It’s a truism of political life that a party sinking in the polls and facing electoral defeat, inevitably reverts to its base.

Nothing says panic more than the sight of gaunt, sweaty-palmed ministers hurling chunks of red meat to their core voters, in the hope of cauterising the draining of support and possibly – just possibly – saving their seats and careers.

You can practically smell the fear when Tories start to float ever more zany policies on law and order and immigration, while Labour politicians tend to throw money at the NHS. With the SNP, it’s Gaelic.

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This week, we learned that nationalist ministers are seriously considering a points-based immigration system for an independent Scotland, where an applicant’s chances of gaining a visa would be improved by their ability to speak Gaelic.

I mean, where do you even start with something like that? Scotland is underpopulated and control over immigration is one of the most important and useful powers it would have as a sovereign state, to grow its economy.

The power would need to be used strategically and judiciously, to ensure we had enough people to service crucial industries such as hospitality and tourism, agriculture, fish processing and financial and technical services, as well as attracting highly educated and skilled people to work in tech, life sciences and renewable energy in a highly competitive, global environment.

Are we really going to tell a graduate from MIT, with a PhD in artificial intelligence design, they can't come to Scotland because they don't have a god enough grasp of a language spoken by 0.5% of the population?

Quite apart from the screamingly arrogant lack of self-awareness – how many indigenous Scots speak a second language fluently? – what are these people supposed to do with their newly acquired proficiency in Gaelic once they get here?

They could conceivably traverse the length and breadth of mainland Scotland without ever encountering a single soul with any more Gaelic than slainthe and sgean-dubh.

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It’s certainly not going to assist their chances of landing a job, unless they want to teach Gaelic, or work as an extra on the never-to-be commissioned BBC Alba soap, Gun ghluasadan air Didòmhnaich (No Swings on a Sunday). At least they’d be able to read the train station signs.

What this tells us about the SNP – other than that they have clearly run out of sensible ideas – is that they have never really ‘got’ middle Scotland; the kind of mainstream, centrist voters they need to appeal to if they are to get independence over the line.

If you were to scan the audience of an SNP annual conference from the 1970s – all Harris Tweed and Harry Lauder walking sticks – it’s easy to see how a Gaelic-based immigration points system would go down a bomb. But I’d like to think that we have moved on since then.

Despite the SNP’s electoral successes over the past decade-and-a-half – including achieving what was thought to be the impossible, in gaining a majority of seats at Holyrood in 2011 – it has never quite managed to shake the image of a party out of touch with a large number of Scottish voters.

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Following an extended period in power, parties and their leaders inevitably run out of steam, but this parliament appears to be one in which the perception gap between the government and the people who voted it in has rarely been wider.

For all his ‘hail-fellow’ use of the Scots vernacular outside of the TV studio, Alex Salmond always gave the impression of a man never properly comfortable south of Perth.

Nicola Sturgeon may have exuded confidence and organisational competence – prior to the implosion of her career and the party over her resignation as first minister – but it was never entirely clear what she stood for, other than independence.

As the leader of a single-issue party, she managed to be elected and to achieve success without ever properly articulating her values and policy priorities.

We can only go on her record in government, and the Gender Recognition Bill signalled more than many other issues, the gulf between the kind of Scotland envisioned by her leadership and that of a majority of people who live here.

Failures of leadership and delivery in education and health have highlighted huge differences in the priorities of those who govern and those who depend on those services.

With her stated desire, in 2015, to eradicate the education gap between Scotland’s poorest and richest children, Sturgeon perhaps came closest to articulating a guiding principle.

Yet, the most recent official statistics, published last December, showed the gap in attainment between pupils in the most and least deprived areas had widened since before the pandemic.

Voters might be prepared to live in the most taxed part of the UK – including through income tax – if they saw corresponding improvements in public services. Yet Humza Yousaf’s record as health secretary does not inspire confidence that he will do any better as first minister.

On the day he stepped down from the department earlier this year, A&E waiting times had worsened again, with only 63% of patients being seen within four hours, compared with 87% when he took office less than two years previously.

At the same time, the 62-day cancer treatment target had not been met by any health board, according to Public Health Scotland figures, prompting Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie to dub Yousaf ‘the worst health secretary in the history of devolution’.

Meanwhile, the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) – setting bands at overly punitive levels – added an additional financial burden on aspirational Scots seeking to gain a foothold on the property ladder.

The average amount collected in the Scottish version of stamp duty has risen by nearly 50% in the past two years and, with rates being so much higher than in the rest of the UK, the burden has fallen disproportionately on first time buyers with often relatively modest incomes.

The peculiar system of proportional representation for elections to the Scottish Parliament means that a party like the SNP can govern without troubling a large swathe of the voting population.

An independence referendum is different and to achieve a Yes result in that, the nationalists will have to acquire a broader appeal, to middle-class, middle-income voters who don’t necessarily see promotion of Gaelic through social engineering as a priority. Until the party and its leaders recognise that reality, they will continue to speak a different language.