seem that, fortified by a very extensive power-base, she’s going nowhere and is prepared to play a long game.

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