THERE’S a shadow on the Yes movement’s soul. What was once hopeful and open has become laced with a strain of insular, divisive ugliness and hate.

Back in 2014, the Yes movement stood for forward-thinking optimism. Of course, there was still a nasty underbelly, mostly online – but then all political movements suffer from hate-mongers. The good outweighed the bad. Clearly, there was also ugliness within unionism too, and that remains.

However, today a strata of the Yes movement is mutating into something disturbing. I fear the good may soon be perceived to outweigh the bad.

Since long before devolution, Scotland has been growing ever more considerate and kinder as a nation. Today, it feels that if we haven’t quite started going in reverse, progress has certainly stalled. The cause and responsibility lie with the SNP’s mishandling of the broader Yes movement.

As someone drawn to the Yes movement because of its progressive positions – the hope that it offered an alternative, better world in the face of a broken Westminster system – it’s painful now to see that movement increasingly as an impediment to progress. To be clear: nearly all of these concerns stem from the online world, but we must also recognise that the online world shapes public perception.

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There’s a strain, a minority, within the Yes movement that’s coming to dominate the independence conversation. It’s conspiratorial, angry, and hate is its medium. It has, perhaps, been rightly dubbed the "alt-nat" movement, reflecting the similarities it bears to the wider "alt-right" movement. It’s ultra-nationalist and both fuels, and is fuelled by, cruelty and division. As someone who has no truck with nationalism of any stripe, I find it a threat to Scotland’s better self.

Anti-English sentiment is blithely displayed. The conspiratorial mindset – the paranoid style– prevails. There’s a real sense of online radicalisation – of anyone who’s not a part of this hardline Yes movement fringe being an outright enemy, including moderate independence supporters. Insults like "traitor" are ubiquitous.

The media is hated. Questions are hated. Nuance is hated. Some, without irony, have even labelled part of this hardline strata Scotland’s QAnon. That takes the criticism too far – we’re not quite that deep in the realm of conspiracy yet – but the paranoia and hate do speak of an exceptionally dark worldview.

There’s constant denial of truth and facts. There’s intimidation, harassment, bullying. There’s been violence-laced rhetoric. There’s been talk of mimicking the Irish route to independence; of Catalonian-style "illegal" referendums. There’s been hatred towards women and minorities expressed. The Saltire-wrapped trappings of hardline nationalism loom large.

This increasingly dominant faction is the antithesis of the Yes movement I voted for. The SNP has allowed this splinter to fester within the broader Yes movement to a point where it’s starting to rot. Blame lies with the party, not the majority of independence supporters.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are at loggerheads

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon are at loggerheads

My criticisms don’t relate directly to the Alex Salmond saga – judgment should be reserved on that until inquiries finish. However, this dark side of the Yes movement has unquestionably grown strong amid the SNP’s civil wars. The irony that many in this fringe want to see the SNP, under Nicola Sturgeon, defeated is particularly illuminating.

The women in the Salmond case have been branded "witches". There’s been a menacing campaign of vitriol online and an obvious desire by some to see them named. Trans people – one of our smallest minorities – are a target for hate. A socially reactionary fringe is also beginning to coalesce within this hardline strata of the Yes movement, and seems to be finding its feet when it comes to undermining equality and respect.

Much of this hate and ugliness is encouraged and amplified by elected members of the SNP, and some performative commentators across the media. There’s a side to the Yes movement which is becoming unrecognisable to progressives and moderates.

If this moral change within a strata of the Yes movement is disturbing, from a realpolitik position it’s distinctly curious to see those in this faction, who oppose Ms Sturgeon, siding with hardline unionists and Conservatives. On Sunday, for the first time after 22 polls, support for Yes dipped to a place where it’s now locked 50-50 with No. This shouldn’t be surprising.

It’s not unusual that many moderate Yes voters wonder if these extremists really want to see Scotland independent, or are they just out to make their name and monetise the business of hate. What do they imagine they’re achieving?

Some now worry that if Ms Sturgeon were to go – quit or pushed – the SNP would morph into something deeply unpleasant. Given that it’ll inevitably be the SNP which leads Scotland to independence, should the nation so vote, that’s a worrying thought for reasonable Yes supporters. Some may reassure themselves by believing the SNP will fade post-independence. I can’t predict the future.

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I’m not an "existential" Yes voter – independence isn’t about flag, destiny or identity for me. It’s about building a better, fairer country. A subsection of the Yes movement now feels like a Scottish version of America’s Tea Party movement, which paved the way for Donald Trump. America and England had their flirtation with nationalist extremism in the shape of Trump’s presidency and the antics of hardline Brexiteers. Perhaps it’s now Scotland’s turn. Such ugliness, though, isn’t what the Scottish people or nation want, deserve or need.

If and when the times comes for a second referendum, the Yes movement must stand, unified, for decency and respect. Good people need to reclaim the Yes movement from its dangerous fringe. The decent, grassroots voices of 2014 have been too quiet for too long. Silence has been filled with rage from the online realm, which is now starting to seep into the real world.

None of my criticisms are a rejection of the idea of independence – the political, philosophical bedrock of that position remains, although its spirit now risks being contaminated, and altered out of all recognition. My criticisms are a simple plea for the Yes movement to defend its principles – to reclaim its soul from the fringes – before it’s too late and the campaign for independence is corrupted to a point where it’s no longer salvageable.

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