WHILE watching one of the SNP leadership debates on television it struck me that something was missing: a trigger warning.

You know the sort of thing. A heads-up that the following item contains scenes that some viewers may find upsetting. There is often a good reason for such alerts, even if they do crop up a lot.

Yet they are nowhere to be seen in the SNP debates, despite these events making Carrie (movie not wife) look like SpongeBob SquarePants. I half expect to look at the end credits and see “based on an original idea by Stephen King”.

The Sky News event was not the goriest, but it was still a shocker. Witness host Beth Rigby asking Ash Regan over and over what institutions, other than a central bank, would be needed for an independent Scotland to have its own currency. This was not a cat playing with a mouse. This was a cat playing with a mouse that was on crutches and blindfolded. A mouse, moreover, that was as stubborn as a mule and could operate a JCB, the better to enlarge the hole she was digging for herself.

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It was almost as shocking as Kate Forbes trashing fellow candidate Humza Yousaf in the first STV debate. Does Ms Forbes realise that clip will follow her forever? And do the three candidates, their supporters, the media and the public appreciate that we have to live with each other after this?

Now, some of us have been known to enjoy a robust exchange of political opinions. It is a freedom to hold dear. Or maybe I’m just growing soft in my old age. Yet something disturbing could be happening here. Something rare but not unheard of, like a celestial event. Is it possible we are witnessing the disintegration of the SNP as it makes contact with reality? Is the party a house so divided against itself it cannot stand?

As satisfying as it is to watch the party that has so often revelled in the woes of others get a taste of its own cough syrup, let us keep the heid here, and a sense of proportion.

Admittedly it is asking a lot. None of us voted for this joke of an election. It was not our idea that a tiny, self-selecting electorate – number undisclosed – should choose the next leader of the country. That’s the kind of stunt the Conservatives would pull.

And what a choice there is (or isn’t). According to a YouGov poll for Sky News on the night of the debate, 28% thought Ms Forbes would be a strong leader; 37% that she would be competent, and 30% considered her trustworthy. Not exactly thumping majorities.

It was worse for Humza Yousaf, the other frontrunner. When respondents were asked about negative traits, 39% said he would be a weak leader, 40% that he would be incompetent and 42% untrustworthy.

Not the best of times for Scottish democracy, then. Pretty awful to be exact. Yet here we are, forced by the selfish actions of the incumbent to jump through these hoops. (Yes, we are talking about you dear, tripping around the parliament as if there’s a job offer from the UN in your pocket.)

Bar something unexpected the SNP will have a new leader, and Scotland a new First Minister, in a couple of weeks. With Mystic Meg’s passing there is, alas, no one to tell us how the future might pan out from there. It seems to me there are at least two paths to choose from.

The Herald: MSPs Ash Regan, Kate Forbes, and Humza Yousaf have battled their way through the debatesMSPs Ash Regan, Kate Forbes, and Humza Yousaf have battled their way through the debates (Image: Newsquest)

The first we shall signpost “The Wilderness Years”. In this, the SNP finds itself split into progressive and conservative factions.

Assuming the new leader can command a majority in parliament, the Scottish Government and the country limp on to the next election.

Little if anything gets done, regardless of need. What economic growth there is will be hit by a frost. Scotland will keep calm and carry on, for that is what we do, but there will be a hollow where our heart should be. It will be like failing to qualify for the World Cup, every single day of the year.

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The second signpost points to the village of “It Might Not Be That Bad, Or At Least Not As Terrible As We Think”. In other countries, this would be a place called Hope (copyright every cheesy politician that ever lived).

Here, the downhearted can hear from those who have walked this way before, and survived to tell the tale. Some even thrived.

Take Labour under Kinnock. They could have won in 1992 by a slim majority, and spent the next few years in merry hell. Instead, Kinnock went, Blair succeeded and had the time and space to finish transforming the party to such an extent it won in 1997 by a landslide.

The Tories in 1992 were a cautionary tale in themselves. In power too long, failing, complacent, void of ideas – remind you of anyone? By the time they were kicked out, the drubbing was worse, and the period in the wilderness longer, than might have been.

We can all agree that falling on one’s backside in public is never pleasant. Tell everyone it’s to break a bar of chocolate in your back pocket as much as you like (thank you forever Chic Murray), but it’s sore and embarrassing, and like many an unpleasant experience seems to happen in slow motion. Much like the SNP leadership contest.

But next time the traveller will tread that bit more carefully, keeping the focus where it should be.

There is life after leadership contests, no matter how badly they go. Indeed, if you looked closely at the Sky News debate you could see new shoots forming.

Asked to imagine that Labour wins the next General Election, but needs SNP help to stay in power, all three candidates named the same price for cooperation – another independence referendum.

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Let us not spoil a nice moment of harmony by pointing out that Sir Keir Starmer is firmly in the no camp on that one, or that the Tories might somehow pull another ‘92 and remain in government.

In the meantime, a new SNP leader could find a way to nudge support for independence upwards. Plus there are all those young members we keep hearing about coming of age. Unlike Ms Regan, one of them might have answers on the currency.

The point is something always happens because nothing stays the same, nor should it. What becomes of the SNP broken-hearted? We may yet be surprised.