The SNP first had an MP elected on 12 April 1945 during the closing months of World War Two. A wartime truce applied between the main political parties. By elections would only be fought by the party that previously held it. However the SNP was not a signatory to the agreement and Dr Robert McIntyre was able to win in Motherwell. Alas, he duly lost it again in the General Election that followed several weeks later.
Then the SNP limbered on. It had been formed in 1934 following an amalgamation of the left leaning National Party of Scotland and the right of centre Scottish Party. For a number of years it had members who also belonged to other parties. Only in 1943 did the SNP end dual membership for office bearers. And in 1948 the annual conference extended the prohibition to the whole party.
There were little sings of momentum however. The Glasgow Herald in fact carried an obituary for Scottish nationalism on 8th and 9th July 1959. The SNP was said to have no more than 200 members whilst Hanham (1969) commented that the greatest achievement of the SNP between 1942 and 1964 was "simply to have survived." To many it was simply a ghetto, Mitchell (2012) adds, for "students, poets and bohemians."
However the SNP began to do better in local elections and by-elections in the early 1960s William Wolfe, one of the new emerging generation of leaders, came second in West Lothian for instance.
Success was explained in party by growing alienation from Westminster. But it was due also to the SNP having a more professional approach. Gordon Wilson, another of the new generation, claimed an "absence of direction" had plagued the SNP in the post war period. An inquiry was set up in 1963 under his auspices to look at the party's organisation and structure.
The improvement in fortunes culminated in Winnie Ewing's dramatic by-election victory in Hamilton, a Labour stronghold, on 2 November 1967. The SNP had hitherto measured its success in terms of the number of candidates it was able to field and the proportion of deposits saved. Now however it was a serious player on the political scene and the establishment was mortified.
Harold Wilson responded by setting up a Royal Commission on the Constitution which would look at devolution for both Scotland and Wales. Edward Heath meanwhile stunned the Tories with his "Declaration of Perth." The Conservatives were now in favour of a single chamber Scottish Assembly.
The SNP put up a record 65 candidates in the 1970 General Election. It lost Hamilton but took the Western Isles. What really changed things however was North Sea oil.
By November 1969 there were 32 wells being drilled in the continental shelf. None had yet yielded reserves in commercially viable quantities. But then Ocean Viking made a stunning find in the Ekofisk field.
Mitchell (2012) says oil would "transform Scotland's political culture." The economic arguments against independence would be knocked for six.
Indeed a Whitehall mandarin Sir Kenneth Berill said in 1975 that if anything the SNP had been understating its case. "Scotland could go it alone quite comfortably."
Gavin McCrone, a government economist, said that an independent Scotland would "be in chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree." It's currency would be incredibly strong. His report -not surprisingly- was kept under wraps.
It was in the wake of all this, on 8 November 1973, that Margo MacDonald won another by-election for the SNP. This time it was in Govan which had been Labour since World War One. The Herald said it showed that "no Labour seat is safe from Nationalist assault." The SNP as a fighting force was clearly here to stay!