The first fingers of a bright dawn are inching out across the north east of Scotland, seeming to herald the arrival of the new political age. It’s 6am and Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, is leaving Aberdeen’s cavernous P&J conference arena to conduct a mini-tour of the broadcasters. It’s his last chore of a punishing shift that had started 27 hours earlier.

It’s only now perhaps that the full extent of the apocalypse that’s laid waste to his party has begun to sink in. Though he’s always been unfailingly polite to me – warm even – I approach him warily for there is a question that still needs to be asked. “Stephen, do you think it’s now time for a change of leadership in the party?”

I suppose I’d hoped that, wearied by the excursions and alarums of the day, he might venture something startling but he sticks to the script. “Absolutely not,” he says. “There’s not a chance of that. We’ve got a ton of work to do. It’s time for us to reflect on what the electorate has told us and to have an open, frank and honest internal discussion within the party.”

SNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (second left), and SNP's Kirsty Blackman (second right), after being declared the winners of the Aberdeen South and Aberdeen North constituencies respectively at P&J Live arena in AberdeenSNP's Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (second left), and SNP's Kirsty Blackman (second right), after being declared the winners of the Aberdeen South and Aberdeen North constituencies respectively at P&J Live arena in Aberdeen (Image: free)

He must know though, that the question won’t go away. The party was expected to lose a significant number of its Westminster seats but not this many. Thursday’s loss of 39 seats was a disaster for the SNP.

Even if Mr Flynn really does think John Swinney should remain as leader going into the 2026 Scottish election others, whose lifestyles have been elevated by Holyrood’s superannuated rewards, might beg to differ.

Those I spoke to inside the P&J Arena after it first became evident that the SNP had experienced an End Times event were unequivocal: if there isn’t a clear-out – and soon – then the party’s finished.

It was around 2.15 in the morning that Mr Flynn had walked into this venue. The little knots of SNP supporters huddled around the side tables were still trying to process the details of the BBC’s Exit Poll, four hours earlier. “Ten MPs,” one supporter exclaimed, barely able to believe what she’d heard. “That can’t be right.”

That camper-van might come in handy after all, I wanted to say, but intruding on private grief is not kind or charitable.

When Mr Flynn appeared, they all flocked to him. By then, it had become known that he’d personally had “a good day” and that “the numbers” were looking “promising”. I’m still not entirely sure how such intelligence is divined but they all seemed certain. There were hugs and a few high-fives, well middle-sized ones anyway.

“Are you feeling confident,” he was asked as a mini media scrum formed around him. “I’m always feeling confident,” he said. In the event, his confidence was entirely justified as he increased his majority in Aberdeen South. Given that his Westminster group was evaporating quicker than one of JK Rowling’s wizards, this pointed to a significant degree of personal approval.

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Kirsty Blackman seemed to have Aberdeen North in the bag too. After all, she had come into this election on a strong tail-wind comprising one of the largest majorities at Westminster following the 2019 election. In the main foyer, I offered my congratulations as the rune-readers inside had told me she too was home and dry. “There’s a large pile of voting slips for her piling up on the tables,” I was told.

An hour or so later, she would discover that her share of the vote had been slashed by 18.4 per cent and that Labour’s portion had risen by the same number. She’d been spared the biggest humiliation of the night, but only just and her subdued victory speech told us she knew this too.

These big election counts follow a practised choreography in which the trick is to gather little nuggets of intelligence as you wander about. You then use these as currency for the next conversation. Having been tasked with producing video blogs throughout the night and live-tweeting the bejesus out of it, you find yourself jouking about with your head inclined to one side, like Billy Connolly’s bloke with the carry-out listening for the sound of a party to gate-crash.

Last night, though, my attempts at channelling political savvy were howling. At the top of the evening I’d been told by a young SNP staffer that the Tories had done remarkably well in all the Aberdeen seats – city and shire – and that Douglas Ross had come through in Aberdeenshire North and Moray East.

This young activist looked like he was an acolyte of this hidden necromancy and so I told Ms Davidson of LBC, hoping that she may impart something valuable in return. Instead, she shot me a look of affectionate disdain, laced with pity. “Did ye, aye,” it seemed to say.

Douglas Ross at the countDouglas Ross at the count (Image: free)

Mr Ross had been the first of the Big Beasts to stride into this place. There he was on the raised broadcast media platform, his no-nonsense coupon set firm and hands clasped grimly behind his back. He exuded confidence and I’m thinking he looks like he knows he’s won. Ms Davidson and Andrew Kerr of the BBC are not convinced.

Mr Ross espies me and proceeds to upbraid me for my infantile tweet in which I’d affected not to know what the P&J in this arena stood for. “Please tell me this is a joke,” he says.

Suitably chastised, I set off in search of some ‘colour’. This is when I wander about the place in a seemingly non-threatening, gormless manner seeking kind-looking chiels who might favour me with an anecdote. I approach four women behind a table awaiting the arrival of their ballot-boxes. “I’m from The Herald in Glasgow,” I tell them.

They appraise me for signs of psychopathy and, reassured, beckon me hither. They’ve been doing these counts for 20 years and one tells me that the old Glasgow Herald had carried a picture of her and her husband being wed on top of a nearby Munro. “So you’re not long married then,” I hear myself saying in a pathetic attempt to ingratiate myself. They let it pass, though.

On the table next to me, are five young journalists from The Goudie, the award-winning student newspaper of Aberdeen University. They’re expertly juggling about nine different social media platforms as I’m trying not to look and sound like a serial killer in my own 30-second piece into an iPhone. I’m having connectivity issues with my laptop and they kindly talk me through them as though entreating an elderly relative to take his soup and to be nice to the nurses.

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As the night proceeds it seems that 10 seats might even be on the optimistic side for the SNP. On the television monitors, scattered around this hippodrome the full extent of Labour’s landslide – and the SNP’s cataclysm – becomes apparent. Douglas Ross finally admits defeat and blames the migration of Tory voters to Reform.

The SNP’s plea in mitigation is to blame it all on a UK-wide rush to “kick out the Tories” despite there being only a handful of them in Scotland. Labour’s exultant supporters are proclaiming the Second Coming even when it becomes clear that, were it not for Reform, they’d have scraped home on a paltry turnout.

In the days ahead, the glove-puppets and the lickspittles will double-down on their delusions and the electorate – far more savvy than any of them care to admit – will retreat further from them all.