THE empire, which had taken ten years to build, was toppled in less than one month. This is what happens when a party becomes drunk on power and thinks it can govern by decree: it’s true because we’ve said it’s true.

The Nicola Sturgeon/Peter Murrell axis which had come to rule the SNP have been forced out, brought down by those elements which always turn healthy organisations rotten: hubris, lies and brute repression of internal dissent. Let no one be in any doubt: when the decay set in, it then proceeded from the head down.

The Herald is only £1 for three months.
This offer ends Friday so click here and don't miss out!

All that remains to be quantified is just how much damage this pair have done to their party, the movement for Scottish independence and faith in the wider conduct of politics in Scotland. So detached from reality, so self-deluded had Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive, become that when he resigned on Saturday he was still clinging to a fantasy. “Independence is now closer than ever,” he said in his resignation statement.

It’s not though, is it? In the 12 years since the SNP’s landslide triumph at the 2011 Holyrood election we’re now at a point where the prospect of independence has never been further away. The comic relief has been provided by those commentators and analysts who had danced to their tune, and are now scurrying to put some distance between themselves and their fallen heroes.

Some of us saw this coming four years ago. By stealth, the commitment to secure independence was being shelved, to be replaced by a lexicon of fatuous phrases. “Standing up for Scotland” became the clarion call of the SNP’s professional wing. This was soon augmented by pledges to be “progressive”.

“Standing up for Scotland” represented little more than yelling for a Section 30 order and waving your arms around as you accused the Tories of “disrespecting democracy”. These outbreaks intensified immediately before and after elections and then quietly subsided.

It was also evident that in the years following the first independence referendum no serious work was being done on securing a second one. And that anyone calling for a Plan B was being marginalised.

“Progressive” was nothing more than doubling down on gender recognition reform even as it became clear that aspects of it would endanger women’s safety, as became starkly evident in the case of Isla Bryson. It was a convenient fig leaf to conceal the uncomfortable truth that the SNP had failed catastrophically to improve the lives of multitudes of Scotland’s poorest citizens.

Progressiveness thus became a cruel hoax advanced by the political elites, including a superannuated trade union boss class, aimed at pretending they were being radical. Instead, they were pandering to the insidious whims of a gathering of misogynistic young men who had hollowed out the party.

An even worse fate than that which befell those few who were serious about independence was now visited on the gender reform dissidents, mainly feminists who (literally and metaphorically) had targets painted on them and suffered violent threats and intimidation, much of it orchestrated by central office.

Yet, for this climate of fear and menace to proceed unhindered over so many years there needs to be a division of lumpen party drones good for little more than mocking and abusing opponents of the regime. The insidious genius of the Sturgeon/Murrell power strategy was at work here.

They gathered to themselves a coterie of dim-witted and unquestioning acolytes, ever willing to do their bidding and promoted them into jobs and responsibilities far beyond their limited capabilities. It soon became known within the party that if you wanted a promotion or preferment on the Holyrood lists all you had to do was shout loudly at the chosen target and pledge unquestioning fealty to Nicola Sturgeon.

You’ll have seen them on Twitter in recent days. Some, with only a rudimentary grasp of simple arithmetic, plainly couldn’t understand the membership figures being presented to them. Others, including Mhairi Black, were still accusing Ash Regan and Kate Forbes of being “Trumpian” for casting doubt on the integrity of the leadership contest.

The Sturgeon/Murrell power dynamic also succeeded in turning the National Executive Committee into its own Praetorian Guard and stripped it of any semblance of objective propriety. Good, decent and hard-working people were chivvied out of their positions and replaced with bad actors and fake virtue merchants who could be relied upon to target those who had been singled out for special treatment.

Those individuals possessed of genuine intelligence and ability and who might thus threaten the hegemony of Ms Sturgeon were soon set upon and manoeuvred out of the way to be replaced by party laggards.

These malingerers are largely blameless in the apocalypse that’s engulfed this party: they were just following directions. It’s the party veterans such as John Swinney, Angus Robertson and Michael Russell who should be hanging their heads in shame. They all knew what was happening, yet chose to remain silent in exchange for an easy life and a comfortable retirement.

It’s not clear yet if there are sufficient grounds to scrap the contest to succeed Ms Sturgeon. What should be occupying the minds of all three candidates though, is to what extent the winner’s tenure will be tainted by the shambles that’s been exposed at party headquarters. Ironically, Humza Yousaf may have most cause to complain. If the claims that thousands of former party members have been sent voting forms are true then his chances will have been adversely affected.

You might also argue that when the man tasked with overseeing the process has been forced to resign for deliberately misleading the party’s media manager, then the process has been mortally wounded. You may also reasonably doubt the fairness of a contest where the First Minister’s most powerful and closest advisor has been secretly detailed to assist her favoured candidate. It epitomises the duplicity, dishonesty and arrogance which are now exposed as the hallmarks of the Sturgeon era.

Kate Forbes and Ash Regan in particular have rendered a service to this party that offers it a chance of long-term salvation. Both have braved an extraordinary fusillade of abuse and vindictiveness simply for standing against the favoured candidate of Sturgeon/Murrell. Yet, they have maintained their dignity.

And now we know why they were targeted. Having witnessed the corruption and sleaze that flows through the higher echelons of the SNP, they each gave notice of their intent to purify it and to be rid of the leeches who have fed upon it. Time will tell if their actions have yet come too late to expunge the poison in the system.