ONE of the benefits of publicly announcing that you’re retiring is that it frees you up to a great extent to comment on things you probably would have stayed mute on before. Well I’ve been biting my tongue for some time now while watching people, who in my opinion should know better, talking up “splits in the party”; disillusionment with the most popular leader in the UK – if not in the whole of Europe – Nicola Sturgeon; and pretending that being found not guilty in a court of law is the same as your behaviour being acceptable.

I joined the SNP to gain independence for Scotland, to allow the people of Scotland the right to choose the government that they want and is most in tune with their needs. That has never changed. I would have independence tomorrow and I know all of my Holyrood colleagues feel the same. However, if anyone thinks the public are ready to support a campaign for independence in the midst of the worst crisis this country has faced in my lifetime then I’m afraid they’ve either been talking to their own bubble of like-minded people or are opportunists seeking to gain advantage, not for the cause of independence but for themselves.

During this crisis, we’ve seen our First Minister been rightly lauded for her honesty and commitment in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Every day Monday to Friday she is on that podium giving us the bad news about people dying, the numbers in intensive care, whether the rate is slowing or not, the Government’s plans for dealing with it, and then takes semi-cretinous questions from many members of the press. And yet, from some on our own side we get demands that she prepares for the referendum and speeds up the process, and – from the most outlandish – cries for her to consider standing down.

Let’s just think a minute here, We’re in lockdown, people we know are contracting the virus and in too many cases dying. Do you seriously think we would gain any brownie points from the electorate for expending our energies even on preparation for the referendum, never mind campaigning for one?

The SNP Government has come out of this very well so far, for two reasons. The first is the performances of the First Minister and the Health Secretary Jeane Freeman; the second is that we have been quite clearly refusing to play politics with this pandemic.

The National: Top performer: Health Secretary Jeane FreemanTop performer: Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

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We’ve worked with the other governments when applicable, or possible, and we’ve gone our own way when it’s been the right thing to do for Scotland. Compare that to our opponents. Tory Leader Jackson Carlaw had a good start. He promised not to play politics with this but clearly the pressure from the Big Hoose was too strong for him to resist and he’s back to the old ways.

But the party that has come out of this by far the worse has surely been the Labour Party in Scotland. Despite sweet words at the start, they appear to have been seeking political advantage all the way through, sometimes asking for us to take two diametrically opposite positions, Neil Findlay demanding to know why we didn’t go our own way earlier, while his “boss” Richard Leonard was demanding a four-nation strategy, which I’ve no doubt would be whichever one England decided is best for them.

Now, I’m a pretty tribal political animal but I would not be comfortable at all if our party was trying to put independence at the forefront of our thinking just now. Thankfully, outside of a few loud voices in Westminster and some activists online I think most of the party would agree with me.

Concentrate on seeing our people safely through this virus, get politics back to normal, or as normal as anything is going to be after this pandemic, and I have no doubt we will see the support for independence rise substantially.

But for now health, your own health, the health of your family and loved ones, and the health of your community has to come first.