This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Today, the SNP stands in ruins of its own making.

For years now, the party’s leadership has been warned repeatedly – often by its own more considered supporters – that the tide had turned against them, but they wouldn’t budge or alter course. The party thought it knew better, except the party has been wrong for a long, long time.

The SNP has failed to govern Scotland, with even minimum success, in the midst of an economic crisis that’s devastated citizens across the country. The SNP talked of referendums, when the people wanted to hear about education, health and housing. The SNP repeatedly blamed London for every ill besetting Scotland, whilst simultaneously failing to do all it could, with the powers available through devolution, to ameliorate the situation. The SNP continued to attempt to divide voters, when the electorate wanted unity.

Indeed, during its ugly leadership contest, the party proved to be deeply divided itself. It was split between social and economic conservatives, and social and economic progressives. Voters don’t like being deceived, and the SNP was trying – as always – to play both sides against the middle. It failed spectacularly.

Today, the pretence is over. Voters have seen through the facade.

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The SNP has paid the price for hubris. The party has fashioned its own scaffold, and walked itself to the chopping block all the while claiming that nobody in Scotland would vote for the ‘Red Tories’. Arrogance and foolishness look especially pathetic in the face of humiliating defeat.

The delusion within the party runs deep, though. Even as their MPs fell like nine pins, the SNP faithful were denouncing unionists for betraying Scotland. This vote had nothing to do with the constitution, and everything to do with the SNP’s record in power at Holyrood.

The scale of the SNP’s defeat is of such magnitude – such a reversal of fortunes – that it comes close in national importance to the destruction of the Conservative Party and the degrading end to Rishi Sunak’s government.

So what now for the SNP, what now for independence, and what now for Scotland?

For the SNP, the future is clear. The party will tear itself apart – again – as it did during the leadership contest. It is a party which unites around just one issue: independence. So the course is set for bloodletting over the soul of the party and which direction it takes, as the leadership tries to make sense of the SNP’s collapse.

Will John Swinney survive? His safe pair of hands proved to be very unsafe. So why should he? But does the party have the guts to oust him, and risk someone worse? And if it does oust him, will it tack to the right under someone like Kate Forbes?

That way even greater disaster lies. The party already squandered its liberal support during the leadership contest. Progressive voters backed away in droves over the scale of the support inside the party for Forbes. The humiliation of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, as it failed to hold onto its deposits in every seat it contested, shows there’s zero appetite for independence flavoured by culture war.

Will the SNP double-down on independence, try some last ditch populist push, in the hope of using division to excite support? That would be folly. Independence – while still maintaining 2014-levels of backing – is not high on the list of voter priorities. To bang the indy drum would infuriate voters – including pro-indy voters – who have already rejected the SNP.

Will John Swinney survive? Will the SNP tack to the right under Kate Forbes? (Image: Derek McArthur)
So what happens to independence? Support for independence and support for the SNP have fully decoupled now. The absurd fantasy of a referendum based on an SNP majority is dead. The SNP’s tiresome game-playing must surely be over. The notion of another referendum is chloroformed for at least five years.

The fortunes of the SNP and independence are umbilically tied to what happens at Westminster. The Tories in power boosts both. If Keir Starmer governs reasonably well, then the SNP will not recover in time for the Holyrood 2026 vote.

A crippled SNP means there’s no real Yes movement to speak of, which may explain why some more considered independence supporters are mooting radical change. There is talk beginning of independence becoming a civic rather than political movement, one not hitched to the fortunes of a failed party. Who knows if such a notion could ever succeed?

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Another referendum will only happen if there’s a future Labour minority government which depends on SNP support at Westminster. So political success for Starmer, means doom for the Yes movement.

Indeed, the future of who rules at the Scottish Parliament depends on Starmer. If he should govern well for the whole country, then the SNP will be staring defeat at Holyrood in the face. 

It’s unlikely there’s time for the SNP alone to change voters’ minds about them in Scotland. Labour failure is crucial for that to happen. Voters have shifted en masse to Labour and once such a switch has been made a psychological bridge is crossed. If the SNP tears itself to ribbons in some post-election bloodbath there won’t be scope to recover before the 2026 Scottish election, especially if Swinney is dethroned.

Read Neil Mackay every Friday in the Unspun newsletter.

Before this general election began, the Tories were seen as the party which would come to symbolise political failure and ignominy. However, this vote was as much a rejection of the government in Edinburgh as the government in London. 

If the SNP does fail at Holyrood in 2026, and a Labour government takes over in Edinburgh – or even a Labour-Green coalition, which would bring evident schadenfreude to Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater – then the SNP will be joining the Conservatives in the great pantheon of has-beens and nobodies.

It is all but impossible not to feel that the SNP deserves every moment of the agony it is now going through. It could have listened and changed. It didn’t. Now take your medicine.