ANY young person considering a career in politics should book ahead to secure ringside seats when Joanna Cherry takes on Angus Robertson for the right to represent Edinburgh Central at next year’s Holyrood election.

This will be a rare opportunity to observe two masters of their trade outlining their visions for Scotland’s future. It should not be missed.

The contest also presents something of a dilemma for me as I’ve come to admire both of these politicians. Together they represent a depth in the SNP’s talent pool of which all the other Scottish parties can only dream.

Admittedly, this risks damning with faint praise. In the Labour Party in Scotland these days the ability to walk and talk at the same time gets you a place at their top table.

I still remember being electrified by a speech Angus Robertson gave to a fringe event in the bland function suite of an Inverness Hotel in 2011 during conference season. Robertson’s mellifluous eloquence painted a reasonable picture of a self-governing Scotland without making any rose-tinted claims about our future. I can trace the beginning of my own journey to Yes from that morning and Robertson’s studied optimism. His departure from Westminster after losing his seat at the 2017 UK election was lamented by politicians beyond the SNP benches.

Ironically, Joanna Cherry’s elegant performances at Westminster have filled what could have been a deep void with Robertson’s leaving. She is now considered to be in the top drawer of UK parliamentarians and a formidable political fighter.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry to challenge Angus Robertson for SNP Holyrood nomination

Her part in defeating Boris Johnson’s attempt to sabotage the House of Commons earned her and the SNP a host of new admirers across Europe and the UK. After Nicola Sturgeon she is arguably the party’s biggest asset.

Those who would accuse her of forsaking a UK Parliament rendered impotent by Dominic Cummings’s automatons and trying to hijack a safe seat at Holyrood should behave themselves. It reflects well on Holyrood that Westminster’s top performer wants to bring her political skills to the Scottish chamber. And besides, it wasn’t so long ago that Labour in Scotland was rendered virtually impotent by the decision of many of its serious players to favour Westminster over Holyrood at a time when the party needed them to be here.

And yet, while the rest of us salivate at the prospect of watching this pair go head to head in a political scrap, it risks doing grievous damage to the SNP itself. This will not be a clean fight. Already, Robertson has been unable to resist a swipe at his forthcoming opponent by questioning her motives. He was unwise to do so. Those of their elected colleagues who went against party rules by rushing to endorse his candidacy should also be warned as to their conduct during the hustings.

If this contest really must take place it should be better than this. The SNP likes to portray itself as a party that seeks to conduct its affairs in a far more grown-up manner than the Tories and Labour Party where knifings and blood-letting are routine. Cherry has become a hate-figure for an increasingly out-of-control faction in the party who revile her for seeking to defend women’s safe spaces in the trans rights debate. This self-indulgent, scarecrow wing is somehow given licence by the party to vilify and intimidate SNP women in a Twitter campaign that ought to be attracting the attention of Police Scotland (and perhaps soon will).

The National:

READ MORE: Angus Robertson questions Joanna Cherry's 'full-time' credentials

Robertson would be well-advised to distance himself from this wrecking crew of juvenile delinquents and instead concentrate fully on making the contest a battle of ideas and future strategies.

It doesn’t help, though, when Murray Foote, the party’s new media boss, bizarrely attempts to defend an invitation for a drag artist with a sexually explicit online profile to talk to children at a Paisley primary school.

Foote could become an adroit appointment for the party but he too should avoid being hoodwinked by those who care more about advancing a narrow agenda than bringing about an independent Scotland. He needs to keep his big Dundee coupon out of the Edinburgh Central contest.

In the weeks immediately following the Alex Salmond trial there will be a need for peace and reconciliation in the SNP. The massed ranks of the Unionist press are already gleeful about what it might portend for the party and for the independence struggle.

They will seek to squeeze every ounce from this trial and use it to attack the SNP with not a care about the issues at the heart of it. Instead of an opportunity to heal post-trial divisions, members are now being asked to take sides in a contest already turning nasty.

That two of the party’s most gifted operators, each a potential future leader, are being permitted to knock the bejesus out of each other in this contest defies logic. The party managers saw this coming from a long way off.

I simply don’t understand why they couldn’t have ensured that both of these politicians secured a safe seat in the run-up to the Holyrood election. There was ample opportunity to do so and there may still be time to avoid what could be a prolonged and damaging confrontation. It points to a dysfunctional SNP high command. Instead of accommodating two of their brightest talents, they will permit one to be knocked out and the other to emerge bruised and sullen from the battle.

A smart strategy would have been to encourage Cherry to go for Edinburgh Central unchallenged. She is a native and long-time resident who is well-liked in the city and her Westminster seat contains large parts of Edinburgh Central. Robertson should have been urged to stand in another seat with the promise of a big cabinet post thereafter.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Cherry and Sturgeon can barely stand to be in the same room as each other. I sense that on occasions in the past, each has felt hurt by the other and this has been manipulated by some in the party to expand their own spheres of influence.

In the bigger picture the independence movement needs both of these gifted and formidable women to be fighting together to deliver an independent Scotland and thence to secure a future within the EU. It also needs a massive character like Robertson to be at Holyrood lending his skills in the theatre where Scotland’s future after 2021 will be decided.

The forthcoming contest in Edinburgh Central will be great fun for those of us who exist inside the political bubble. But it risks damaging all of these three excellent politicians and, above all, the wider Yes movement.