ALEX Salmond’s appearance before MSPs today will be dramatic and, for SNP and Yes supporters, a difficult moment.

His appearance at the long-running inquiry into how the Government mishandled complaints of alleged harassment against him will be his first public appearance since he spoke outside the High Court after he was acquitted at his trial on all charges of sexual offences last year.

The question and answer session will be beamed onto television screens around the world and hit the headlines in UK and international newspapers.

It comes, of course, just days after he sensationally accused Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell, the Chief Executive of the SNP, Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd and senior party figures of attempting to have him “imprisoned” as part of a conspiracy at the top of the SNP.

The First Minister has denied his claims and will have her say before the committee next week.

MSPs will publish their report in the following weeks - and before the end of this parliamentary session on March 25 - on what went wrong in the investigation and whether the First Minister was at fault in any way.

A second report by James Hamilton QC on whether she broke the Ministerial Code - regarded as a resignation issue – is also to be published.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon steps up attack on Alex Salmond in heated exchange with Ruth Davidson

The Salmond-Sturgeon feud has left a deep sense of nervousness among Yes supporters, particularly as it is culminating weeks before the Holyrood election in May when the SNP are bidding to return to power for a fourth term and win a new mandate to hold a second independence referendum.

So far, it has been regarded by many political observers as a “bubble row” which has not made an impact outside Holyrood with voters more preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on their lives and livelihoods.

However, there are fears Salmond’s evidence to the committee today may change that.

An Ipsos MORI poll published yesterday – but carried out before Salmond’s evidence was published this week and a subsequent row over the redaction of key paragraphs – suggested the saga may already be beginning to diminish the SNP’s standing in the eyes of some of its supporters.

While the SNP is still on course for a majority at the May election with 52% of Scots say they are likely to vote for the party in the constituency vote, and 52% saying they would vote Yes in an independence referendum, there are signs the inquiry is starting to have a negative impact on voters’ perceptions of the SNP.

Among those who voted SNP at the 2019 General Election, one in five say it has made them less favourable towards the SNP, though perhaps not to the extent that they would not vote for the party.

The worry for the SNP must be that this could change.

“There are early signs the Salmond-Sturgeon feud is cutting through with voters – one in five SNP voters interviewed by Ipsos MORI last week told us the Holyrood inquiry had made them less favourable towards the party,” said Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland.

“That doesn’t seem to have had a material impact on how people intend to vote as yet, with the party still riding high in the polls – although we’ll have to wait for further polling to see how that plays out.”

She said a fall in support for independence [from 56% in November] will also be a worry for Yes supporters.

“When we look at who Yes support is slipping among, it’s those groups where support rose most between 2019 and 2020 – such as women and the middle-aged,” she added.

READ MORE: Independence supported by majority of Scots, 22nd consecutive poll shows

“Winning back that support will be hugely important to independence campaigners.

“And that may be tricky to do at this point in the pandemic, even if the Salmond-Sturgeon feud wasn’t making headlines.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic was probably the biggest factor behind boosting support for Yes to record levels in the second half of last year.

“But will that become more difficult in the coming months, with people fed up of lockdown but a more cautious approach being taken to easing lockdown restrictions in Scotland than it is south of the border?

“A lot will hinge on events over the coming weeks and the outcome of the inquiry.”

Top pollster Professor Sir John Curtice underlined two scenarios: either Salmond has damning evidence against his successor and her allies or he doesn’t.

He argued it is in Yessers interests that it is the latter. But he warned whatever the outcome, the episode will, he believes, diminish Sturgeon.

“If we reach a point where she is forced out, that puts all the jigsaw pieces of Scottish politics up in the air and who knows how they’re going to land?” said Curtice.

“She may not come out of this smelling completely of roses, but she may at least find enough perfume for her position not to smell too rancid.”

Essentially, both experts believe the feud certainly has the potentially to derail the independence cause. 

Whether it will or not, is however, too early to say. This should become clearer when opinion polls are published in the following weeks after Salmond and Sturgeon's give oral evidence to the committee and following the publication of Hamilton's report - and of course it will be clearer still after the Holyrood election.

But without a doubt spring this year will be tense for the SNP and independence supporters as the inquiry and its fall out finally settles.