Shame on the toxic tribalists who have abandoned all reason.

By Graham Grant

IT was either a joyous celebration of a nation’s desire for self-government – or an event fuelled by bigotry and hatred.

As ever in intensely polarised Scottish politics, your view of Saturday’s pro-independence march all depends whose side you’re on…

Estimates of attendance abounded online, with some suggesting up to 100,000 had paraded through Glasgow’s streets; others (including the police) suggested it was closer to around 35,000.

Some of the marchers and their supporters complained of a BBC Scotland news blackout, but as radio presenter Gary Robertson pointed out, it was the lead item on Reporting Scotland on Saturday night, and indeed the lead item on Radio Scotland news bulletins all afternoon.

Broadcaster and independence backer Lesley Riddoch was angry at Radio 4 for neglecting to mention the story, tweeting ‘100k marching for indy in Glasgow (1 million in UK terms)’, adding: ‘How can BBC News justify ignoring this?’

Of course, even allowing for this ambitious arithmetic, the 100,000 figure is an estimate nearly three times greater than Police Scotland’s, and they do tend to know a thing or two about policing large crowds (and small ones).

At least Miss Riddoch provided some unintentional levity, and there wasn’t much of that going around at the march, where a banner displayed the words ‘Tory Scum Out’.

It was believed to be held by ultra – nationalist group Siol nan Gaidheal [Seed of the Gaels], whose members were banned from the SNP in the early 1980s.

In March, a banner bearing the same slogan was unfurled outside the Stirling constituency office of Tory MP Stephen Kerr.

(Back in 2015, an SNP official in the town was unmasked as the man behind a bogus Twitter account used to label a political opponent a ‘Quisling’, or Nazi collaborator.)

Economy Secretary Keith Brown, who is running to be deputy leader of the SNP, was among those taking part in Saturday’s march, and Nicola Sturgeon gave the event her blessing by tweeting up a thumbs-up sign.

Yet Glasgow Cathcart SNP MSP James Dornan told those who raised concern about the march that Miss Sturgeon ‘wasn’t there’, and it ‘wasn’t an SNP banner or event’.

But this is all part of a wider trend that has rapidly accelerated in recent days and weeks.

The emerging theme is unmistakable: there is a concerted effort not to engage intellectually with policies, but to smear and ‘other’ Unionists, principally Tories, and by extension all those who voted for them (about 760,000 last year – up by around 320,000 on the previous election – while the SNP lost nearly 480,000 votes).

Police were called in at Falkirk Council after a large group of protesters allegedly harassed Unionist politicians at a local authority meeting and left them fearing for their safety, including allegations of death threats.

The activists were also seen throwing a banner with the slogan, ‘And lo Labour stinketh in its desperate rancid death throes’, on to a Labour councillor’s chair.

Falkirk Council is run by a minority SNP administration, but Labour and the Tories teamed up to get more seats on the executive committee – an unforgivable sin for the Nationalists.

Indeed, an SNP spokesman, while criticising abuse, insisted that ‘the right to protest is an important tenet of our democracy’.

A Facebook post by a constituency assistant for SNP Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald warned Falkirk Provost Billy Buchanan, an independent councillor: ‘People will not forget that you supported the Tories and gave them power in Falkirk… So Billy Buchanan, be feart [afraid], be really feart.’

Last week SNP councillor Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, tweeted in protest at the ‘filthy woman-hating policies’ of the Tories, singling out the city’s Tory MSP Annie Wells, in a row about the so-called ‘rape clause’, an intervention which earned Mrs Aitken the praise of Miss Sturgeon’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell.

The SNP has linked the Tories with ‘rape’ in as many different formulations as it can muster as part of a long-running exercise in cynical innuendo, bordering on outright demonisation.

As disgraceful as this process has been, it has borne fruit, as it’s clear that many on social media now buy the argument that the Tories are against benefits for rape victims – which is, of course, a lie.

In fact, under tax credits legislation, benefits are capped, restricting them to a mother’s first two children, and the rape clause ensures that women who have a child following a rape are not disqualified from claiming.

Last week, in response to growing concern about the safety of the SNP’s baby boxes, Miss Sturgeon suggested at First Minister’s Questions that the Tories may be opposed to the project because ‘we haven’t insisted on a rape clause for eligibility for the baby box’.

SNP MSP Gillian Martin tweeted recently that ‘if you don’t support the protection of devolution, should you really even be an MSP?’ as she complained that ‘some MSPs don’t stand up for Scotland’ – a clear reference to the Tories, in the row over Westminster’s supposed Brexit ‘power-grab’.

Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw pointed out online yesterday that during World War Two, ‘not one time did people ask whether those defending our small island nation were from Gloucester or Glasgow. It didn’t matter. We were one people standing alone’.

Cue a barrage of abuse from independence supporters unable to set aside their toxic tribalism long enough even to acknowledge the importance of UK solidarity in facing down the Nazi menace.

Former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, currently crafting the Nationalists’ long-awaited economic growth strategy, tweeted at the weekend that ‘for all who wish Scotland to be an independent country, the focus must be on reasoned persuasion of those who are unconvinced, together with respectful understanding of those who feel they never will be’.

For many Nationalists – often with the tacit and sometimes overt backing of their political masters – this kind of ‘reasoned persuasion’ is an impossibility.

A movement steeped in historical grievance, with a mindset driven by deeply ingrained paranoia, is incapable of heeding Mr Wilson’s advice – and in any event he is attempting to close the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

There have been too many hollow vows from the top of the party about cracking down on the online bile spread by its acolytes, which now appears to be leaking out onto the streets.

The tactic of ‘othering’ was also deployed before the snap election last June, and one of the consequences was a Tory revival that now threatens to end the SNP’s period in office.

An escalation of the smears, innuendo and public demonstrations of hatred will drive more voters away from the SNP – but it seems the party and its powerbase simply cannot help itself.

‘Reasoned persuasion’ has given way to the time-honoured tendency to dehumanise opponents, which after all is the only remaining option when the logical arguments were lost long ago.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper