THOSE of us who have an edgy relationship with Twitter are often eager to disparage it, even as we use it as a means of exhibiting our latest work. It is a platform for the quack theories of uninformed zealots and allows the sanctimonious and the pious to gather with their burning crosses and hunt down their carefully chosen victims.

Yet, over the piece, Twitter remains rather wonderful. Politicians and journalists who were previously beyond reach are now subject to the rough scrutiny of voters and readers. There was a time not so long ago when journalists could sally forth into print each day with their opinions and agendas knowing that only an anointed handful of readers would be permitted to oppose them in a carefully edited letters page.

Meanwhile, beyond weekly surgeries held in locations and at times of a politician’s choosing, the voters might only glimpse their elected representative for a few minutes every five years at election time.

Social media – and Twitter in particular – has tilted the balance in favour of the people. It’s also been good for our politicians. In Scotland especially you can engage openly and robustly with dozens of them in a way that would have been considered unthinkable and perhaps even disrespectful a generation ago.

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Occasionally, I’ll lament the group-think uniformity exhibited by some of them but most are cheerfully open to a discussion, even when they’re being maligned. Nor can I protest too much when some of them choose to have a pop at me. I’m often moved to criticise their motives and abilities from the privileged vantage point of a newspaper column and so I can hardly complain when they return fire in like manner. It shows that they care and that they’re human. They bleed too and it makes me respect them more and perhaps even empathise with them.

That said, I’d caution a few SNP politicians to be careful about the views they have recently expressed about independence supporters in the wider Yes movement. When the All Under One Banner marches began to gather pace a few years ago you could observed a collective curled lip of disdain from the professional political elites. They claimed not to like the look of some speakers and questioned the credentials of others.

Yet, I think this concealed something more primeval. When large groups of rank-and-file activists, bound merely by their devotion to a single, overarching goal, become vociferous it scares the bejesus out of their paid, political representatives.

This is common across all of the UK’s main parties. It’s as though, knowing their immediate economic futures depend on absolute loyalty to the party leadership, they must show they can be relied upon to defend its interests when faced with criticism.

The SNP groups at both Holyrood and Westminster are particularly susceptible to this form of hive thinking. The extraordinary electoral successes of the SNP in the past seven years have seen the emergence of dozens of MPs and MSPs largely unknown to the wider Yes movement. Indeed, many were barely even recognised by their own party managers.

This presented both opportunity and threat for SNP executives. In a short space of time available, the vetting of some may have been less than rigorous, leading to potentially troubling and unkempt outbursts and revelations further down the line. This though, would be offset in the knowledge that many of them, exultant to be receiving salaries and expenses beyond their abilities in the real world, would rarely dare to express dissent from the agreed party line.

We witnessed this last week following another of those gnarly pro-independence marches. This one featured participants bearing placards that were critical of Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford. Indeed the criticism of Blackford spilled into outright mockery.

THE leader of the SNP’s Westminster group ought to have expected this at some point. You don’t try to pose as a “humble crofter” when you are in fact a very rich entrepreneur and not expect to attract some degree of derision.

That several pro-independence supporters would dare to express criticism of the party’s high command was simply too much for some MPs and MSPs. One of them, James Dornan, seemed especially irked. In one tweet he said: “And not a brain in sight. Infiltrators or morons. They can take their pick which column they think they belong in. In which world could this possibly be construed as helping the cause of independence?”

The obvious answer to Dornan’s spluttering outrage of course, is “the real world”. To be fair to the MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, he wasn’t the only one expressing contempt for the masses. Predictably, he was joined by Pete Wishart, a chap who thinks the cause of independence is best served by him aiming to don the apparel of an 18th-century English toff in the role of Speaker of the House of Commons.

Look, I don’t really know either of these chaps and they seem decent and hard-working enough. But when volunteer marchers give up their weekends to support the cause that provides you with a very generous income it’s probably best that you listen to them rather than revile them. Especially so if you couldn’t actually spare the time to be present yourself. It’s called democratic engagement, chaps; you might once have heard of it.

These people pay your wages and you serve at their pleasure. When the time comes they will campaign unpaid and endlessly for your cause. At elections they will set aside their doubts about the party’s perceived direction of travel and help you to get elected again. Without them you are lost.

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At least grant them the occasional right to criticise the leadership without anyone dismissing them as “infiltrators and morons” as Dornan did. In the long absence of anything resembling an effective opposition at Holyrood it’s only natural that the actions of the government – even the one they support – are held accountable by them. Nor is the source of their displeasure hard to find.

Many are understandably frustrated at the glacial pace of moves towards a second referendum, and they have reasonable grounds for asking questions about the present whereabouts of funding for that.

They also harbour reasonable concerns about what they regard as the systematic quashing of any internal dissent in the party machinery. In particular, they have grave reservations about alleged bullying and intimidation of some women in the party.

They merely want the SNP to be the best version of itself. To express these concerns isn’t a sign of delinquency; it’s evidence of a big heart. So, just chill, lads. It’ll get a lot rougher than this during an actual referendum campaign.