GIVEN the circumstances, few attending last year’s SNP conference in Aberdeen were complaining much about the location. After a lengthy hiatus owing to Covid-19 most were simply delighted to be back in business and for the opportunity to catch up with old friends.

Yet, as the event proceeded, it became clear that the choice of venue was beginning to grate with some delegates. The sheer size of Aberdeen’s Event Complex - at the aircraft hangar end of cavernous - seemed to swamp the proceedings.

Aberdeen is a handsome and vibrant city and its attractions and facilities can comfortably compete with Glasgow’s and Edinburgh’s. Yet, of all the UK’s main political parties, the SNP had delayed longest in holding a large, in-person event. This party likes to portray itself as being much more family-orientated and homespun than the others.

In the first few years that followed the 2014 referendum on independence a first-time visitor to the SNP’s big-ticket event might be forgiven for thinking they were attending a festival. It would have made sense then to mark the return to normality by holding the conference at a location much closer to where the bulk of them live.

You might reasonably have supposed after such a lengthy gap that Glasgow - within an hour’s travel of almost 50% of the population - would have been a better choice.

Yet, next month most delegates and visitors attending the SNP’s annual conference must make the long journey north to the Event Complex for the second year running. Travel by train to and from Aberdeen for the majority of delegates and members is expensive enough. With the conference venue being far out of town, the addition of taxi fares makes the cost even more prohibitive. And if you’re lucky enough to secure a room at the hotels surrounding the Event Complex you’ll pay a premium for it.

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Only the SNP’s ever-increasing Matalan army of staffers and researchers whose bed and board is bought and paid for out of dwindling party funds will be there en masse in full bib and North Face duffel bag. They and the SNP’s Aberdeen contingent who are notorious in the Yes movement for driving the culture war waged by the SNP leadership on the wider Scottish electorate. It’s difficult to conclude anything other than that a bunker mentality informed the decision to locate the conference in Aberdeen.

This year the case for locating the conference in Glasgow was even more pressing. The SNP is facing a wipe-out in Scotland’s biggest city at the Westminster election and, unless this stricken and desiccated party can get its act together pretty soon thereafter it will have a knock-on effect at the Holyrood election in 2026. Given this scenario, it would have made much more sense to have a big, bold, confident, rock ‘n roll event in Glasgow, just as in 2015 when Nicola Sturgeon entered the arena as master of all she surveyed across the nation.

There is though, nothing in the SNP’s present demeanour emitting any degree of confidence. This is a party afraid of its own shadow. Any hopes that Humza Yousaf would have grasped the opportunity to heal the party after his predecessor’s utterly divisive reign have evaporated.

The SNP may still be the party of government, but in words and deeds it’s acting like the organising committee for the village fete, but without the vision. It’s riven by paranoia and mutual suspicion, lashing out at critics both internal and external with Mr Yousaf behaving like a tin-pot, small-town dictator casting imagined enemies into the outer darkness.

His strategy of continuing to prostrate the party to the whims of two joyless Green performance artists is becoming a humiliation. It would almost have been understandable if this duo had been restricted to an ornamental role, being fobbed off with some environmental blandishments to keep them sweet. But the incompetence of Lorna Slater and the open disdain shown by Patrick Harvie for hard-working Scottish families is causing grievous damage to the SNP.

Fergus Ewing speaks for many in the SNP when he criticises this pair of velveteen subversives. Yet, for doing so, the former long-serving cabinet secretary is threatened with suspension amidst a wretched campaign of whispered briefing designed to undermine him.

Along with Angus MacNeil and silent others who are still fearful of the long shadow cast by Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Ewing represents the heart and soul of the independence cause. These people have dedicated their entire adult lives to the Yes cause yet now find themselves beset by the SNP’s Lilliputian wing, epitomised by the careerist nonentities fronting last week’s March for Independence in Edinburgh.

A confident party, guided by a strong leader comfortable in his own shoes, would never have considered deploying such tactics against two giants of the movement. “What would Nicola have me do in this situation?” seems to be the guiding principle of Mr Yousaf. Keep the Greens sweet; maintain the baiting of feminist activists; bully and intimidate all those who wander off-message. Just keep the gravy train rolling for as long as you can get away with it.

In my conversations last month with Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie it became clear that Scottish Labour - now running neck-and-neck with the SNP - believe they can win back Holyrood in 2026. They are already odds-on to take Rutherglen and Hamilton West next month, without having offered a great deal different. Their principal charism is that they are not the SNP.

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Were they to form the next Scottish Government –-or get close to it - then independence is indeed over for this generation. It won’t have been destroyed by any compelling arguments from the unionists, but from the arrogance, greed and sense of entitlement of the SNP leadership. Quite frankly, they have been betrayed.

Perhaps the only hope for the SNP rests in Stephen Flynn, the party’s Westminster leader. Mr Flynn is an "operator" who wouldn’t look out of place as a consigliere in The Sopranos. He proceeds quietly, but with a chib. He will emerge from the other side of next year’s electoral apocalypse more or less intact and has already cleaned up the sewer that had been running beneath the Westminster contingent. Some of those glove-puppets he promoted last week won’t be keeping him company for long and he knew that. Unless Mr Yousaf jettisons the Greens and begins to acquaint the party’s scarecrow wing in Aberdeen with electoral reality, he’ll be forced out. Yet, that may not be soon enough for his successor to recover the losses.