A FEW weeks ago in this column, I made the case that perhaps the biggest threat to Scotland’s hopes of independence came from within the SNP and wider movement itself.

Internal squabbling and division of the “my nationalism’s better than your nationalism” kind, bordered on the idiotic I argued. In short, it was tantamount to tactical suicide I said.

In making the case over the danger such divisions pose, I based it on a few experiences I’ve had overseas these past 40 years. In that time, working as a reporter rather than a columnist, I’ve often followed the political trials and tribulations of other countries and their citizens as they closed in on their long-sought-after prize of independence.

As I previously pointed out, I’ve so often seen them scupper their chances through factionalism or being politically sucker-punched by forces they hadn’t reckoned with.

In that same vein of issuing early-warning alerts, I thought it worth picking up again on that theme of the existential dangers to Scotland’s independence movement. This also seemed a good week in which to do it, for two reasons.

The first is that the latest polls have brought positive news, showing the pro-indy vote has taken its biggest-ever lead. In other words, things are moving in the right direction.

The second reason is that despite such welcome gains, the goal of independence continues to be pestered and plagued by those seemingly hell-bent on sowing division where there is none.

Such a case in point arose earlier this week when Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s spokesperson for defence at Westminster, indulged in some totally unnecessary and uncalled-for social media bear-baiting of the Scottish think tank and advocacy group Common Weal.

Ostensibly it was over the crisis in Belarus, but whatever the reason, it was ill-judged. Wilfully or innocently it not only helped erode solidarity but potentially handed Unionist opponents a stick with which to beat both the SNP and the wider independence movement.

Surely it must be glaringly obvious that nothing good can come from such an attack on allies? Are there not enough opposition and Unionist targets out there on which to train our political guns without squandering ammunition and effort in this way? Surely McDonald should have more than his work cut out at Westminster serving and protecting Scottish interests, rather than taking a pop at those who stand with us in seeking independence?

Differences of opinion over policy are fine and debate over the way forward is to be encouraged. Petty bear-baiting, however, has no part in this and is as far removed as is imaginable from the kind of political canniness that should be a prerequisite right now.

With the latest poll also showing that 57% of voters in Scotland plan to back the SNP at next year’s election – and who knows how many more thinking of joining them – why on Earth would you jeopardise such hard-won gains?

How can it be that any elected SNP official can talk of winning over every possible Yes voter to the cause while issuing such needlessly needling remarks like those made by McDonald go unchecked?

“Keep the heid,” has become the oft-repeated mantra of late among many within the independence movement. A few days ago, my fellow columnist Carolyn Leckie reminded readers of the need for such self-discipline, especially at precisely the moment opposition pressure builds as the prize of independence becomes tantalisingly close.

I myself have called for “keeping the heid” when writing here in the past. But my problem right now, as exemplified by McDonald’s impolitic remark last week, is that it seems to be some of the SNP’s own elected officials that appear most prone to “losing” the heid right now.

READ MORE: Scottish independence: Why the new YouGov poll is so significant

ON another but related tack, speaking purely as someone who has spent the best part of four decades reporting on, investigating and documenting foreign affairs, defence and security-related issues, I can’t say it fills me with confidence that one of the SNP’s key spokespersons for such

weighty issues can make such a schoolboy error.

This is no Beano-book portfolio to have responsibility for, and God help us if this were the level and calibre of any politician or minister who might carry out such a role in an independent Scotland.

When elected SNP politicians, far from keeping the heid, are prone to losing it, it’s not a good look. Throwaway remarks that damage the cohesion of the independence cause are a luxury neither the SNP nor the wider movement can afford right now. The party, the Scottish Government and every one of us with Scotland’s future at heart need to think twice before condemning or turning in on our own.

“Splitters” cannot be allowed to undermine the cause. Neither, for that matter, should those other entities I’ve seen lurking within political movements across the

world that threaten solidarity. They have always inhabited every great shift in any given political dynamic, and invariably their presence becomes more apparent as the stakes grow higher.

Always there will be the “bottle it” crew and “panic merchants” and the “canny dae it” brigade who, as ever, will claim Scotland is not big enough or its people not able enough.

Then there will be the complacent who, because the polls again show an encouraging rise, think the struggle for independence is all over bar the shouting. And, of course, there will be the mischief-makers and agents provocateurs or just the plain downright tactically stupid who will wilfully or innocently trash the selfless solid campaigning work done by others over many years.

All of these players will increasingly pose a threat to the independence cause as the gloves come off. And all this should be considered before the really big political heavyweights among the Unionists bring their own cannons to bear in response.

Yes, now is certainly the time to keep the heid. But not always at the expense of remaining vigilant and pro-active in politically taking to task those who seek to damage or undermine the campaign so many of us want to see deliver independence.