WHEN gnarly Scottish newspaper veterans meet in dark howffs to reminisce about the bodies they’ve buried, they speak in hushed tones of a golden age now gone forever. After each tale you are left to wonder how not a single edition was missed when the papers seemed to have been produced in the pubs which once gathered around all of Scotland’s national newspaper offices.

In this print Camelot professional integrity was considered to be above all other virtues. The legends of the day would often be described as “fearless” in their endeavours hacking away at the coalface of truth.

You were expected to foster amicable relationships with politicians but it was always understood by both parties that personal admiration – even affection – could never be permitted to stand in the way when came the time for eviscerating and dismembering (most of it virtually, of course).

We journalistic citizens of the Fifth Estate (the fourth has long since been annexed by Google, Facebook and Twitter) still cling to the belief that we are united in a noble enterprise: to speak truth to power. Yet, this phrase has become so hackneyed that it will soon be re-cast in Latin and ascribed to someone such as Socrates or Freddie Mercury.

The truth, as ever, was always a little more tarnished – a sinewy and shifting concept. At one newspaper I worked for the chap considered to be the grandee among grandees had so many honorary baubles from educational and commercial institutions that he could have launched his own academic faculty. Another acted openly as a de facto advisor to the Labour Party in Scotland. In the sports department of another newspaper the rugby correspondents duly waited in line until it was their turn to be handed a juicy (and fully pensioned-up) sinecure with the Scottish Rugby Union. As each waited for the nod he was expected to be a good chap in the meantime and not rock the boat too much.

On another occasion, I was subject to a tired and emotional outburst by a former Labour first minister because he considered the newspaper I worked for at the time to be “a poisonous and evil presence that contaminated the well of Scottish public life”. You and I both know it by its common or garden name: Her Majesty’s Daily Mail.

The politician, by now a rather fetching shade of purple, was further enraged by the fact that no Daily Mail executive ever accepted his monthly invitations to take dinner with him and his charming wife at Bute House. I told him we were too busy putting out the next day’s newspaper to attend and that this was the main reason we were picking up scores of readers from our main rivals, all of whom seemed to have season tickets for the first minister’s official residence. Effectively, they’d all been bought off.

Indeed, a group of senior journalists associated with the BBC and assorted other national outlets rather than scrutinise the record and conduct of Jack McConnell and Donald Dewar instead acted as a sort of meals-on-wheels and baby-sitting enterprise for these two Labour giants. When the SNP replaced Labour as Scotland’s party of government, a few of them quietly switched their political allegiances.

Newspaper readers don’t really expect much from a journalist. But I think they consider it a basic requirement of the job that we try to ask questions of those who spend the nation’s money. In the last 14 years those decisions have been the exclusive preserve of the SNP. Now, you may take a view here about what more could be achieved if Scotland were fully independent but, as things stand, the SNP still get to spend about £33 billion each year.

Problems of perception arise, though, when some journalists who are broadly in favour of Scotland determining its own future nevertheless harbour concerns about the inner workings of the SNP.

WE are dismissed as being Labour stooges or – in the case of Neil Mackay (a much valued and esteemed colleague) – “a Tory sleeper who has made it his job to sew division in the Yes movement”.

Neil and I part company on several aspects of the SNP’s internal governance but if he’s a Tory then you’ll be catching me next week on that RuPaul show.

The question of who bears the responsibility of holding one of the longest-ruling governments in Western Europe to account is crucial to what passes for democracy in Scotland. I mean, you wouldn’t trust the Labour Party in Scotland with the messages. Their leader right now is a product of one of Scotland’s grandest fee-paying schools. As his family’s considerable fortune increased, it spurned trade union activity and its interpretation of what represents a real living wage contained a significant degree of elasticity.

The Scottish Tories are led by a chap who thinks that Scotland could have a great future if only he got to evict gypsies. Effectively, Scotland has been operating without a meaningful opposition for most of a political generation. In the absence of this – and for such a prolonged period – any government would be prone to complacency and self-indulgence.

The problem for the SNP is that after such a lengthy period of unchallenged power it also becomes more difficult to conceal foibles and misdemeanours. It’s the main reason why Alba has already begun to attract so many senior figures from all parts of the SNP.

Many of them have been privy to a slew of questionable practices within the party and some deeply unpleasant conduct. In other circumstances many of those who have defected might be lost to the wider Yes movement, so sickened have they become by what they have witnessed. That they have found a home in a party committed to Scottish independence and which offers the possibility of a previously undreamt of super-majority should be a source of consolation for those who want to turn the constitutional screw on Boris Johnson.

Rather than seek to tarnish the Alba recruits, SNP supporters should be asking just why the party leadership has been targeting them with an unsophisticated and vicious black-ops campaign.

The SNP are probably no better or worse than any other major political party in terms of its dark machinations. Some of this was eating it from the inside. The emergence of Alba has acted as a buffer between a detached SNP leadership and an increasingly unhappy membership. Nicola Sturgeon and her Cabinet should simply relax and let matters proceed while concentrating on their own game.