This time two months ago, Jeff, Malc and I were working ourselves into a lather with prediction-itis.  And getting most of it horribly wrong.  Meanwhile, James was otherwise engaged with proper politicking on the Scottish Greens’ election campaign.  The polls suggested that the Greens would take anything between 5 and 8 per cent of the regional vote:  a big break-through was beckoning, or at least a return to a 2003-sized Holyrood group.

Not that I care to crow – much – but this here burd trumped the Better Nation boys.  Three Green seats I think I said.

As it turned out, the Scottish Greens did well to return with two MSPs intact.  In the face of the SNP juggernaut, it alone managed to hold its vote at regional level and at least stand still in terms of parliamentary arithmetic.  I’m sure it was a huge disappointment to everyone in the Scottish Green Party and to many others but, putting it all in perspective, it wasn’t actually a bad result and it’s hard to see what else the party might have done to turn it into a great one.

But what do they now?  They have reached a fork in the electoral road – which route do they take?

There was much to admire in the Scottish Greens’ election campaign and manifesto, not least their dogged insistence on relatively unfashionable leftist economic policies.  But the outstanding memory I have is how Alex Salmond and the SNP effectively out-greened them.  Sure, on the little stuff – on recycling, on community based issues, the Scottish Greens were solid and worthy.  But on the big stuff – the renewable vision thing, of how it could create a real Scottish economic identity, and jobs – real jobs – in the future, well, the SNP won hands down.

It marked the difference in the level of ambition between the two parties: one aspired to be the next government, the other contented itself with being the home for protest votes.

And the problem with being the erstwhile recipient of the protest vote is that it is fly-by-night.  It cannot be relied upon.  Given its relative youth in party years, this might suffice but it does not provide a solid springboard for increased membership or indeed, representation.

The Scottish Greens have to decide if they wish to become a serious electoral threat.  The right strategy and tactics can pay dividends, as Caroline Lucas and the Brighton Greens can testify.

To replicate their success, the Scottish Greens need to grow and broaden their appeal.  For starters, that means increasing the membership.  The current membership levels are more reminiscent of a club not a fully-fledged political party – with very little effort, the membership could be doubled or even trebled.

Appropriate targeting would encourage members of other parties to switch but also encourage currently non-aligned people to sign up.  And that means getting the demographics right – it’s friends for life the Greens want, not the fairweathered variety.

At the same time, a stronger activist base is required.  The Scottish Greens have a great opportunity to make considerable gains at the local government elections in a year’s time but only if they get candidates in place soon-ish and get out there and work.  In local media, on local issues and on local doorsteps.  There is definitely a gap in the market for a principled and oppositional party to fight hard on local community issues, to offer something different from the mainstream.

Success at this level does not require a national campaign;  instead, the Scottish Greens need to focus relentlessly on winnable wards and concentrate effort in particular councils.  Some high profile gains in certain councils could propel the party into a king-making role (if they want it) and would have much greater impact than a smattering of Green councillors across the board.  To achieve this will involve someone sitting down and reviewing the local scenes, doing the maths and applying the science.  Winning hearts sometimes involves targeting minds.

But before tackling any of this, the Scottish Greens need to think about their party’s personality.  It is currently dominated by their ace in the pack, their co-convenor, Patrick Harvie MSP.  If the SNP can be accused of being a one-man band, what can be said about the Scottish Greens?  Moreover, the party is more of a movement, fluid and free-flowing, yet electoral success requires discipline, structure and format.  Not something that will sit easy with many of its members.

Finally, there is the adherence to principle and refusal to bend to pragmatism.  A lofty, highly laudable position to adapt but realistic?  How attractive is it to the majority of people who try to be Green but do not always succeed? Who aspire to Greendom but know that practicalities often get in the way?  How Green do you have to be to “be a Green”?  At times, it can seem as though rather than engage with the reality of politics, the party is keener on taking an outer stance and sticking to it, no matter what.  At times, it can smack of posture politics.  A refusal to compromise can be seen as dogmatic and downright pig-headed, turning as many voters off as on.

The Scottish Greens can continue on the path they have chosen but that might well mean being resigned to staying as they are:  a small parliamentary presence on the fringes, dependent on a protest vote, that some elections might not swing their way.  But if they wish to move forward, and truly become an electoral force to be reckoned with, they have some thinking to do.  Some shifts, uncomfortable though these might be in the short term, might be required for long term gain.