Three weeks in, after a Titanic list of Tory blunders, we can say one thing with certainty: the Conservatives’ general election campaign can always get worse.

So let’s just take a moment to pay tribute to those whose hard work has made this possible, in particular Douglas Ross, whose heroic misjudgment by manoeuvring himself into resigning mid-campaign deserves special recognition. Politicians like that don’t come along every day. Ross may be relatively little known outside Scotland, but this shows he could hold his own on a UK platform next to the likes of Dominic “where’s Dover?” Raab, Gavin the Gaffe Williamson and even Rishi the Hapless himself.

But while we all goggle at the Scottish Tories, something significant has been happening to the SNP. It appears that a slow process of metamorphosis is taking place. John Swinney seems to be shifting position on key policies. It makes you wonder: do we really know what the SNP stands for any more?

There are question marks over how much of a priority independence is to Mr Swinney and how far he’s willing to go regulating business to improve public health, but the biggest shift we’re seeing is in the signals the SNP is sending on climate change.

Read more Rebecca McQuillan

Come on Swinney, SNP supporters deserve better than this

Could this be the thing that spells the end of the union?

Less than three years ago at COP26, Nicola Sturgeon boasted that Scotland led the world in the race to net zero. She represented the SNP to voters as a progressive, radical party that intended to follow the science on climate policy.

The SNP accepted the impassioned warnings of climate scientists that global heating could not be kept in check if we kept opening new oil and gas fields. Ms Sturgeon stated her opposition to the totemic Cambo development. She also said it was “highly likely” that Scotland would join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance of countries like Denmark, France and Ireland who have called time on further oil developments.

Humza Yousaf said last summer that granting new oil and gas licences showed the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in “climate denial”. The Scottish Government’s draft energy strategy published last year contained a presumption against new oil and gas exploration.

Now the party is trying to rewrite history. John Swinney refuses to say whether he opposes new oil and gas developments, falling back instead on the questionable notion of a “climate compatibility test” for new developments. His deputy Kate Forbes has even claimed, mystifyingly, that the SNP has never opposed new developments.

That must have come as startling news to voters.

Mr Swinney is opposing Labour’s windfall tax on the oil and gas giants, worth £10bn to fund a new GB Energy company, claiming – wrongly, as revealed in this paper on Sunday – that it will cost 100,000 jobs in the north-east of Scotland.

Mr Swinney is right to shine a probing light on Labour’s plans, but the party has robustly defended itself, insisting that the whole point of GB Energy, headquartered in Scotland, will be to safeguard new jobs.

Where does the SNP stand on oil and gas?Where does the SNP stand on oil and gas? (Image: free)

Of course people are worried about the future for the north east, and rightly so. Whenever and however North Sea oil was wound down – and we thought in the 1980s that it would have run out by now – securing the region’s economic future was going to require a serious industrial strategy.

Now, thanks to the renewables drive, there is at least a new industry developing that offers hope of a future for oil and gas workers, a future hardly anyone foresaw in the 1980s.

Unfortunately, those with their own self-serving agendas have ramped up and exploited local fears. The Conservatives cynically campaign as if there need to be no end, ever, to drilling for oil and gas. Rishi Sunak irresponsibly promised last year to “max out” North Sea oil and gas drilling. The Tories accuse Labour and the SNP of wanting to create a “cliff-edge” where the industry would suddenly be stopped and workers “abandoned overnight”.

That isn’t remotely accurate and never has been, but when did that ever stop a Tory politician?

You expect that of the Conservatives. What’s surprising is that the SNP sound increasingly like Tories in their attacks on Labour on climate change.

All this comes after the SNP abandoned its 2030 emissions target, blithely explaining that it was never realistic, as if some party other than themselves had put it in place.

So things are changing. Labour, which has held firm on opposing new oil and gas licences, is now stronger on climate policy than the SNP. The defection of former Green Party leader Robin Harper to Anas Sarwar’s camp, underlines the point.

This volte face by the SNP worries both climate scientists and voters, who are consistently worried about climate change, polling shows. A group of more than 400 British climate scientists have written to all the party leaders, urging them to be ambitious and warning that a failure to act with urgency will make the world more dangerous and insecure. The group wants party leaders to act on the advice of the independent Climate Change Committee, which says that the UK’s ongoing need for oil and gas doesn’t justify the development of new North Sea fields.

The SNP needs to decide what its priorities are.

The latest Ipsos polling data helps explain why the party is shifting rightwards on this. It is neck and neck with Labour in Scotland, but those who currently say they’ll vote Tory are more likely than Labour or SNP voters to change their mind before polling day. Winning over a few Tory voters by being seen as pro-North Sea oil might help the SNP stave off defeat in tightly fought north-east constituencies. The party also needs to avoid haemorrhaging votes to Alba.

Just as Labour is appealing to former SNP voters, the SNP is now appealing to former Tories. But John Swinney’s change of position in the middle of an election campaign is confusing for the public. It’s left existing SNP supporters scratching their heads. They will be wondering this: is the SNP still the party it once was?