ON Monday, with the double whammy of a malicious leak by a member of the SNP’s  National Executive and the news of a controversial Westminster front bench reshuffle causing worry and upset to SNP members and making their social media fizz with fury, I decided to withdraw from that fray with the words “why don’t we all pause for a moment?”.

Some people agreed and some didn’t. A few screeched in rage at my temerity and one went even further claiming that what I had posted was the same as Trump’s infamous “fine people” remark.

On any day, but on a horrible one most of all, there are times to speak and times to be silent. Even the best intentions can make a bad situation worse. Classic political theory in such cases says don’t prolong the agony.

But it would, in my view, be impossible for me as a columnist for this paper, let alone as president of a party in which I have been a member for 47 years, to hide – today or any day – from reality.

And indeed the more I have thought about it the more I have concluded that if we can understand how we got to Monday’s low point then maybe we can avoid visiting it again.

READ MORE: Joanna Cherry: Attempts to smear or intimidate won’t make SNP any stronger

It is first of all wise to remember that these are not normal times. Almost a year of restriction and social isolation has affected us all. Across society tempers are frayed, patience is thin and some people, through no fault of their own and often very much out of character, cannot stop themselves from lashing out.

A constituency MSP should understand that, because we are often the butt of undeserved anger. We know that it is not personal and that people sometimes come across as far more hostile than they intend. A soft word does, in these circumstances, turn away wrath as the book of Proverbs says.

There are special considerations too in our national movement. The arrogant intransigence of Westminster and the damage being done to Scotland by a Brexit we did not vote for by a Goverment we never elected is deeply frustrating. The difficulty of dealing with that quickly make us all angry and sometimes it shows. Indeed it would require the patience of a saint for it not to do so.

And within the party which has grown exponentially in a short period of time, without (because of the sheer pressure of the electoral timetable) being fully able to develop a new organisational culture to match the new challenges, there are some difficult issues that need resolved.

Challenges which are being exacerbated by the times, the politics and – it must be said – the amplification of division that social media (and particularly Twitter) can engender.

But that is context – what about detail?

On one of those dividing issues I cannot and will not express a view. I am a serving member of the Government, bound together by collective responsibility and in the midst of a Parliamentary inquiry about some of its actions. Moreover the two principal figures in it have been friends of mine, as well as colleagues, for 30 years or more.

But I would observe – as a poll just this week confirmed – that our current First Minister is not only the most admired political figure in Scotland, but also in the whole UK. She is the most important asset in the task of coping with and moving through and beyond the pandemic crisis as well for our national journey to independence and we should not forget or devalue that fact.

On another key issue, as a 60-something white male I have been nervous about intruding into the debate about transphobia, misogyny, discrimination and prejudice. But I am in no doubt that any form of prejudice or phobia is wrong.

That is what last weekend’s NEC actually said in a mature and reasoned debate. I was there and I know that to be true. Consequently no member of it should be attacked, still less have their character assassinated, by underhand leaks and smears.

Those are also wrong from whoever they come and to whoever they are directed.

No one gains if someone loses and in particular there is no plan or action underway, or anticipated, that seeks to remove the progress in rights and respect that so many determined women have fought so hard and long to achieve.

That is certain because to do so would not only fail, but would be utterly wrong and utterly foolish.

Of course these issues are not just about fears, but also about manner and tone.

In every part of what we do, if we are to persuade others and change behaviour, we must do so as constructively as possible.

So in this, as in all our tasks, we need to take a leaf out of very difficult debates elsewhere, such as the one in Ireland three years ago about abortion. Some people will never alter their position but many can be drawn into a process of respectful dialogue if we approach it with honesty and a willingness to see the individual, not the ideology, and the person, not the problem.

Let me be even more specific.

I have no hesitation in saying that threats to Joanna Cherry (and others) are utterly appalling and I say that not only because I regard her as a friend. I have campaigned with her and for her re-election. I have tried to keep that relationship positive even when we have differed on issues. As recently as the day before National Assembly I was in touch with her to update her on what I was trying to do.

No one has the right to insult or abuse another whatever the debate, and in the SNP everyone needs to be treated as equal. There can be no rules for one that do not apply to all.

But I say that whilst also recognising that the decision about who is and isn’t on the Westminster front bench is entirely one for the Westminster Group and their elected leader. They are all working exceptionally hard to hold the UK Government to account and they are best placed to judge how individuals are asked to serve to further that task. And to organise the way they work together.

I KNOW how hard it is to lose a job that one enjoys and has been doing with enthusiasm and commitment. It is unpleasant and tough to swallow. Yet politics is, as Margaret Thatcher ruefully observed when leaving Downing Street for the last time, a tough old game. How you react is important not just for the moment but for the future, particularly as such events don’t have to spell political oblivion as my own political history shows.

There are second and third acts in politics because persistence and constant learning in the key to what is really important – ensuring the team wins.

What we should never be divided on is the importance of that team effort in the hard task of winning independence.

The process of extracting a modern mature democratic and peaceful country from a 300 year old union in a constitutional way was never going to be easy unless you are determined to implement UDI – which no one should even flirt with.

That is why I often go to bed wrestling with that problem and wake up in the early hours thinking about it . It is why we have worked long and hard on a carefully considered route which, though inevitably delayed by the pandemic, aims to place us on the front foot. And it is why I was pleased that there seemed to be wide ranging support for that approach at National Assembly.

I firmly believe that given that plan, what unites is greater than what divides us. Moreover I know that if we do not elect an SNP government in just over 12 weeks time then we can make no progress at all. Only an SNP election victory will deliver a referendum, a campaign for independence and its endorsement by the Scottish people. We must then have the unity and determination, persistence and thoughtfulness to negotiate our way out of the UK and into an equal partnership of nations in Europe.

That objective has more support in our country than at any time in any of our lives. Getting there is essential for we cannot have prosperity and justice for our fellow citizens and ourselves without it.

In fact we all know that. There are a few bad actors but not many. The vast majority of party members and independence supporters, even if they are incensed by what they think is happening, are in no doubt about it.

Of course if there are issues in the internal culture of the party that need addressed – and I am indebted to my old friend Roger Mullin for reminding me this week of that very wise remark from management guru Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” – then we should do so. We should never be frightened of self examination, just as long as we never cease to prioritise our outward-facing work.

I know that some will turn away from these thoughts and, spitting the word out, will accuse me of arrogantly saying “wheest” in order to suppress dissent. Others will assert that I have either never wanted independence or am too comfortable now to seek it . Perhaps I will also be dismissed as “woke”, though that is only a term of abuse for those who do not believe in equality and justice for all.

I would be sorry about that but I accepted the honorary post of SNP President last November knowing that I owed a duty to the party to do the best I can for it and all its members, and that is what I am trying to do today.

In 2011 the SNP won a landslide by putting in front of the people of Scotland its record in government over the preceding four years, the team it was proposing to build on that success and the vision it had of a better, more prosperous, more sustainable and more equitable independent nation.

We need to do that again.

READ MORE: Why is the SNP infighting now with independence in our grasp?

Our record is good and that is why we are constantly attacked for it. We need to trumpet it from the rooftops, accepting what we haven’t yet done as a challenge, not a failure.

We have a team of unrivalled quality in the Government, the Parliaments and the Councils across the country and much exceptional talent ready to join it, from Jim Fairlie in Perth, to Jenni Minto in Argyll and Bute to take just two examples.

We are also closer than ever to making our vision real. There have never been more people who support independence, although there are still not enough. The next Parliament is the one that can make independence happen, but only if for every one of the next 88 days we work together to achieve the majority we must have.

I remember during the infamous Tayside Cleaners incident during the 1989 Glasgow Central by-election Jim Sillars observing that what was really damaged from such internal spats was not the reputation of the party, but the motivation and commitment of its activists.

That motivation and commitment is the core strength of our movement and we need it today like never before.

So we need to lift ourselves up and make the world see us at our outgoing, positive, campaigning and united best.

We owe that to our fellow nationalists and to all those who have fought this fight before us.

But most of all we owe to the country we exist to serve.