Most independence movements have the good sense to achieve independence before starting the civil war. Not so the Scottish National Party which is currently embroiled in a very public and very personal internecine bloodletting between the current leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her larger-than-life predecessor Alex Salmond. With a string of polls showing support for an independent Scotland averaging at around 52% and the SNP on course to increase its representation through forthcoming regional elections for the parliament in Holyrood, this bickering could not have come at a worse time.
Sturgeon seems to be in serious political and perhaps legal trouble, despite her undoubted popularity, and Salmond is doing further damage to his already tarnished reputation among a generation of SNP supporters who saw him as the man who put the Edinburgh government on a democratically equal footing with its previously dismissive counterpart in London – and almost won the country its independence against incredible odds. There is no doubt that the Scottish nationalist movement has been cleft in two by all this, at least in terms of SNP members or pro-independence activists who leaned that way whether out of conviction or because they saw the party as a convenient vehicle to achieve their goal of a free Scotland outside of the United Kingdom.
Of course throughout history other independence movements have experienced divisions before reaching their objectives, sometimes quite violently. One need only think back to early 20th century Ireland and the bitter rivalry between regionalist or home rule nationalists like the Irish Parliamentary Party and its separatist or republican nationalist rivals, an occasionally bloody contest for power and influence that may have turned much worse but for the outbreak of the First World War (and that’s leaving aside the question of conflict with the unionist bloc on the island). So we are in no place to judge.
At the moment the best that SNP members can hope for is an electorate that is willing to separate its aspirations or best interests at the ballot box from taking sides in the scandalous controversies at the top of the party. Taken together with the Scottish Green Party, that could possibly leave 60% of seats in the Scottish Parliament in nationalist hands after the elections in May, facing off against a minority clutch of pro-union MSPs from the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem parties.