THERE’S a critical dysfunction in Scottish democracy. It’s the interweaving of the SNP and the Yes movement. Scottish independence is too big an issue for one party to own. Some will say that the Greens support independence too. However, the party is completely overshadowed by the SNP. On its main issues – equality, independence, and the climate – the Green Party is constantly trying to get its voice heard above that of the SNP, and failing.

Why shop at a boutique store when you can go to the Asda of Scottish politics?

Independence as a political issue is owned lock, stock and barrel by the SNP. They have no rivals. But it shouldn’t be this way.

It doesn’t matter that independence has been at the heart of SNP philosophy since the party’s inception. At this stage of the nation’s history, to permit one party to control the narrative around the future of Scotland is to fatally wound the way our democracy should work. Independence needs a plurality of voices and of thought. A singular, clunking, hierarchical party machine isn’t fit for such a momentous task.

But praise where it’s due, the SNP’s great success is the journey it’s taken from the fringes of political life to representing the status quo. Part of that great success was changing the narrative around independence. Like the party, the issue of independence moved from the outer limits of politics to centre stage.

Today, it’s independence which will probably decide how a citizen casts their vote in Scotland. This creates a dangerous warp in the fabric of our democracy, however. Many voters, who see independence as their prime political ambition, hold the SNP to lower standards than they would any other party.

They turn a blind eye to the party’s failings because the SNP is seen as the only vehicle which can achieve independence. You don’t shoot your own horse when it’s in a race – you cheer it on at the top of your voice.

The SNP’s enmeshment in the Yes movement works like a force field, protecting it from flak and scandal that would destroy any other party.

This is great for the SNP but not so much for Scotland. The SNP record on health, education, policing, drug deaths, homelessness and economics, is increasingly poor, yet it just keeps dodging bullets. That big Yes badge on the party’s lapel keeps it safe. The Saltire has become a political bullet-proof vest.

Even damaging scandals seem to have little effect. The Derek Mackay story won’t fatally wound the party. There’s been much talk of the Mackay case spelling the beginning of the end for the SNP. It won’t. Voters who want independence will take the shame and the scars and move on.

However, the Mackay scandal will have negative political fall-out for the Yes movement. The great damage done is in the eyes of undecided voters and soft No voters, the swithering centre ground of the constitutional debate. The SNP’s increasingly alienating and uninspiring behaviour will deter those most needed to win independence. New voters won’t be gained.

Of course, the SNP is hammered in the Unionist press. But there are Nationalist journalists who make no bones of their bias too. One commentator said before the last election that they’d not be making any criticism of the SNP until votes were cast and the party assured victory. It all feels a little incestuous on both sides. What we need is impartial debate for the good of the country.

So the SNP gains from its controlling stake in the Yes movement, while the Yes movement is tarnished with the behaviour of the SNP. That’s the bottom line.

This isn’t just a post-Mackay and pre-Salmond trial concern – this issue has been festering for years and rotting away inside the Scottish body politic.

Reporting which holds the SNP Government to account is dismissed as an attempt to hamper the cause of independence. The net result? The SNP dodges proper accountability. If any other another party was in government, such scrutiny would be lauded for holding power to account. That’s no longer the case among a section of independence supporters. That wounds democracy.

Perhaps, the best route out of this democratic dilemma is for an umbrella organisation like the old Yes Scotland to rise from the grave. We need to have a clear dividing line between the SNP and the broader Yes movement.

The SNP needs to be held to the same set of standards as other parties. It needs voted in and out of office according to its record. It’s now becoming detrimental to good governance for the SNP to be able to continually hide behind independence.

Similarly, a Yes movement set apart from the SNP machine, could represent independence without the issue being contaminated by party politics. This is in the best interests of Yes voters – of whom, I’m one.

Why would I want an issue I believe in – in this case independence – made unnecessarily grubby by a political party? And why would I want the issue I believe in to be used as a shield by a political party – in this case the SNP – to prevent it being properly held to account?

Of course, the old Yes Scotland organisation, which shut up shop after the last independence referendum, had plenty of influential SNP members. But it was run by Blair Jenkins, a senior broadcaster not a politician, and Dennis Canavan, a former Labour MP who became an independent MSP.

Yes Scotland didn’t feel as if it were merely an adjunct to the SNP, intended to aid a party political machine. It felt like an organisation arguing for independence in a way that was best for the people of Scotland.

This is why the debate around independence has become so toxic. All those old organisations which campaigned in 2014, like Women for Independence or National Collective, represented ordinary folk making their voices heard. They did so mostly without bitterness or rancour.

These citizens’ organisations operated by trying to win undecideds around with persuasion. Now that the debate around independence has been left to the career politicians it’s stagnated into ugliness – because that’s what politics is: people are in it for power, money and ego. That’s not what the Yes movement was ever about, nor what Scotland needs.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year