I’ve never been keen on urging people to vote tactically. There can hardly be a sentient adult in Scotland who is not aware of the option. Many have exercised it over the years, in pursuit of differing outcomes. Even more might do so in future. They don’t really need to be licensed or instructed.

To be fair to Douglas Ross, he didn’t say much more than that. Acknowledging the option exists and he doesn’t mind terribly if Tory voters, under certain circumstances, choose to exercise it is hardly sensational. There are plenty who do so anyway without anyone’s advice.

Labour, rightly, has had nothing to do with it. The principled position is to respect people’s right to vote exactly as they see fit. If, in the privacy of the polling booth, they vote tactically, so be it. If they vote in terms of conviction, regardless of the hopelessness of the cause, respect that too. And leave it at that.

I heard Ian Blackford, presumably the only Scottish Nationalist willing to break cover over the weekend, complaining it was “Better Together all over again”. It’s always worth remembering that Better Together won comfortably but that was in a referendum where a binary choice forces voters, who might agree about nothing else, to coalesce around one of two polarised options.

That’s the problem with referendums – they elevate a single question above all others to produce a false dichotomy. The SNP’s subsequent success was based almost entirely on fall-out from that binary choice. The coalition on its side of the independence debate held together while the winning majority reverted to division along social and economic lines – that is, the ones that affect people’s lives and which politics should be about.

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Historically, the SNP – like the Liberals in England – were enthusiastic advocates of tactical voting and it served them well, particularly in the 1970s. We’re the soft alternative, they would tell Tories in Labour seats and Labour voters in Tory seats. It took a while – until 1979, to be precise – for Labour voters to spot the pig in the poke, when their “anti-Tory” MPs voted with Mrs Thatcher to bring down a Labour government.

Tactical voting was dressed up in new clothes with the cry to make Scotland “a Tory-free zone”. This “othering” of a substantial minority of the Scottish population was a trap for the unwary since the absolute certainty was that once the Scottish Tories had been successfully cast as anti-Scottish electoral lepers, the same treatment would be applied to Labour, which is exactly what in due course happened.

So the appeal to tactical voting is never quite as straightforward as it might seem and can produce unintended consequences. For me, the urgent objective should be for Scottish politics to rediscover the dynamic of ideas about how to make people’s lives better and society fairer, and to use devolution’s powers to these ends. It must cease to be a dreary, blame-shifting stand-off about the constitution.

I can see the argument which says that in order to achieve that point it is necessary first to dispose of the SNP ascendancy which exists only in order to promote a constitutional objective. People who choose to vote tactically are entitled to prioritise that view. However, the danger beyond the very short term is of buying into acceptance of “nationalism versus unionism” as the established dividing line in Scottish politics. That should never be acceded to, and we do not have to look far to see the division and sterility it perpetuates.

I certainly decline to have my politics redefined in that way. I happen to have been born into a state called the United Kingdom and my views are defined by a desire, according to my own beliefs, to advance the interests of social justice and prosperity in every part of the state in which I live and the world beyond. In my vocabulary, that is called “democratic socialism”, not “unionism”.

Not wanting to break up the UK state is no more “unionism” than someone in Venice not wanting to break up the Italian state or in Munich not wanting to break up the German state. Nobody in these countries – all products of unions in the course of history – would dream of calling themselves “unionists” as a result. It is fake terminology which embeds an artificial dividing line.

Not everyone is rigidly loyal to any party and many, in recent years, have bought into voting SNP on grounds that had little or nothing to do with the constitution. They were specifically invited to do so by Nicola Sturgeon, off the back of her marathon Covid series, making her subsequent claims to an independence mandate all the more hypocritical.

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The same people are looking askance at what is now unfolding and any illusion of SNP competence collapsing by the day. Asking them to vote tactically misses the point. The challenge to other parties is to present a credible alternative that will attract positive support – not just to get rid of an incompetent bunch of chancers but to replace them with something that is demonstrably better and more hopeful.

Talking about tactical voting places too much emphasis on the negative, which is rarely enough to win elections. We have 18 months till a General Election and, heaven help us, three years to wait for Holyrood to be re-populated unless “events” force an earlier opportunity to kick out the Sturgeon-Murrell legatees in all their shameless mediocrity. There is already a strong democratic case for an early Scottish election, since Mr Yousaf has zero legitimacy.

If Labour can present itself as a competent government in waiting, it will get its reward in Scotland as elsewhere. Tactical voting will play its part whenever an election occurs but relying on it would be a fool’s errand. The most effective tactic for Anas Sarwar to pursue will be to continue building credibility, both to soften opposition and maximise positive votes, not for “unionism” as an end in itself, but for Labour policies and values.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003