THERE are two powerful images jostling in my mind’s eye. The first is the Glasgow launch of Alex Salmond’s memoir; The Dream Shall Never Die in Spring 2015. The ballroom in Glasgow’s Central Hotel was packed to the rafters.

As the nominal chair of the proceedings, I could only wait impatiently to start the ­interview as the author strode up and down the central aisle chatting to an excitable fan club.

The second is the Hydro in Glasgow, ­closing Nicola Sturgeon’s Scotland-wide tour as the newly crowned leader of her party in November 2014. Normally the home of major pop concerts, the full house gave her the equivalent rock star treatment.

By then, following the 2014 Referendum, the SNP membership had grown exponentially.

The fact that both these principal ­architects of the independence movement were able to attract massive and, frankly, adoring crowds perhaps begins to explain both the distress and the disappointment of these many thousands of Yes voters who have looked on in disbelief at Scotland’s most extraordinary political soap opera.

READ MORE: Brace yourself: Boris Johnson will throw everything at the independence movement

They had watched as this powerful ­duopoly brought the Scottish National ­Party to power and unheard of prominence. They had grieved when the Referendum failed at the last hurdle to win a majority. And grieved again when Salmond immediately resigned.

They are, of course, totally disparate temperaments. Salmond, the ­buccaneering, charismatic leader of his pack – albeit one who repelled as many neutrals as he attracted. Sturgeon, emerging from his shadow, becoming one of the most confident ­communicators in the party political game.

So members of the SNP settled down and watched as both the party and its core cause rose steadily in polling. As did their new First Minister’s national, and indeed international, standing.

The Salmond trial and its dramatic aftermath has blown so much of all that apart. Not only have accusation and counter accusation by these two iconic figures escalated in bitterness, but there has been collateral damage to Scotland’s ancient judiciary, its youthful parliament, and the civil service.

Nobody who tuned into the Salmond committee hearing – and I suspect it had record viewing figures – could doubt the former First Minister wanted to nail down where, in his view, the essential blame lay.

The National:

He was at some pains to point out that he still had faith in the parliament, the ­judiciary, and the civil service. The ­targets of his long awaited, much polished bullets, were the leadership of those ­institutions; in bald terms his own successor, the Lord Advocate and the permanent secretary.

There must have been points where Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary, viewed the live committee hearing from behind her sofa.

Great disquiet too in both the Crown Office and other legal circles when ­Salmond constantly queried the necessity of redacting parts of his evidence already passed as uncontentious. And perhaps astonished at the allegations made about the reasons for his taking his erstwhile government to judicial review.

Nobody could doubt Alex Salmond’s description of the last two and half years as a personal “nightmare”. Yet it has been nothing less than that for the wider independence movement too. A ­nightmare which has led to open ­warfare on social media with supporters of both camps running a high temperature. A profoundly depressing development. And a profoundly ironic one given that the dream which shall never die is almost within Scotland’s grasp.

Salmond’s evidence on Friday was ­given coolly and calmly, without any of the histrionics some of the more excitable commentators had predicted.

In stark contrast, the last First ­Minister’s Question Time before his ­committee appearance was quite shocking in terms of the personal vitriol deployed.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon rips into Ruth Davidson over House of Lords peerage

It was also quite bizarre, given that the temporary leader of the Tory Party felt able to grandstand despite her imminent departure to the unelected House of Lords, and the temporary leader of Scottish Labour adopted similar ferocity at a moment when two of her colleagues were still battling it out over who would become the fifth Labour leader since the Referendum.

Yet herein lies the crux of the Scottish electorate’s dilemma. It’s true that any administration in power for a lengthy time becomes tired, and the SNP government has not escaped that fate. It is simultaneously true that neither of the main opposition parties are in any fit shape to form a credible alternative government.

The would be First Minister of the Tories isn’t even in the Holyrood parliament, and his stand in has plighted her troth to the Lords rather than her home constituency. The would be First Minister of Labour has only just been identified. Neither party could realistically muster a decent cabinet.

AND yet, elect a new government in May we must. I imagine the greatest fear at SNP HQ is not that their support will haemorrhage to the Tories – Scotland is more likely to win the World Cup – but that their support will stay home and lick its wounds. In my view, that would be a betrayal of the wider Yes movement.

There are countless thousands of ­independence supporters who have put in the hard yards – sometimes quite literally when that was possible - and they should not have theirs or their country’s future sabotaged by politicians. The latter are there to serve the public; not the reverse.

Neither should we accept the ill ­informed and orchestrated hostility of critics whose regular and tedious attacks on Scotland and her parliament are as inappropriate as they are ignorant. Twice this week, high profile commentators have talked about a “banana republic”. As absurd as it is gratuitously insulting.

Pretty crass, too, when we consider the London government tried to close down its own parliament illegally, ­barrelled on with Brexit in mid pandemic, failed to sack a senior advisor who blatantly ­flouted lockdown regulations, and then handed out Covid contracts to a ­succession of pals and party donors.

Not difficult to discern which legislature is most likely to go into the banana retail business.

There are, however, genuine concerns which we need to address, to regain public confidence in our youthful parliament and in the way a new administration goes about its business.

The National:

Having a party leader married to the party CEO was never a good look. In the light of the current bourach, that has to change. The other obvious separation of powers is having the Lord Advocate serve as a government minister. As the last week’s shenanigans have proved you can’t in good conscience serve two ­masters.

I have no difficulty in believing that James Wolffe did not personally ­request some of the Salmond testimony be ­redacted. Yet that buck has to come to rest on his desk. Charlie Falconer, a ­former Lord Chancellor, went so far as to allege that in this case the Lord Advocate had been AWOL.

THEN there is the new cabinet if the SNP wins power again.

It will look very different given the departure of so many big hitters, though personally I’m ­relieved that Mike Russell still has a role as party President. Few Scottish politicians have his experience or hinterland.

Major portfolios will change hands, many of them concerning departments which have been serially criticised by the opposition. (Though frankly I hate to think where we would be on planet pandemic if the opposition health spokespeople had been looking after that shop.)

There might be more substance to unease about education where John Swinney, a patently decent man, is not necessarily a round peg in a matching hole.

Meanwhile we are only at half time. ­Following the former First Minister into the committee room will be the ­current one, this coming Wednesday. She has repeatedly said she “relishes” the ­opportunity to state her own case. I wonder if that is still the most appropriate verb. She will, however, have the last word. For the ­moment.