CHRISTMAS is traditionally a time of peace and reconciliation. There are so many areas of conflict in our world that could benefit from this that I hope I will be forgiven for choosing to write about one that is close to home but very important to readers of The National.

Last weekend in the Sunday National my fellow nationalist, comrade and feminist sister, Ruth Wishart, wrote an impassioned plea for an end to what she called the uncivil war within the Yes movement.

I agree with much of what Ruth said but the reality is that there can be no peace and reconciliation without an honest appraisal and acknowledgement of what has led to the conflict and a commitment to address some of the underlying problems.

READ MORE: Ruth Wishart: Time to bring an end to this uncivil war and focus on independence

I have written about these problems in this column before. I do so not to cause trouble, nor because I want to replace the current leader of the SNP – for the record I don’t – but because I care about the future of my party and my country. I still believe the SNP is the best vehicle to lead us to independence and to provide the leadership the Yes movement needs. But, if it is to succeed in doing so, there are some issues to be addressed.

There is a democratic deficit in our party. Conference is not playing its proper role as the supreme policy-making body of the party. Huge important issues that need addressed go undiscussed, conference after conference. It was curious to say the least, and not conducive to good debate, that our party was the only one that met online rather than in person this autumn, despite the precedent of the huge gathering at COP26 only a couple of weeks before. Perhaps this was why only hundreds as opposed to thousands of delegates took part and why it was the same old faces on our computer screen, motion after motion.

The year before last many of the democratic choices of the membership to serve on our NEC were deliberately sidelined and hounded from office. People were demonised for daring to stand on a platform for reform or, should I say, daring to stand on a platform that was not approved by those who stand on their own little platform every year. An attempt to improve transparency and scrutiny is not an attempt to take the party down and it’s a shame that senior party figures continue to characterise it as such. I know the wider membership don’t see it that way.

In this year’s election one of our most able and respected MSPs, Joan McAlpine, lost her seat having been removed from the top of the list where her local members wanted her to be via a dubious equalities mechanism which served not to improve diversity but to settle a vendetta run by a noisy minority of party members against women who dare to speak up for their rights.

These circumstances must never be allowed to be repeated. Particularly as the result has been that many local hardworking activists have lost heart and demitted office from their branches. This is a pattern which has been replicated across the country as members of long standing become scunnered with some of the problems I have outlined.

At the heart of the trouble lies a toxic political culture of name-calling and demonisation. Political debate will always be impassioned. Indeed it is important that it is. What is wrong with aspects of our current political debate is the abuse and the hyperbole. Instead of relying on slogans and insults, those who wish to persuade others of the correctness of their position should explain the basis for it and discuss the issues that arise without resorting to language designed to close down the debate.

I have said it before and I will say it again, if the poison, vitriol and downright lies that have been allowed to flourish in the discourse within our party on the potential conflict between reform of the Gender Recognition Act and women’s rights ever infects the independence debate then our cause will be doomed.

What’s going on is not without parallel in the history of our nation. During the reformation if you used the word “heretic” everyone got hysterical. During the 17th-century the same pattern was repeated with the word “witch”. The cancer of hatred and fear reached right to the top of our society, including our king, and many innocent women were executed. The modern-day equivalent of the heretics and witches are the feminist campaigners wrongly called “transphobes” for their wish to highlight the potential implications of self-identification of sex.

READ MORE: Why a campaign to pardon Scots women killed as witches is starkly relevant today

EARLIER this week, another National columnist, Alison Anderson, took to Twitter to note the rich irony that, whilst women executed as witches in Scotland are set to receive pardons, our political leaders fail to acknowledge the damage done by the “name-calling, finger-pointing, holier-than-thou, modern-day witch-finders who persecute women for holding certain beliefs”.

Unfortunately this demonisation is what an influential minority of SNP members are doing at present, not just to their fellow members, but to the public and it is starting to seep into the general consciousness. In the last week two opinion polls have shown that whilst the majority of Scots support equal rights for trans people, they are very unhappy about the implications of a system of self-identification of sex without a gatekeeper.

Fortunately the SNP manifesto did not commit to self-identification but rather to “improve and simplify the process by which a trans person can obtain legal recognition, so that the trauma associated with that process is reduced”. Accordingly there is a room for compromise here and that is why I recently reiterated the call I first made in June 2019 for a Citizens Assembly to look at the issue.

Those at the top of politics have a responsibility to rein in the sort of bad behaviour that I have described. That is what true leadership involves.

This infighting is not inevitable. It is a common misconception that there is something peculiar to the history of the Scots in our quarrelsome infighting. Of course this is not true. Infighting happens in other nations. Look at the War of the Roses in England. Look at what happened after the Russian and French revolutions. It is not unprecedented for independence movements to fracture. In Catalonia there are several different pro-independence parties which have managed to work together in successive coalition governments.

I believe that what Scotland needs to win our independence is a mainstream, centre-left constitutional nationalist party that is a broad church. That party is the SNP or rather it should be. That is why I have not defected to Alba, nor do I intend to do, so no matter how much some might strive to make my life in the SNP intolerable. The bottom line is I don’t give in to bullies.

Ruth ended her column with an excoriation of Boris Johnson. The pages of this newspaper are full of them. And rightly so. In its editorial this week the international Catholic Tablet described the current UK Government as politics without principle led by a man who has surrounded himself with second-rate career politicians. They deplored the absence of virtue, integrity and truth in the UK’s public life.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson

HOWEVER, for those of us who support independence, as much as Boris Johnson may be a gift, our case cannot simply be “not this”. It must be “instead this”. We need the much-promised fresh prospectus for independence and we need it now. We also need a clear road map to achieving it. The uncivil war won’t stop until we have these things, and we won’t get them until the party rediscovers it’s intellectual and democratic roots. We need a return to the sort of open, vigorous and honest debate that led to the adoption of our current policy on Nato.

It goes without saying that tackling the current Covid crisis must be the priority of the Scottish Government. We have a First Minister whose commitment to that task is not in doubt. Likewise our Deputy FM and Finance Secretary. We also have dedicated health ministers. But there are others in our government who could be working on the road map and prospectus for independence.

We have a Secretary of State for the Constitution with junior ministers and a government department behind him. In 2022 we need to hear something from them.