Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese general and author of The Art of War, said that “In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity”. Two and a half thousand years later, the sentiment of his quote can be seen to have stood the test of time. And today, if there were to be a guiding principle of the leadership of First Minister Humza Yousaf, it should be this.

There is no opportunity, yet; only chaos. Mr Yousaf is too often acting as a real-time spokesman for that chaos, allowing himself to be positioned as the first line of defence for his predecessor, Nicola Sturgeon. His public image is being crafted on someone else’s terms.

However, this is not a mortal lock. The chaos will not last forever and, with three years to go until the next Holyrood election, and with a likelihood that Mr Yousaf will survive any poor result in next year’s Westminster election, there is time for opportunity to be grasped.

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Mr Yousaf needs to commence the extraction of that opportunity, now. Doing so is less implausible than it may at first glance seem. Despite the SNP becoming enveloped by the police investigation into its finances, and the gradual reduction in its polling support, it remains Scotland’s most popular political party by some distance. It remains true that support touching 40 per cent is, by any international measure, a ringing endorsement of a governing party – an almost unachievable level, and more remarkable still for a party which has been in power for 16 years.

However, it would be fair to criticise this Government for failing to make the most of its time in office. Upon the resignation of Ms Sturgeon, commentators were asked what her legacy would be. In truth, no answer tripped off their collective tongues. She won lots of elections and she spoke well during Covid; those were the most common answers I heard, but they hardly constitute an enduring legacy.

Ahead of the last election, the SNP published its 100 achievements in government. It is important to acknowledge the achievements within that 100 which have genuinely changed the lives of large numbers of people. The most obvious all concern children, from the extension of school meals to funded childcare, from the baby box to the child payment. These policies (particularly funded childcare) have had a game-changing impact on many families’ finances, and they should not be underestimated (and, for what it's worth, they are what this commentator advanced as the legacy of Ms Sturgeon).

However, an objective analysis of the 100 reveals it to be, in the round, relatively thin. The word "free", which in politics means ‘paid for by taxpayers’, does heavy lifting (prescriptions, bus travel, bicycles, amongst many, many others). Words and targets fill gaps in action; declaring a climate emergency may be a significant signal, but it is a stretch to claim it as an achievement. Maintaining the status quo helps reach the century of achievements; not privatising Scottish Water, not fracking, and so on. And the success of some of the Government’s proudest achievements is being called into question, and not just by the opposition, including number one on its list; "free" university tuition.

None of this is owned by Mr Yousaf. He is a new First Minister, and he should feel no more compulsion to take the credit for any of this than he should feel an obligation to take the blame.

The opportunity for Mr Yousaf lies in a great reset. This is a government which has spent many, many years, very, very successfully doing what it needed to do to win elections and position itself to win a second independence referendum. It has assiduously avoided tackling those sticky issues which tend to lose votes, such as reforming public services and reducing public spending. But the reversal in the SNP’s fortunes, together with the long-grassing of the prospect of an independence referendum, gives Mr Yousaf a window to create a legacy of substance rather than one of style.

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Very quietly, there are some signs that this is happening, albeit so far in a rather scattergun fashion. Mr Yousaf himself, earlier this month, questioned whether his own children should be entitled to a "free" school meal. This is a remark which carries more significance than it may otherwise seem, calling into question the SNP shibboleth of universal benefit provision.

It is not alone. Andrew Wilson, whilst long out of politics, remains an influential figure in SNP circles. What he says matters, and when he said earlier this week that the Government should look again at whether "free" tuition fees are the right policy, it opened the opportunity for a debate which many thought the party could never have.

This is a government which prides itself on a good relationship with trade unions, so when it was criticised this week for being “rooted in the past” in its antipathy towards nuclear energy, it will have been noticed. The remark will have stung. And it will have provoked nodding heads amongst many SNP backbenchers.

The 2026 election to the Scottish Parliament was, until just a few months ago, seen as a box-ticking exercise to confirm yet another SNP government. It was a continuity election. That is no longer the case. It may, just may, be a change election now, and Mr Yousaf could conceivably find himself on the wrong side of that change.

He needn’t. I work with those in government regularly, in my day job. These are highly capable people who have rarely had the opportunity to show it. They are, in many cases, coiled springs, yet to be fully released. The Government has been so afraid to rock the boat, lest it lose any support for independence.

But now is the time. They have little to fear from a great reset; little to fear from starting again and admitting that they need to raise the level of government ambition and achievement. Indeed, the opposite is true. It is now becoming generally accepted that the only route to independence, to convincing people that Scotland can be a successful independent country, is to first show that Scotland can be a successful devolved country.

The public perception of this Government is flipping. The health service is broken. Schooling is not delivering. High tax rates are not providing high tax revenues. But Mr Yousaf and his Cabinet are still driving the car, and it is in their interests, as well as the rest of us, to go straight, and go fast.

 Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters