THE contest to become leader of the SNP and the next first minister of Scotland began on a sour note, has rarely hit a harmonious tone and, even now that the voting has started, remains acrimonious.

Throughout the trashing of the party’s performance in power, the differences in policy on independence and the disagreements over trans rights and equal marriage, one attitude has become one of the most dominant themes ... the emergence of a suspicion that the party hierarchy has somehow morphed into a reactionary “establishment”.

I have no reservations about stating openly and clearly that I consider Humza Yousaf to be the best candidate, for reasons that I have explained before.

That support does not mean I harbour any hatred of the other two candidates, despite any reservations I may have about some of the opinions they have expressed and tactics they have adopted throughout hustings which have taken place in the public arena to a far greater extent than any others for any other party that I can remember.

I’m perfectly within my rights to express my support and my reservations about the candidates, as are supporters of the other candidates. I hope I’ve done so in a polite and reasonable way, reflecting the fact that when the contest is over, all candidates and their supporters will have to find a way to work together towards the common goal of winning Scotland her independence.

I was, however, surprised at the reaction when I posted my support for Humza Yousaf on social media. I was attacked by independence supporters I know well for somehow drinking the “establishment’s” kool-aid and undermining the cause.

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It’s worth, I think , examining that opinion in an attempt to understand why Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy and the not inconsiderable electoral successes of the SNP have somehow become the subject of some suspicion among some independence supporters.

I think it’s true to say that the massive upsurge in SNP membership after the 2014 referendum took many by surprise. The party’s overwhelming victory in the 2015 General Election in which they won 56 of of the 59 Scottish seats meant we had to continually remind ourselves that Yes had – unfortunately – not won the referendum.

The newspaper you are reading today was also born in the aftermath of that referendum and it is testament to the strength of support for the principle of independence that The National has survived to this day.

Our opponents have from the day the presses rolled for our first edition accused us of being an SNP fanzine, pointing to the fact I announced its launch at a huge SNP rally at a packed Hydro stadium in Glasgow.

The truth is somewhat different. Of course, Scotland’s biggest pro-independence political party and its ONLY pro-independence daily newspaper have much in common, but it’s fair to say that over the years we have not always agreed on our coverage.

I am no longer the editor of The National and these days I don’t have – or seek – any say in its coverage but, as an outsider, it seems to me to have by and large succeeded in its stated aim of reflecting the Yes movement rather than the views and activities of just one – albeit the major one – of its components parts.

I certainly can’t speak for The National when I say this but it seems to me a bit of a stretch to describe a party dedicated to the dismantling of the United Kingdom as a part of “the establishment”.

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So what exactly is the case being put against the SNP upper echelons and by association against Humza Yousaf, routinely described as the “continuity candidate” in what has become a rather disparaging way?

This is, after all, a party which has won every election held in Scotland since that historic 2015 General Election. A party which counts among its successes the expansion of free child care, the introduction of the almost universally acclaimed baby box and measures to successfully mitigate against the more devastating effects of perhaps the worst, the cruellest and the most incompetent Westminster government yet inflicted upon us.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon apoke about how the ‘grief’ following her miscarriage would stay with her and husband Peter Murrell forever, as she announced plans for a new baby loss Memorial Book (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon is, after all, a first minister whose popularity ratings even on her worst day far outstrip those of any other UK party leader. And those ratings, remember, take into account the opinions of many of those no voters now regarded as the number-one target in the eyes of the so-called “non-establishment” candidates in the leadership elections.

That is all true, I hear you say, but Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP failed to lead us into the promised land. Despite the uselessness of Westminster, despite the disastrous results of Brexit and the moral bankruptcy the Tories displayed through lockdown ... despite all this, Scotland is still not independent.

This is an undeniable fact. Even as an SNP member, I’d have to admit there have been mistakes which led to missed opportunities to convert the softer No voters to the case – the approach has been sometimes too cautious and too focused on gaining the approval of opponents rather than winning converts. Nothing and no one is perfect.

The route to independence is not an easy one. The 2014 referendum is now viewed as a mistake by the Westminster government and it is a mistake that they are determined not to repeat. The Tory and Labour parties are united in one thing: neither show any signs of agreeing to indyref2. An answer to this problem will have to be found.

NEVERTHELESS, there are some facts that are hard to deny. One is that we will not win independence without an SNP at the top of their game. Another is that a pro-indy majority at Holyrood is a definite advantage. And it is essential that the links between the movement and the SNP are strengthened and should combine the best elements of both components.

Call me crazy, but it’s hard to see what some of the recent moves by some candidates are designed to achieve when it comes down to independence.

The National:

How do we move closer to our aim by describing the performance in government of the main pro-indy party as “mediocre”? What exactly are we trying to achieve by painting those trying to create an exciting, new and progressive country as rather dull, boring, “establishment” managers? Oh …. and untrustworthy too. This latest addition to the list of “crimes” came to the fore this week as two candidates suggested some action was urgently needed to avoid some form of nameless skullduggery.

As a journalist, I’m never going to argue that information should be kept secret when its publication is in the public interest. There are political reasons why a political party may not want to shout its membership numbers from the rooftops but if it becomes incumbent on all political parties to publish the numbers – although not the names, addresses and telephone numbers, of course – then I’m fine with that.

The price of that, in terms of the SNP, will, of course, be headlines like the ones we saw within hours of the big reveal yesterday focusing on the 32,000 members the party had lost in two years. There was no mention, of course, of the net gain in party members of almost 50,000 since 2013 and no figures for other political parties’ membership for comparison.

I have no idea what terrible infractions Ash Regan and Kate Forbes are seeking to uncover with their “open letter” to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell seeking other information they say is required to ensure a “fair and transparent” vote.

We are all clear, however, in what the public interpretation of the letter will be … and that is an assumption that without the publication of that information, the vote will not be fair and transparent. So job done, I suppose.

I’m well aware, of course, that this column will be interpreted as just another “pro-establishment” justification by another “trougher”, as those with any loyalty left have been so charmingly dubbed.

But surely we should remember that when this contest is over and a new leader has been chosen – whoever that may be – the different factions will need to join together to find a way forward together.

Unless, of course, the real aim here is to leave the SNP in tatters, with the party’s reputation traduced and public trust destroyed. Just ask yourself: whose interests would be best served by that result?