LAST weekend, according to The Herald On Sunday, the SNP declared war on cybernats. That came as a surprise to some in the party.

The National understands that declaring war had NOT been on Nicola Sturgeon’s itinerary for the bank holiday weekend.

The article and headline in question – “SNP declares war on Cybernats” – was based on comments from former Westminster leader Angus Robertson, MEP Alyn Smith and MP Stewart McDonald.

READ MORE: Angus Robertson: Why a positive campaign will be key to winning independence

All three have since distanced themselves from The Herald On Sunday’s framing of their remarks, although all have stood by what they told the paper’s reporter.

McDonald had said that aggressive online Yes supporters needed to “just f***ing chill out a bit ... some of the anger is over the most absurd things”.

Smith said abusive Yes supporters were “failing to attract and rendering us unattractive”.

The National: SNP MEP Alyn Smith was one of those quoted in the 'War on Cybernats' articleSNP MEP Alyn Smith was one of those quoted in the 'War on Cybernats' article

Robertson said there had been a “reticence by senior Yes supporters to call out abuse for fear of undermining the more general debate”.

“You wouldn’t do it in public, you’d be thrown out of a pub for doing it, why on Earth would you do it online?” he said.

Nobody actually mentioned the word cybernat, but the article, appearing on the front page of the newspaper the day after thousands marched through Glasgow in support of independence, infuriated a number of Yes supporters who took to social media – and to the letters page of The National – to vent their anger.

READ MORE: James Dornan: Forget 'War on Cybernats' and focus on our grassroots

One reader told us she felt on top on the world on Saturday night – and ready to knock on doors for the SNP’s EU election candidates. But on Sunday when she saw the headline she felt deflated.

Another prominent independence supporter, Melissa Iacone, told her 9000 Twitter followers that the row had led to her quitting the party.

“Cancelled my SNP membership. It’s on principle because I no longer feel I agree with much of the ethos of the Party leadership,” she tweeted.

“I still STRONGLY support Scottish independence and will continue to fight very hard for it. But now I am free to vote for other candidates on May 23.”

For Iacone, the declaration of war stirred up bad memories. In January 2014 she was “unmasked” as a “cybernat” by the Daily Mail.

She told The National: “I know many people like to ‘own’ the cybernat label and I see nothing wrong with that. But in 2014 it was used to label us as deviant and people to be avoided – I guess to scare average voters off from wanting to associate with the ‘weirdos’ who support indy.

“I look at certain figures in the SNP using that language as capitulating to the Unionist media once again trying to label a certain segment of the indy support in a negative manner. I quit the party not just because of that scenario but also due to many areas where I see them increasingly going against much of what I value – the currency issue, giving only lip service to indy, but still trying to placate Westminster, the self-ID issue.”

Others said they, too, were tearing up their membership cards.

But SNP HQ told us yesterday that while they have had some cancellations since Sunday, three times as many new members have joined. Views among the party’s parliamentarians on the so-called “war” and the article which prompted it were mixed.

One senior MP was not happy. “They could have done with a bit more nuance and made it clear who they were attacking, but instead they go for a scatter-gun approach and end up making it about every independence supporter with a Twitter account,” they told us.

“In one fell swoop, in a week when one of our MPs received a death threat, they gave the Tories and Labour the moral high ground and slagged off our activists. No, it wasn’t a very helpful intervention.”

One long-time senior activist and staffer agreed that the timing of the article, the day after a massive indy march which passed by without any trouble, was a huge mistake. “There are people who are abusive and it’s got to stop,” they said. “Having said that, the timing of the elected representatives’ remarks was stupid.”

Another MP pointed out that the vast majority of social media abuse comes from Unionists – but did say the whole thing had been overplayed.

“There was a huge need to underline that people who engage in public debate should do so with respect for other points of view,” they told The National.

“But I have to say the vast majority of this abuse comes from the other side. The Yes movement and the SNP need to make sure they have their house in order but the problems we have are pretty small compared to the scale of the abuse from the other side.”

One MSP pointed to the increasingly heated debate over the reform of gender laws – saying that the three SNP figures hadn’t got involved in that debate when colleagues were receiving flak.

They said: “[The article] was surprising, especially given the abuse three of my colleagues had for speaking up about self-ID the other week. There wasn’t a peep from any of these men then.”

OTHER parliamentarians were more supportive. One MP said: “Abuse must be called out. If the SNP want to build a better Scotland then we must behave responsibly, with dignity and without shouting down our opponents. We cannot allow the pursuit of independence to be damaged by unacceptable behaviour from those online”

And another agreed: “I do think Angus, Alyn and Stewart were right to speak out, show that leadership.

“I think the headline and the way the story was packaged up was unfortunate and didn’t convey what the politicians were saying. However, I think we all have an obligation to speak out when we see abuse.”

Other MPs were more public in their disagreement with the men.

In a tweet, shared by Joanna Cherry, the journalist Ruth Wishart wrote: “Agree absolutely about calling out abuse and abusers.

“But perhaps not a co-ordinated attack on indy supporting tweeters the day after a massive pro-indy march. As with most things in life, timing is everything.”

The National: Ruth Wishart hit out at the timing of the reportRuth Wishart hit out at the timing of the report

On the day the paper printed the story, Cherry, who received death threats following a confrontation with Twitter over their treatment of women, tweeted: “I look forward to my male colleagues quoted in this article being equally condemnatory of the vile misogyny on @twitter which has so escalated that I had to have a police escort at my constituency surgery after I called it out.”

Smith told The National he stood by his comments, but also criticised the paper’s framing of the story. “The Herald On Sunday needs to ca’ canny on making the news,” he said. “But I don’t want to see the cause I’ve devoted more than 20 years to or the movement I love misrepresented by the actions of a vanishingly small number of folk.”

He added: “There are those who would say this is a Unionist myth, that we should refuse to admit there is a problem. Piffle. No amount of blustery whataboutery can alter the fact that there are some who claim to support independence but who actually want to undermine it as well as some who genuinely do support independence but who by their actions are unhelpful.

“The rest of us need to resist the former and better inform the latter.”

Writing in today’s National, Robertson said it was wrong to suggest he was attacking “independence marchers, impugning hard-working decent volunteers and co-operating with a series of real and imagined enemies.”

He said he felt he had not “declared war” on anybody.

On Wednesday, after hours of fury from supporters and activists, McDonald took to Twitter to give context to his remarks in the paper. He said the headline was “awful”.

“Many have taken this as me criticising all activists or Saturday’s extraordinary march. It was neither,” he said. “If, like every party member and activist I know, you don’t abuse and harass people then this is not aimed at you. Nor is it aimed at those who marched.

“I accept fully that the headline was awful. It pissed me off as I never once used the term cybernat.”

Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, issued a call for calm – reassuring Yes campaigners that the party did not take the movement for granted.

“Supporters of independence have every right to express their feelings peacefully and colourfully, just as they did so proudly in Glasgow last weekend,” he said.

“The SNP’s success is powered by our mass membership and our resources have allowed us to provide tools for the wider independence movement. This ongoing work by our highly engaged membership is helping to win hearts and minds.

“We take no supporters or voters for granted and we will be working hard to ensure as many people as possible vote SNP in the European elections on May 23.”

It looks like the SNP’s so-called “War on Cybernats” is over before it even really started ...