Humza Yousaf may have started his successful leadership campaign telling himself and the world that he was the continuity candidate, but the contest has changed the party and political landscape so utterly that it’s clear the SNP and Scotland need something different.
And there has to be question marks over whether a man marketing himself as the no-change candidate can seize the moment that now occurs.
There was always something odd about the opposition parties favouring a Yousaf win.
They want to pin him as no more than more of the same. Yet more of the same could also be interpreted as SNP hegemony and an electoral steamroller that never seems to run out of gas.
And it would be foolish to bet against the nationalists adapting to yet another set of new circumstances and continuing their winning run given they have evolved through minority government, majority government, referendum defeat and Brexit and remained at the apex of Scots politics.
But this time does feel different.
For throughout all those previous challenges and episodes the SNP put on a united front and an undisputed focus on independence.
The first three months of 2023 have upended all that.
Support for the Yes cause is healthy, but flatlining at a level lower than it needs to be to achieve independence. The nation appears to be tiring of the neverendum as it yearns for help making ends meet.
And the tight result in the leadership contest lays bare the internal turmoil and the evidence that plenty of SNP members are also persuaded by the need for change.
Has Humza already run out of time?
Yousaf’s play it safe campaign, in which he identified with the success of the Salmond/ Sturgeon era and cleaved to the SNP’s so-so record in government, now seems shortsighted and ill-judged. He was pursuing an electorate that exists only in sufficient numbers to eke him over the winning line. Job done. But what of the opportunity to reach out and offer novelty?
Yousaf exuded overwhelm and relief when he was declared the new SNP leader rather than projecting confidence and inspiration.
Every so often a so-called change election comes along. There’s a growing consensus that the 2024 poll will be such a vote. Should the Scottish electorate give Labour a chance there, and feel rewarded for it – and Yousaf’s nod to John Smith early in his acceptance speech was a clear indication of how much he fears that occurring – they may be inclined to do the same come the next Holyrood election.
Humza Yousaf could be the continuity candidate in a time of change elections.
It’s very early days but he already wears the whiff of a man out of time.
James Millar is a political commentator, author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post