WHEN major public figures fall from grace their foes, sanctimonious and gleeful, gather to devour what’s left of them. They know that some kind of censorious response is expected of them and besides, there are clear gains to be made. Compassion and an acknowledgment of the human tragedy are unwelcome guests when a political interment is underway.

And yet, at Holyrood on Thursday, as friend and foe gathered following the resignation of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay the responses were largely free of moral bombast and contrived outrage. The statements of the opposition leaders were circumspect and appropriate and there may even have been a hint of sorrow. While carefully stressing how serious was Mr Mackay’s wrongdoing in seeking an unwanted relationship – to the point of obsession – with a 16-year-old boy no one was seeking to score points. There was human empathy here and perhaps something that spoke of self-awareness: no political party has a monopoly on bad behaviour or sexual incontinence.

The UK’s future direction of travel is in the hands of a man who has an indeterminate number of acknowledged children by an estimated quantum of partners. A report is being compiled about the nature of his relationship with a young American entrepreneur while he was mayor of London and whether or not he granted her business advantages inappropriate to his office and her status.

Our future economic prospects will turn on the whim of Donald Trump, a man who is facing multiple accusations of sexual assault and harassment and who is on record as saying that grabbing at a woman’s genital area is one of his favoured seduction techniques.

READ MORE: Derek Mackay: Former finance secretary faces fresh allegations over unwanted messages 

Even so, Mr Mackay’s downfall is as spectacular and bleak as it is deserved. And he won’t be able to take refuge in Buckingham Palace. So complete was the Scottish edition of The Sun’s set of revelations about Mr Mackay’s six-month pursuit of a schoolboy he’d picked out on social media that it allowed no room for misinterpretation or damage limitation. Some whose support for an independent Scotland blinds them to any wrongdoing by their own side have attempted to diminish the seriousness of Mr Mackay’s conduct. Their thought processes distorted by partisan slavishness, they sought to portray this as nothing more than flirtatious behaviour between two individuals of an age to consent.

More despicable still are those who think that issues around child welfare can be weaponised, so long as they hurt those whom they perceive to be their political enemies. Have their lives descended to a point when basic human decency is subordinate to shallow, tribal fervour?

Certainly, our initial response ought to be one that acknowledges the distress suffered by the boy and his family. I know what my first reaction would have been if any of my sons or daughters had been pursued in this way and by a man of that age and experience (and yes, grooming behaviour is an entirely appropriate term for this).

Yet, is it not also fully human to harbour a measure of sorrow at watching a man whom you have admired and respected brought down in such a manner, even if this was all of his own doing? I think we are permitted to be compassionate here, even in the midst of such folly.

Politics, like professional sport, offers a way out of poverty and the effects of multi-deprivation. In these spheres damaged people can find a measure of healing and a sense of purpose to inspire others who have endured similar iniquities. It’s known that Derek Mackay endured and overcame all manner of crises in his childhood the scale of which few of us can begin to imagine. These ranged from physical abuse at the hands of an alcoholic father; flight from the family home and temporary residence in a homeless unit.

I’d venture to imagine that a person is never really free of scars such as these no matter how smoothly the arc of his life thereafter proceeds. This is not to mitigate the egregious nature of Mr Mackay’s behaviour only to cast some light upon it.

Whilst reading the full transcript of what passed between Mr Mackay and this young lad, you are struck by a creeping sense of emptiness. Some of these messages are tinged by desperation, especially the 10 or so that go unanswered towards the end of this relationship that existed only in the scrambled imagination of Mr Mackay. You wondered if he ever had a thought as to how this might end. Did it not occur to him that this was beyond recklessness or risk?

Mr Mackay has risen swiftly through the SNP ranks to the point where his name always appeared among lists of future party leaders. He is also known to be a committed party-goer whose off-piste conduct is reported to have elicited a warning from Nicola Sturgeon following concerns expressed by senior party figures. If these reports were being widely disseminated then, you wonder what processes the party has in place to identify and deal with issues around mental health. Politics is an unforgiving and savage environment where virtuous policies are often the result of shady stratagems. There are many casualties.

READ MORE:  Nicola Sturgeon 'banned shamed Derek Mackay from drinking at SNP conferences'

You also wonder if, after 13 years in government with the virtual guarantee of six more, a sense of entitlement has begun to settle within the minds of those who have starred on that journey. Has the ultimate prize of independence detached the party from the moorings that tether the rest of us to reality?

There is a growing number of disillusioned SNP politicians who feel that a poisonous group of ultras has infiltrated the party and hijacked its popularity to advance a threatening gender-recognition syllabus. The social media activity of these entryists is violent and designed to intimidate. They hunt as a pack and openly discuss ways of destroying their opponents. Several are close to the SNP’s inner sanctum and deep concerns have been expressed to the party executive about their vile conduct. Yet they proceed unchallenged.

Concerns about Mr Mackay’s increasingly bizarre conduct have also been expressed for several years, but it seems they too went largely unheeded. He is a broken man now and it’s my hope that some in the party he gave his life to are offering him the help he needs.