I WAS speaking to a well-known SNP politician recently, who told me that they thanked God that “most of the zoomers” had stopped coming to their local party meetings.

A “zoomer” is social media slang in Scotland for a political extremist, a conspiracy theorist, a hate-peddler – someone who comes across as downright crazy. They’re Trumpian. They’ve that hardline Brexiteer venom and nastiness.

I’m not an SNP member, but I share the politician’s weariness with some elements of the Yes movement. As an independence supporter, I’m growing steadily sick, and increasingly tired, of the antics of some on my own side.

It seems that every other day now, alienating behaviour from what should be the fringes of the Yes movement becomes the focus of attention, playing into the hands of opponents of independence.

It’s especially frustrating at a time like this, when a hard-right government in Westminster led by Boris Johnson is a gift for those who support independence. Yet, instead of wooing soft Unionists with a smile and a handshake, the Yes movement is seen by some as flag-wrapped, shouting and snarling. It makes no sense.

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Increasingly, friends of mine who are No voters say they are coming round to the idea of independence. They’ve no emotional attachment to independence but the madness unfolding at Westminster means they could envisage themselves one day voting for separation. However – and it’s a huge however – they all say they’re not quite there yet, and the issue that puts them off independence the most is the aggression and bullying they associate with the Yes movement.

When you tell them that online Unionist trolls are just as bad, they simply don’t believe you. The experience of Yes supporters may be one of Unionist abuse and bullying, but if you’re a Unionist your experience will be one of bullying and abuse from nationalists. That’s how social media bubbles work.

The bottom line is that soft No voters, who hold the balance of power in any future referendum, are being deterred from shifting their position because of the nastiness of a vocal minority in the Yes movement.

Recently, there’s been a spate of ridiculous and alienating behaviour from some quarters. Jackie Kay, the Makar or national poet, said Scotland’s attitude to race was decades behind England. Kay has a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother. However, with depressing predictability, comments by a woman of colour were written off by white people who won’t accept any criticism of Scotland.

These are the people who see reporting facts as “running down Scotland”. Drug deaths go up. It’s running down Scotland. Trains could be better. It’s running down Scotland. News on employment, or productivity, or pay – whatever it is, if it isn’t celebratory it’s part of a vast conspiracy against Scotland.

You’d be forgiven for wondering: it Scotland’s that perfect, why the push for independence? I want independence as I can see life needs to get better.

This fringe wraps itself in the flag. It gets outraged that Union Jacks are on supermarket packaging not Saltires. If they weren’t doing such damage to the Yes movement it would be comic.

These people are so chippy and thin-skinned, so easily offended, that they are the embodiment of a new type of “Scottish cringe” – their sense of self and their belief in their own country is so fragile anything can threaten it.

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A few days ago Nicola Sturgeon had to come to the defence of Janice Forsyth when the online Yes fringe turned its ire on the BBC broadcaster. Forsyth tweeted the literary festival Bloody Scotland a joke about Jimmy Krankie. Some independence supporters assumed it was an insult directed at the First Minister. It wasn’t.

Forsyth was insulted and attacked, as was the BBC. The FM had to put a message out asking people to please leave Forsyth alone.

The pro-independence website Wings Over Scotland has floated setting up its own political party. It seems that a significant minority of Yes supporters see this as a good thing. On social media, the site is known for trolling, abuse and insults.

There’s a deep confusion and hypocrisy here. The people who support the idea of this new political entity have a long history of viciously attacking anyone who suggested voting for any Yes-supporting party, other than the SNP, at previous Scottish elections. A Green vote was heresy. “Both votes SNP” was their line. Now there’s a populist alternative in the offing, a form of Scottish nationalism which suits their aggressive tastes, the mantra of “both votes SNP” doesn’t matter anymore.

The idea that a populist form of nationalism in Scotland will woo much-needed No voters is absurd. The rise of populist nationalism in Scotland will set back every advance so far made.

And this takes us to the crux of the problem – we now have two competing visions of independence. One comes in the form of politicians like Ms Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie of the Greens. It’s considered, pragmatic, non-threatening; it wants to woo opponents. It wants a progressive, fair and equal Scotland, and believes the way to improve the lot of ordinary people is to leave behind the broken Westminster system. The other is Trumpian in nature and thrives on offence rather than persuasion. It wants independence at any cost.

To some extent, you could say of the SNP, “hell mend them”. For years now, the party has allowed this populist fringe to offend and bully. Now the populist fringe is coming for its seats.

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The one abiding image of the Yes movement over the last year has been independence marches through towns and cities. The organisation behind the rallies, All Under One Banner, was caught up in internal feuding this summer, which also didn’t help the public image of the Yes movement. But more importantly, the marching doesn’t help garner new voters. Will waving a Saltire ever persuade a single Unionist to back Scottish independence?

Genies don’t go back into bottles. The only way for the broader Yes movement to protect itself from this growing online wing is to speak up. If people don’t speak up then the metastasising populist fringe risks alienating voters who can be wooed and drowning out the voices of the good, decent, majority of independence supporters.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year.