JAZZ music and the sound of wine glasses clinking marked a relaxed end to the first week back for MSPs after the Christmas recess, as business drew to a close at Holyrood on Thursday.

But as politicians and guests gathered for a reception in the Scottish Parliament’s lobby, the mood among SNP parliamentarians in Edinburgh and in Westminster was tense. “The over-riding feeling, I think, is one of bewilderment,” one senior politician said. “People are saying ‘just how on earth did we get to this point?’.”

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Despite a string of defeats by Theresa May at Westminster over the Conservatives’ Brexit strategy, there was only one story journalists and commentators north of the Border were talking about – Alex Salmond’s successful legal action against the Scottish Government.

But as parliamentarians returned to their constituencies across Scotland, on Thursday and yesterday there was also an air of defiance.

Some were angered by the attacks on Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions by Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw and his Labour counterpart Richard Leonard. “To my mind, Tory and Labour attacks on the First Minister are a smokescreen to cover up their total mess over Brexit and they are desperate for anything that would divert people’s attention from that,” an SNP insider said.

A third senior figure hit out: “What is being completely lost in all of the media coverage has been the two women involved in the inquiry. The media is too caught up in the so-called personality clash between Nicola and Alex.

“I don’t think there’s any love lost between them. But I think the main thing is that the women involved have been completely ignored and it’s awfully funny but it just so happens that most of the journalists writing about this are men and are forgetting about the women involved.”

He added: “The crocodile tears from Richard Leonard the other day were a load of nonsense. I don’t think Labour are interested in those women at all.”

SNP MSPs had sat quietly as Carlaw and Leonard quizzed Sturgeon on the legal dispute brought against the Scottish Government by Alex Salmond.

The former First Minister won the action over a civil service investigation into complaints of sexual misconduct brought by two women against him. He denies the allegations and any criminality.

At the Court of Session on Tuesday, Lord Pentland pointed to evidence that the investigator appointed by Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s most senior civil servant, had prior contact with the complainants and this posed a perception of bias regarding her inquiry into the women’s claims.

A separate police inquiry into the women’s complaints is ongoing.

The First Minister repeatedly told MSPs she did not intervene in the civil service investigation against her predecessor. She was under intense scrutiny after it emerged she had two face-to-face meetings and three phone calls with Salmond after the civil service inquiry had begun.

Some senior SNP politicians and figures have made clear where their sympathies lie. Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and former presiding officer Tricia Marwick - who has not been a SNP member since 2011 - attended the Court of Session with Salmond on Tuesday.

Marwick sat beside Salmond in the front row and MacAskill directly behind. At the press conference afterwards, Marwick stood beside the former First Minister, while two days later MacAskill gave more backing to his friend with an article saying a puritanical clique around Sturgeon was “driving out” people perceived as any kind of threat.

Most current SNP parliamentarians have preferred to kept quiet about where their allegiances might lie.

Social media activity by senior MP Joanna Cherry prompted reports that she was backing Salmond.

Cherry “liked” a tweet from @viking_alba saying: “Personally, I would love to see @AlexSalmond back at the helm of the SNP and finally deliver us our independence #Indy2”. She also liked another story on The Courier website headlined “Alex Salmond tells Nicola Sturgeon to ‘focus on achieving independence’.

Most SNP figures however, even when talking on the condition of anonymity, did not want to say much about the two personalities involved.

For some senior parliamentarians there was a sense of “seeing how events unfold” and what might happen with the police investigation.

“If the police inquiry comes to something, it could see Alex in court. If it doesn’t, he won’t be and that will be an end to this and all the procedural stuff will be incidental,” one said.

Another told us: “I think it all depends on what happens with the police investigation. The problem is that this sort of investigation could hang over someone, sadly, whatever the outcome. The investigation seems to be going on forever and we don’t know how much longer it is going to continue.”

But for a couple of people there was a touch of irritation with the former FM. “Nicola is in charge now and that’s all that matters. She has to work to her own concept of values and all the best to her,” he told us.

One parliamentarian concluded: “I think in the initial stages, when the investigation began, Alex played it very well – in terms of stepping out of the party, trying to ring fence what was happening to him. He is to be commended for that.”

As what it might mean to winning independence, the mood was that it would not make any difference. One insider said: “It is nothing to do with the independence struggle and I believe it won’t in any way affect the SNP’s standing with the voters.

“We have a government that is delivering many things in very difficult circumstances. Most people out there are only vaguely aware of newspapers’ headlines and what’s going on. They are certainly not aware of many of the details nor are they particularly interested.”

Another remarked: “I don’t think it has any effect on winning the arguments for independence. I don’t think it will have any effect on someone who is thinking of voting Yes. And because it involves allegations of a sexual nature, people may regard it as different from constitutional issues.”

He added: “I would hope Alex would have a role in an independence campaign. His experience would be invaluable. It would be a matter of finding a role that would complement ones held by others.”