NOT even the most passionate and committed of independence supporters can deny that the start of 2019 has been a turbulent one for the wider campaign. The seriousness of the charges being faced by Alex Salmond and the sadly predictable smirks and winks that characterised much of their ensuing coverage had the potential to knock the stuffing out of some supporters. There is no shame in admitting this for it is part of what makes us human. Nor does such a reaction among those who have known and admired the former leader of the SNP for decades imply an absence of empathy for individuals who claim to have been victims of criminal behaviour in cases such as this.

Much of what passed for lucid commentary and clear-headed analysis of the how the SNP might be affected by the fate of Salmond was rarely anything of the sort and, at times, came dangerously close to being held in contempt.

Thus we have been told that the SNP are now hopelessly divided between supporters of Salmond and supporters of his successor Nicola Sturgeon. This is wishful thinking on the part of many of those who insist on drawing such conclusions. For the past 50 years or so the UK’s two main political parties have been in an almost constant state of civil strife peppered with a few short-lived outbreaks of tranquillity. For as long as I’ve been alive the European question has bubbled and churned below the surface of the Conservative party. And now that it has finally erupted it seems set to consume the UK with it. Labour is also on the verge of imploding over Jeremy Corbyn’s abject failure of leadership in a period when it’s been needed most.

The SNP has always maintained a unity within its ranks that’s been the envy of its political opponents and the Alex Salmond case has presented some of them with an opportunity to make hay. Thus far, I’ve yet to see any signs of serious division in the ordinary membership in the party and of the wider Yes movement caused by the Salmond case. Certainly, there has been some injudicious spinning among assorted advisers connected with the former SNP leader and his successor.

This, though, should not blind SNP strategists and Yes activists to grumbling about the date of a second independence referendum and how this should have been framed within the Brexit debate. In particular there has been a sense amongst some SNP figures at Westminster that their voices have not been sufficiently heard by the party leadership in Scotland.

As such, the launch of Angus Robertson’s new polling initiative could not have occurred at a more opportune time for the SNP and the wider Yes movement. Among some who remain to be persuaded there is an increase in emotional sympathy for independence arising from the chaos of Brexit, but they harbour lingering doubts about the potential economic consequences of independence. This is hardly surprising. It would be naive to think people who have expressed concern about the economic impact of Brexit over the past two years will not similarly be scrutinising any future Yes offering.

What Robertson brings with Progress Scotland is some clear-headed and objective analysis of future economic numbers as well as the potential to measure the main concerns of winnable votes. It is exactly what the Yes movement has been waiting for and could supply the missing X factor.

Robertson is esteemed by political friend and foe alike and during his tenure as leader of the SNP group at Westminster he was regarded across the House as the best debater and overall performer in the chamber as well as the de facto leader of the Opposition. Robertson’s choice of Mark Diffley as his research and polling adviser in this enterprise is a hugely important one. Diffley is one of the most respected analysts in the UK and is well liked in media and political circles alike for his engaging and undemonstrative manner. This is a potential gamechanger and the Unionists know this too.

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Did God vote No?

WHEN I encountered my conversion on the road to independence in 2013 I endured some adverse reactions of my own. These, I should point out, came from both sides and were largely good-natured and witty. I couldn’t really complain. I’m paid reasonably well for expressing some trenchant opinions and thus can hardly take exception when I get criticised for them. It’s all a valid part of what we choose to do.

One persistent critic of mine on the Unionist side is an elderly and slightly eccentric academic who seems to have taken it personally that Catholics in Scotland were the biggest supporters of independence among faith groups. He blames me and a couple of other Catholics for this regrettable state of affairs, thus according me a status I simply do not have.

On one occasion when I was giving a talk about the media and independence at a Catholic debating group I was surprised to see my irascible, but entirely benign, nemesis in the audience. I was even more surprised when he rose to his feet and excoriated me, not for my scrofulous political views, but for the state of my immortal soul. He basically told the assembled gathering that I was going to hell in a hand-cart.

I thought that being flung into the outer darkness where there is eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth was a bit disproportionate even if it did turn out that The Almighty was a Unionist. I needn’t have worried, though. The good doctor was merely expressing his dismay as a fellow Catholic that I had once confessed in a newspaper column that I didn’t attend Mass as often as I should and was thus in a state of mortal sin.

For those uninitiated in the mysteries of Catholic theology, and not to put too fine a point on it: if, as a Catholic, you wake up dead one morning in a state of mortal sin you’ll soon be having your collar felt by the Prince of Darkness himself. Sadly I had to mumble an unconvincing mea culpa and ask for several other offences to be taken into consideration.

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The National:

Scarecrow Unionists need to take a look at themselves

THE intimidation of young Erin Mwembo by Unionist trolls this week is sadly characteristic of a wretched faction of their cause. The 17-year-old featured in the website of Progress Scotland in a section called “Changing Minds”. Erin eloquently expressed the views of several of her generation when she said that though she was too young to vote in 2014 she would probably have voted No. “Since then, however, my views have changed, and like most young people in Scotland I now support independence.”

This was too much for an assortment of Unionist Visigoths, some of them wearily familiar. Among them was an academic who has become the standard-bearer for the scarecrow faction of Scottish Unionists. My message to Erin is that if she is upsetting people like these, who seem to take leave of their senses when discussing independence, then she is on the side of the angels.

For too long young women felt excluded from the male-dominated world of politics and its muscular and pig-headed ways. One of the reasons why the UK Electoral Commission hailed the referendum campaign as delivering a Gold Standard in political engagement was because young women like Erin felt moved enough to become involved.

Some of the adults shouting childish nonsense at her ought perhaps to be taking stock of where they have arrived at in their lives.