ON Tuesday evening, when it emerged Kate Forbes had quit government after Humza Yousaf tried to demote her, she tweeted: “He has my full support, as he governs well and furthers the case for independence.”

Was there the hint of dissent in her words? He has her full support “as he governs well” but what if, in Ms Forbes judgment, he doesn’t, or indeed fails to further the case for independence?

Mr Yousaf will be performing a small miracle if he succeeds on either score, given the in-tray of doom that awaits him. And if he doesn’t, there’s little incentive now for Ms Forbes to keep her mouth shut about it.

So that was Mr Yousaf’s opening gambit as First Minister: to push out Ms Forbes, fresh from an election in which nearly half the party backed her over him, hours after he appealed for party unity. The rural affairs portfolio, important though it may be in itself, was an olive branch dunked in manure. If he wanted to keep her away from areas where her socially conservative views could have been a problem, then why not suggest, I dunno, finance?

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Things got worse yesterday when Ivan McKee the business minister quit after being offered a smaller role, prompting frustration from business groups. It’s getting crowded behind the First Minister there on the back benches. Lots of idle hands.

There’s already talk of Yousaf being the SNP’s interim leader, as if he were the transition guy the party has turned to after being abandoned by Nicola Sturgeon, before they find new love with someone else.

But even if he turns out to be a placeholder, there is one area in which Humza Yousaf could do his party a very big favour, and that’s if he persuades them to take a more realistic view of independence.

“Only when we have a sustained majority for independence, once it becomes the settled will, will we get independence,” Mr Yousaf said during the campaign. He wants to avoid a “quagmire of process” around referendums.

His independence goal seems to be a decisive, emphatic victory reflecting Scotland’s “settled will”, not a traumatic, contested Brexit-style divorce based on a tiny margin in a premature referendum, leaving half the country feeling cheated and bereft.

That implies abandoning the negative feedback loop Ms Sturgeon was stuck in where she periodically demanded a referendum and got knocked back. To counter the impression of impotence, she indulged in doomed court battles and the promise of a “de facto” referendum.

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Ms Sturgeon got lost in this fantasy role-play, pretending that Westminster’s hand could be forced and Scotland could be bounced into independence through a referendum posing as an election within the next couple of years. It wasted time, effort and money, and succeeded only in making the independence campaign look completely stalled.

Mr Yousaf clearly doesn’t want to go down that path again. The subtext of what he’s saying is pretty clear: you have to win over the people first, then hold a vote, not the other way round. The unspoken addendum is this: it could take years, perhaps a decade or more. (In fact – whisper it – it might never happen.) This is an attitude of humility over hubris. The question is how long it survives now Mr Yousaf is First Minister.

All this, incidentally, is broadly similar to Kate Forbes’ position. She too has made clear that you can’t set a timetable for independence when the argument for it has not yet been won. The fact that between them, the two candidates polled nearly 90 per cent of first preference votes in the SNP leadership election is interesting. Perhaps SNP members are wearied by years of marching through the desert in pursuit of a mirage.

Yet 11 per cent of those who voted backed Ash Regan, and 30 of SNP members didn’t vote at all. What will their influence be on the course the SNP now takes? Mr Yousaf has been anxious to stress the importance of members’ views and will consult the party on the path to independence, he says, with a series of regional assemblies.

He says “all options within a legal framework” are still on the table, while at the same time making clear he’s personally no fan of Sturgeon’s election/referendum hybrid. It remains to be seen whether we have really turned our back on the world of make believe where elections can be magicked into referendums and independence is always just a few months away.

The infuriating am-drams with Westminster certainly look set to continue. He may sniff disapprovingly about dead-end process arguments, but Mr Yousaf seems to have no qualms at all about grievance-mongering more generally.

He has promised pointlessly to ask Rishi Sunak for the power to hold a referendum, and intends to fight the UK Government over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in its current form. He must hope as Ms Sturgeon did that this pantomime with the Tories will help shore up SNP support.

A resurgent Labour makes his life more difficult. With independence looking further off than ever, Labour can legitimately appeal to frustrated SNP supporters by promising constitutional change as soon as 2025 to strengthen Scottish autonomy, if Keir Starmer wins the election. While Yousaf publishes more papers making the case for independence, Labour in government could actually do stuff, whether that be strengthening the Sewel Convention, establishing a senate of the nations and regions, or legislating for Holyrood to enter into international agreements on devolved matters.

It all makes the likelihood of independence in the short term recede dramatically, but if the SNP can accept this, there is hope. Time itself will help the cause, since younger voters are more likely to favour independence than older ones (you can of course overestimate this, but there is likely to be some positive effect).

Right now, what the independence movement needs is a First Minister that fixes problems; then the work must begin to persuade the sceptical majority that Scottish independence would be for the best. It’s hard work with no guarantee of success, but after years of self-delusion about the inevitability of independence, it’s the reality the SNP must face.