THE Yes movement is undoubtedly bigger than any one person. But is the Yes movement bigger than the SNP? That’s the question that now needs answered.

Currently, the Yes movement is utterly dependent on the SNP. That’s not a good place to be. It means the fate of the Yes movement relies upon the fate of the SNP. It’s clearly to the detriment of the Yes movement that it and the SNP are so symbiotic.

So how the SNP reshapes after the departure of Nicola Sturgeon will decide whether the Yes movement lives or dies. Unless, of course, the Yes movement can find some way to step out of the SNP’s shadow.

As things stand, however, if the SNP cannot find a leader who unites the party, then it will be beaten at the ballot box. If the SNP falls, then independence is over for decades. If Ms Sturgeon's departure throws the SNP into such disarray that it tanks at Westminster and Holyrood, then she’ll have killed off the Yes movement, the very movement she dedicated her life to; that’s the definition of tragedy, or comedy, depending on your politics.

However, we cannot assume the SNP will just simply implode. New leadership could indeed breathe new life into the SNP, and by extension the Yes movement. The future path seems forked, however: the SNP can either disintegrate into civil war, or gather around a unifying leader.

Neil Mackay: Nicola Sturgeon is not Satan – or the Destroyer of Scotland

The non-partisan realist would say civil war beckons, given the mounting schisms in the party over an array of policies; the nationalist optimist will, evidently, pray for unity. Unfortunately, this isn’t an optimistic era.

The path to civil war leads to the Yes movement’s death, unless it detaches from the SNP. Civil war will split the party. The SNP will limp into the next election and meet the knock-out blow of a resurgent Labour Party. Political tides are shifting. Perhaps that was one of the unsaid reasons for Ms Sturgeon’s departure. Labour’s time is coming, in England at least. With Nicola Sturgeon gone, it could be Labour’s time in Scotland too.

Where is the figure to unite the SNP as Labour revives? Who can bring gradualists and fundamentalists, or social conservatives and progressives, together? The SNP is by nature an umbrella party under which a host of factions have sheltered. Without a forceful, charismatic leader like Ms Sturgeon there’s every chance the party tears itself to pieces, thereby killing the Yes movement.

But if the party does fend off civil war, if it can unite around a new leader who brings the SNP’s many wings together, then it must learn the lessons of the Sturgeon years. If the SNP survives and clings on to power – if the Yes movement remains umbilically attached to the party and weathers this storm – then the very concept of independence must be reimagined.

Unspun: Ready for the next disastrous Scottish Government policy?

That reimagining of independence requires one thing: putting good government in Scotland first. Independence must emerge from good government, not the other way around; nor must government be all about independence. That was the fatal flaw in Ms Sturgeon. Whether she intended it or not, she made it look as if nothing mattered more than independence.

If the party avoids death by civil war and remains in power, then for the Yes movement to thrive, the SNP must avoid Ms Sturgeon’s other fatal error. Too often it appeared as if she didn’t govern for everyone in Scotland. Too often, she made it feel as if she was governing only for Yes voters, that unionists didn’t matter. The endless talk of independence was to blame. Independence rhetoric has its place, but not every single day. Counter-intuitively, less independence rhetoric may actually help the Yes case. Ms Sturgeon alienated half the country, which made her comments about polarisation during her exit speech rather ironic.

If the Yes movement is to survive, the SNP needs to cease acting like a campaign group – which is alive only to the needs of independence – and start behaving like a government of all the people. That requires a government which presents well-thought-out policy, not a government which dreams up ideas that may be good in principle but are half-cooked and therefore implode on contact with reality.

By doing the grinding job of good government, of building good public services in particularly, the SNP – if it survives to win another election, if the Yes movement isn’t killed by its implosion – could implement a strategy of slowly but surely building independence support to the point where Westminster can’t refuse a referendum. That means getting Yes support to at least 55%, and preferably 60%. That’s damn hard work.

But Scotland has been a nation a long time. We don’t need to run towards independence as if it must be achieved tomorrow or never. Focusing on independence in a way that seems heedless of everything else will never lead to a settled level of Yes support in the mid to high 50s.

The SNP also needs a backroom reshuffle if it’s to regroup. Those leading the party on press relations, communications and strategy have failed. When it comes to policy, more heed needs paid to the caution of civil servants.

Neil Mackay: How can the SNP win indy if it doesn't even know what it means?

Now, of course, there’s another option for the Yes movement – one I’ve been hinting at. The Yes movement could take this opportunity to detach itself from all political parties. To its detriment the Yes movement is seen as nothing but the SNP’s satellite. The campaign for independence could now break with history – with the position of the Yes movement as the SNP’s child – and forge out on its own. It’s maybe time to grow up and leave mummy and daddy behind.

There’s enough trade unionists, academics, writers, entertainers, think-tanks, and a host of others who could lead a civic, not political, Yes movement.

So right now, it’s true that the Yes movement isn’t bigger than the SNP; it's dependent. However, Ms Sturgeon’s departure is a chance to change that.

Without the SNP leading the Yes movement, polarisation may begin to recede from Scotland’s constitutional debate. It would also force the SNP, if it survives this moment and wins another Holyrood election, to do what it should always have been doing: governing, not campaigning.