THIS week has presented the UK with a stark choice regarding the type of politics we should adopt in the months leading to the inevitable end of the Tory government at Westminster

We can continue to follow the bitter, attacking, and divisive style exemplified by Andrew Neil’s embrace of a cartoon showing the leaders of a democratically elected government being hanged and a dismissive, bilious attack on Scotland’s only independence-supporting newspaper.

Or we can follow the leadership of a genuinely decent, collaborative First Minister who followed a bridge-building first speech in the role by walking across the floor and shaking opposition leaders by the hand.

Neil, in common with the vast majority of Britain’s political commentators, not only opposes Scottish independence but pours vicious scorn on those who do not share that view.

READ MORE: Five times Andrew Neil embarrassed himself over Scotland

He never misses an opportunity to talk Scotland down. Just days ago he tweeted: “Scotland runs a massive budget deficit.

“Among the biggest in Europe.

“Thanks to the Union, Westminster covers it.”

Back in 2017, he claimed on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme that one in five Scottish pupils were “functionally illiterate” when they left primary school.

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom described the statement as “materially misleading” for viewers.

He has said “the social consequences of welfare dependency scar our great towns and cities” before adding that male life expectancy in parts of Glasgow’s east end “are on a par with sub-Saharan Africa”.

In a column in the Daily Mail, he said the SNP’s legacy is “decline and decay”.

The National: Andrew Neil Image: freeAndrew Neil, chairman of The Spectator

The column’s headline said: “The fall of Humza Useless means independence is dead for a generation.”

What is it about this guy and the country where was born? Does he genuinely hate it or is it some sort of weird self-loathing?

Whatever, Neil obviously has no time for the SNP.

Just days ago he shared a cartoon of Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, and Humza Yousaf being hung by the SNP logo and John Swinney about to suffer the same fate.

He called the cartoon, by Peter Brookes of The Times, “brilliant”.

You can appreciate the “edgy” qualities of political cartoons and still believe this one crossed a line – a point made in The National’s coverage of the resulting outrage.

Neil’s response? He slammed The National as a “Beano rag”.

As founding editor of The National, the “Beano” jibe has been getting on my goat since the newspaper launched.

At first Unionist scorn was aimed at our front pages, which often used Photoshop to create political montages.

This is seemingly unacceptable for newspapers, or at least Scottish independence-supporting newspapers.

When the rather brilliant New European adopted the same approach to its cover stories no-one claimed it was a comic. Another case of the Scottish cringe.

But even as The National’s front pages changed the Beano criticisms kept coming.

It became obvious that it wasn’t anything specific about the newspaper itself that the haters hated.

It was that they couldn’t stand the notion that a mainstream newspaper could actually support the concept of independence.

The political mainstream has adopted the same attitude.

No matter how bitter the enmity between Labour and Conservatives it’s not bitter enough to prevent them from standing shoulder to shoulder against independence.

READ MORE: Andrew Neil in furious outburst at The National over SNP cartoon

Even on those issues where they agreed with the SNP they would mostly refuse to support them as a matter of principle.

Even if they summoned up the courage to do so – on, for example, the surprisingly controversial issue of gender recognition – their London masters ordered them to change their minds.

And so we’ve recently endured Anas Sarwar tying himself in knots saying the direct opposite of what he voted for at Holyrood. The things you have to do to keep Keir Starmer happy ...

Labour doesn’t give its arch-enemies the same hard time. Starmer couldn’t have been warmer this week when he welcomed Tory turncoat and Natalie “send them to Rwanda” Elphicke to Labour ranks.

The National: Keir Starmer smiles and shakes hands with Natalie Elphicke after the hard-right MP's defection fromKeir Starmer shaking the hand of Tory defector Natalie Elphicke

She tried to influence the judge presiding over the trial of her ex-husband for sexual assault, she told Marcus Rashford to concentrate on football rather than politics, she was firmly on the hard right of the Conservative Party – but she has never committed the cardinal sin of supporting independence so obviously Starmer thinks there is a place for her in Labour.

In fact he was “delighted” at her defection, which one senior party colleague described as “one hell of a coup”.

There is really no politician too right-wing, too beyond the pale, to sit on the Labour benches at Westminster.

Nor is there any SNP policy so obviously beneficial for the country that Starmer would allow any of his minions to vote for it.

Which is why, when Humza Yousaf took the fateful decision to tear up the Bute House Agreement and infuriate the Greens, he knew he had no hope of securing Labour or, obviously, Conservative support for any of his policies he tried to pass into law.

He tried appealing to their responsible side. He tried to persuade them that there were times to collaborate for the good of the country. But he was doomed to fail.

The Scottish Parliament was built on the principle of collaboration. Its voting system was designed to prevent a parliamentary majority. Only once has that aim been thwarted, in the 2011 election when the SNP swept the board.

But Labour, Conservative, and LibDem hatred of the very mention of independence has ruled out any true collaboration between them and the SNP since before the 2014 referendum.

READ MORE: SNP government issues update on future of independence white papers

And their point-blank refusal to recognise the message of every election since 2014 has overruled the strong support for independence.

This is the stalemate position Swinney has inherited and collaboration and mutual respect are the tactics he has chosen to seek a way through.

He has spoken of a new atmosphere at Holyrood and a concentration on working together for the good of the country.

He has positioned himself as the First Minister for ALL Scotland and underlined the need for independence supporters to redouble their efforts to reach out to those unconvinced by indy arguments and change their minds.

His appointment of Kate Forbes as Deputy First Minister is a bid to tackle division within the party as he seeks to broaden support for his plans for the so-called bread-and-butter issues such as health and education.

This change in focus brings with it real dangers. Forbes does not hold the socially progressive views of many SNP members.

I and many others believed she was the wrong person to lead the party in the last leadership election and would have voted against her latest appointment given the chance.

Attempts to win over her supporters risk alienating those who oppose her views.

The scrapping of the Minister for Independence will infuriate those impatient for serious progress and a coherent strategy to achieve it.

At the moment there is no sign of either.

This move will reduce the gap between those who support independence and those who would not vote SNP.

But .. I like the new First Minister’s focus on a more respectful type of politics, even if I can’t see Labour and Conservative MSPs adopting it.

I think voters will like it too.

The Andrew Neil-type angry raving does not work. And the SNP needs to make a minority government work.

I believe support for independence will rise if the SNP is more widely recognised for running the country well.

Rising support for independence will bring it closer, even if we need more focus on how to harness that support.

There is good, socially progressive legislation on the way, including the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill and bans on conversion therapy.

The SNP continue to back progressive policies and Forbes has said her faith-based views will not influence the way she votes. It is too early to decide that has fundamentally changed.

In a very real sense this is the beginning of a new chapter for the SNP, despite the fact that so many of John Swinney’s Cabinet are familiar faces.

It can go well or it can go less well.

The next few months look crucial to me.