AS they bask in the glory of their monumental triumph in the Rutherglen & Hamilton West by-election, is it still possible that Labour are overconfident about their general election prospects in Scotland? 

The only way the answer to that question might be "yes" is if the SNP use the shock of their drubbing and turn it into something constructive by making a number of changes that the voters have now demonstrated to be essential. 

Because there is no comfort to be found for the SNP or the wider independence movement in the result itself.

Almost no-one anticipated that the gap between Labour and SNP would be as big as 31 percentage points.  Assuming a uniform swing, that implies a Scotland-wide Labour lead of approximately 15 points, a far worse outcome for the SNP than any opinion poll has thus far suggested. 

The National: Labour celebrate their victory in RutherglenLabour celebrate their victory in Rutherglen (Image: PA)

A rough calculation indicates it would reduce the SNP to just two seats at Westminster, casting them back into the wilderness with their worst result since 1983.  

It's true that Labour's victory in Rutherglen was inflated by the squeeze in the Tory vote, which is unlikely to be replicated at the general election. 

But even if, as a hypothetical exercise, the 11% of voters the Tories lost were to be re-allocated to them from Labour, the remaining swing from SNP to Labour would still point to a national Labour lead of around four points, more than enough to wipe out the SNP's overall majority among Scottish seats at Westminster.

READ MORE: Will a by-election loss serve to refocus SNP on independence?

And there is no alibi for the SNP in the challenging circumstances of this by-election, because the circumstances of the general election campaign will be less favourable still.  Westminster campaigns are "away fixtures" for the SNP, and the problem will be worse than usual in 2024 due to the London media's love affair with Labour's quest to push the Tories out of power. 

There will be little room for the SNP in the media narrative being beamed into Scottish homes, and if the SNP try to piggyback onto the main drama by offering slightly more progressive policies than Labour, or by pledging to keep a Labour government in check, they risk reinforcing their own lack of importance to voters, who will know that Labour can form a government in London and the SNP cannot.

What is the way out of that vicious circle?  A clue may be found in the anecdotal evidence from Rutherglen that lapsed SNP voters were disillusioned due to independence seeming further away than before, which was leading them to the conclusion that they might as well plug themselves back into the UK-wide battle between Labour and Tory. 

In principle, it ought to be possible to put that process into reverse by convincing voters that the SNP see independence as a short-term goal and that voting SNP at the general election is a credible means of achieving it.  That would almost certainly mean reverting to the greater clarity of Nicola Sturgeon's de facto referendum plan. 

The "Yousaf Project" has seemed to be partly about taking the foot off the accelerator as far as independence is concerned, to allow the current generation of SNP politicians more time to flourish as the leading force in devolved politics.  But that ceases to be a luxury open to them if putting independence on the backburner is in itself costing them their hegemony.

And there are plenty of other luxuries a party on course for defeat must dispense with.  Voters have little patience for divided parties, or for parties that do not field their true "A team" for factional reasons. 

The National: Scottish National Party leadership election

A more collective leadership involving Kate Forbes (above) in a senior position would be a more attractive proposition to present to the public.  It would help offset the personal unpopularity of Humza Yousaf, which has been consistently reported by opinion polls, and would be a powerful signal that the SNP are getting serious about winning, and about re-uniting the Yes family.

If these changes are made, Rutherglen could be remembered as a major turning-point, but not in the way Labour imagine.  It might just be the wake-up call that prompts the SNP to rescue themselves in the nick of time.