ANOTHER week, another sitting SNP MP announces they will be standing down from Westminster at the 2024 General Election. Bringing the total so far to six, it’s a substantial exodus – and it’s a fair bet that we can expect more names to be added to the list before 2023 is out.

Mhairi Black was pretty clear about why she has decided not to seek re-election when she announced her decision earlier this week. Yet despite her unequivocal criticism of what she described as a “toxic work culture” at the UK Parliament – and that it has had a profound on her health – mainstream media commentators have been reluctant to accept this explanation.

Black’s intended departure has instead been interpreted as an indication that the SNP expect to lose a substantial number of seats at the next General Election and yet another sign that the cause of independence has stalled for the foreseeable future. Neither suggestion bears scrutiny.

READ MORE: IN FULL: Mhairi Black lays into 'sexist' Westminster in resignation statement

Of course, it’s not exactly a surprise that most of the Scottish media is desperate to use anything as evidence that the independence campaign has run out of steam and that the SNP’s almost unprecedented run of electoral successes has come to an end. They would be only too happy with both outcomes.

It’s probably a sign of the stagnation of the Scottish commentariat that so many of them were around before the SNP’s rise to political prominence and very obviously dream of a time that Labour will regain the dominance they believe is the party’s right north of the Border.

I’ve lost count of the times that the slightest increase in the party’s poll ratings has been seized upon as a sign of a reversal of its dismal fortunes and the hapless combination of Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer as Scottish and UK Labour leaders respectively will be no different.

The National: Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during the launch of the Labour party's mission on cheaper green power, setting out policies on clean energy, at Nova Innovation, Edinburgh. Picture date: Monday June 19, 2023. PA

Scotland’s political analysts can barely contain their excitement that the ridiculously overhyped police inquiry into SNP finances refuses to encourage them by assigning it the status of a scandal until such time as any actual evidence has been presented. I know it sounds hideously old-fashioned but let’s stick to the principle of innocent until proven guilty while not a single soul has been charged far less prosecuted for any alleged crime here.

The way the inquiry has been carried out — uniformed officers swarming over property where “murder case tents” have been erected — could hardly fail to undermine confidence in the party of government. But as time goes by with no real significant developments, I predict public support for the party will recover before the next General Election.

Most predictions of the SNP vote in 2024 are hardly dire enough to account for this number of sitting MPs leaving the playing field. Even this week’s poll suggesting support for the SNP has fallen to its lowest level in three years predicts only two of the six departing MPs would lose their seats in 2024.

READ MORE: Scottish independence support strong as SNP down in new poll

Nor is the scale of support for independence slipping to a level indicating the game is up. In fact, the vote for independence has proven more resilient than that for the SNP and recent moves to reinvigorate the Yes campaign certainly have the potential to push that vote significantly over the 48-52 level at which it is currently stuck.

But if so much of the media analysis of the SNP MPs’ departures is wrong, what are the real reasons?

Unbelievable as it sounds, I suspect that the politicians themselves are telling the truth and that Westminster is simply an unbearably horrible place to work. The hours are long, unpredictable and anti-social. Working there requires many MPs – and ALL Scottish MPs – to be away from home for most of the week. The effect on family life can only be disastrous, not helped by prehistoric rules rejecting the use of modern technology to allow flexibility in attendance.

Then there is the drinking culture encouraged by the existence of so many bars within Westminster itself, which adds to the feelings of isolation from the wider world and of pressure and exhaustion. Life can lose its joy when you are separated from friends and family.

The National: Mhairi Black has announced she will quit Westminster at the next election (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

Black herself is proof of the damage such a working environment can inflict. Many of her major speeches have been highly praised. She has been an outspoken critic of the sexism so rife in the House of Commons. The regard in which she is held has been obvious in the tributes which were published after her announcement this week.

If someone who has risen to such prominence at such a young age feels Westminster is so toxic that she has to leave, how bad must it be?

Kelly Given paid eloquent tribute in these pages yesterday to the impact Black has had and her achievements as a spokesperson for LGBTQ rights – but the problem is so much wider than the effect of Westminster’s culture on one person. It has a particularly difficult effect on members of the SNP.

For many politicians from other parties Westminster represents the pinnacle of success. This is not the case for those from the SNP, whose ambition is not to be there at all. Every year they spend there is another year during which they have not achieved their ultimate ambition of independence for Scotland.

The party may be dominant in Scottish politics but at Westminster it is routinely treated with disrespect, virtually ignored and even mocked by representatives of the UK Government. All this cannot be anything other than dispiriting after a certain length of time.

Scotland, of course, has its own parliament at Holyrood which is increasingly the main focus for our national political debate.

Nevertheless, it remains imperative that we are properly represented at Westminster, which – unfortunately – continues to wield power over so many areas of our lives.

Indeed the SNP benches have been stuffed with talent since the 2015 General Election, including the legal expertise of Joanna Cherry, the in-depth health knowledge of Philippa Whitford, and the sharp minds of the likes of Tommy Sheppard and Hannah Bardell.

Indeed, under the leadership of Ian Blackford – and more recently Stephen Flynn – such heavy hitters have perhaps been given more room to make an impact than their more tightly controlled colleagues at Holyrood.

And, of course, for Scotland to effectively resist Westminster’s increasingly dangerous attempts to grab Holyrood powers for itself and override democratic decisions properly made at the Scottish Parliament, it is essential we have a strong and unwavering voice at the UK Parliament.

That is particularly true as we argue that democracy demands the power to hold an independence referendum lies with Holyrood.

If it’s vital we retain our MPs at Westminster until we achieve our independence, it’s vital that we should argue for a better, wider, more modern, less toxic and far less personally damaging system of governing. Of course, we have been here before. When Scotland won back its parliament in 1999, we were promised much along these lines but it hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. At least four female MSPs have cited family-unfriendly working conditions as the reason for not seeking re-election.

The National: Gail Ross has urged the MoD to reconsider the decision which will see vessels banned from an area ten times the size of the city of London

The SNP’s Gail Ross (above) said in 2021 that she had to adopt a “Gail the politician” persona to balance the demands of her job. And the former Tory Party leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson described her overwhelming feelings of guilt: “Guilt that I’m not spending enough time with my child, guilt that I’m not spending enough time with my job.”

The former communities secretary Aileen Campbell said the demands of being a minister “does mean you can’t do everything you might want to do in your children’s life”. And Labour’s Jenny Marra said that to work towards putting her party in government in Scotland required someone able to give 150% commitment “and at the moment that’s not me. It needs someone that can run at it, whose family’s in a different position”.

Being an MP or MSP will always be a demanding job but there are steps that can be taken to make it less brutal on private lives. A system that drives politicians of the stature of Black out of Parliament is clearly in need of urgent reform.

As Nicola Sturgeon tweeted this week, we need more Mhairi Blacks in Parliament rather than fewer. An independent Scotland could and should place such reform at the heart of a truly representative democracy – but the problem is too important to let slide until that day dawns.