The National Council of the Scottish National Party is meeting in Perth this weekend. Are members enthused and enthralled? Other than conference, it is the party’s policy-making body, its discursive forum. Enthused? In order to heighten its appeal, this weekend’s event is being billed as a Campaign Council with an eye to the forthcoming UK General Election. Enthralled?

At Holyrood this week, I sounded out a range of SNP contacts as to whether they were eager for a weekend of discourse and rhetoric. Those who were going seemed, mostly, a fraction less than thrilled. Why? The UK economy, although showing signs of recovery, is still discernibly struggling under a Conservative Party commonly sidestepped by much of Scotland. Folk are discontented. Is this not an opportunity for a party seeking to advance the option of Scottish independence?

Yes and also no. Firstly, for decades, the SNP offer has been predicated not upon flight but upon Scotland having the confidence to take charge of her own affairs. Such confidence is thinly spread. Many Scots, beset by a blighted economy and global tension, fret anxiously that they might be left to solve their own problems, alone and palely loitering, rather than boldly stopping the world to get on.

Yet, despite that uncertainty, there is still potential support for the concept of independence. It remains relatively popular, backed by perhaps half the electorate. It is by no means disowned.

So why can the SNP not build upon that potential, dispel fear and regroup? Two reasons. The SNP and Labour.

The Herald: The SNP will argue a vote for Labour is as much an endorsement of the Union as a vote for the ToriesThe SNP will argue a vote for Labour is as much an endorsement of the Union as a vote for the Tories (Image: free)

Firstly, the SNP itself is in trouble. There are the “events” associated with a long spell in government, including the Michael Matheson episode. Much more significantly, there is the continuing police inquiry into party finances. The intensity and the remarkable longevity of this investigation add up to a growling cloud dimming the SNP’s prospects. And that is related to the party’s third internal worry. The leader. Is Humza Yousaf the one to take the SNP forward, to advance Scotland towards independence?

Without doubt, he faces significant question marks. From some who wonder what happened to his government’s economic growth strategy. From some who wonder why they have been overlooked for promotion. And from others who query whether he has the bite to combat opponents.

I must confess I am inclined to be charitable. OK, so he is unlikely to scare UK Ministers – as, we are told, Nicola Sturgeon did. He is collegiate, if anything too inclined to ascribe positive motives to politicians from rival parties. But, to be frank, he has become leader in impossible circumstances.

I refer my Honourable Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago, anent police inquiries. Perhaps the best analysis I encountered this week, at Holyrood, came from one who said that the FM needed to stop being the “continuity candidate” and learn how to lead, how to issue directions.

Which brings us to Labour. They are, apparently, a shoo-in for UK governance. They will weigh the Labour vote, rather than count it. Says who? Yousaf, H.

Read more by Brian Taylor

Holyrood protests – and the Westminster conspiracy of silence

SNP and Labour Gaza vote illustrates great divide in Scots politics

This week, after addressing the London School of Economics, he suggested that Labour was set for such a decisive victory that they would not require any assistance from the SNP at Westminster.

At Holyrood this week, some in the SNP were unhappy with that. One called it “calamitous”.

However, I get the concept. It is aimed at persuading voters in Scotland that they can freely vote SNP – because Labour is so far ahead in England that the Tories are already toast.

It is, as one source put it to me, stressing that “Labour doesn’t need Scotland, but Scotland needs the SNP.” Stephen Flynn, the party’s effective Westminster leader, will make that point vigorously in Perth, arguing that it is “essential” for Scotland to retain a strong SNP voice in order to press for attention and, thus, concessions from an incoming UK Labour administration.

There is more at play here than just the customary plea for partisan votes. That would not amount to a strategy to sustain the SNP and the broader cause of independence. It is simply an election slogan.

In essence, the SNP will be seeking, once again, to define Scotland, to define Scottish values – and to do so in contradistinction to sentiments expressed at Westminster, by supporters of the Union.

Mr Flynn indicated the direction of travel when he noted that the recent row over racism within the Conservative Party implied that “Scotland’s values have never been further removed from Westminster.”

Note what he is attempting to do there. Seize upon a controversy within one UK party – and extrapolate from that into a generic move to distance Scotland from Westminster in its entirety. From the Union, in short.

It is about keeping the independence offer in play, aware that the UK may be about to elect a government, a Labour government, which might be thought to be more in tune with the Scottish perspective, at least in recent decades.

The SNP will argue on the doorsteps that, if you want to keep the option of independence alive, then you have to vote for its principal advocates. That, crucially, a vote for Labour is just as much an endorsement for the Union as voting for the Conservative and Unionist Party itself.

SNP strategists – yes, such beings exist and are hard at work – calculate two things. That the argument about process is over with regard to a future independence referendum. The Supreme Court settled that. The UK won.

The Herald: Scottish Labour will say their MPs can provide a strong voice in WestminsterScottish Labour will say their MPs can provide a strong voice in Westminster (Image: free)

But, secondly, that Scots are open to the notion that their nation needs a “strong voice” in Westminster. They clutch the concept.

Understandably, Scottish Labour say their MPs can provide that, in tandem with a UK Labour government. The SNP will argue, starting this weekend, that they are better placed to represent Scottish beliefs including a distinctive approach to tax and spending, to energy policy, to global questions such as Gaza.

In practice, then, the longer-term SNP strategy has to be to stay in the game, pending a UK Labour government. To presume that government will face continuing economic pressure. And to prepare for the next Holyrood elections in 2026.