“The media,” mused Tom Stoppard in his play “Night and Day”. “It sounds like a convention of spiritualists.”

It’s a good line, although today it’s an uncomfortable truth that for many, “the media” has about as much credibility as those who claim to commune with the dead.

To some extent, it was ever thus. When I started out 15 years ago journalists were certainly unloved, but now hatred of the “mainstream media” unites certain Scottish Nationalists, Corbynistas and supporters of Donald Trump.

At the SNP conference in Aberdeen a few months ago most sessions included ten minutes in which delegates and speakers had a pop at the journalists present. It wasn’t much fun, but mostly we took it on the chin. London-based colleagues told me the same had happened at Labour’s gathering in Brighton.

Some manage to escape the general vitriol, such as the late Ian Bell. Now I never met Ian, but he was a fellow columnist on this paper and someone with whom I regularly tweeted. Even when I thought his columns were wrong, they were usually eloquently wrong, indeed he was well regarded as a journalist because he wrote so beautifully, not because he supported independence.

Nicola Sturgeon renewed her tribute to Bell at a gathering of Scottish Parliamentary journalists in Bute House last week. She also spoke warmly (and without any hint of disingenuousness) about the work we do, observing that while she often disagreed with what was written, to her a free press was central to any democratic society.

On that point the First Minister has been consistent, but sadly there’s a big gap between her and many in the wider independence movement. Shortly after the event, for example, the former BBC journalist Derek Bateman excoriated Ms Sturgeon for entertaining “the conventional, and all but exclusively Unionist, media” at her official residence. The Scottish Government, he added, “seems to prefer David Torrance to Robin McAlpine…BuzzFeed to Bella [Caledonia]”, “a weird corporatist approach” he claimed flattered Ms Sturgeon’s “detractors”.

Not only were many of those at that gathering sympathetic to independence (or, believe it or not, genuinely neutral), but a survey of their output over the past year or so would find little that detracted from Ms Sturgeon’s qualities as a politician (on the contrary, most agree she’s a class act), as distinct from the record and performance of her administration. The SNP leader receives an overwhelmingly good press, but the politics of grievance contrives the opposite to be true.

More to the point, Mr Bateman’s blog betrayed a mindset shared by many independence supporters that “good” or “fair” journalism shouldn’t be judged on its own merits, but – like so much else in this post-referendum world – on the basis of perceived constitutional belief. In this world view “Nationalist” scribes are good, “Unionist” hacks bad, and there’s scant room for nuance.

This is the main fault of an otherwise thoughtful book by Christopher Silver, “Demanding Democracy: The Case for a Scottish Media”, which tries to move beyond hoary old charges of “bias” (which during the referendum came to mean anything Yessers disagreed with) and offer a constructive take on a controversial subject. But undermining lots of legitimate points about the internal structures of the BBC and budgetary pressures is the underlying preoccupation with the constitution.

Even the book’s title makes the curious (but common) elision between “democracy” and “independence”, almost as if more than 55 per cent of Scots hadn’t self-determined in favour of the Union last year. But for journalists what matters are stories, not the constitution, and while Mr Silver makes a rare effort to acknowledge that most journalists work hard for little pay or prospects, he repeatedly comes back to the same point.

Instead of “the Scottish press playing an active role in the development of the independence cause”, he observes at one point, it “sacrificed much of its credibility and influence, not on the altar of Scottish statehood, but in an effort to preserve union”. This, as usual, misunderstands both the nature of the media and editorial decision making. Although a talented writer, Mr Silver has no direct media experience to draw on, while those interviewed for the book all share the same view, a little ironic given it exploration of perceived media bias.

Mr Silver also doesn’t place the Scottish media in any sort of context, giving the impression its problems aren’t shared across most of the Western World. Nor does he offer any evidence that support for independence would reverse declining circulations: the vehemently anti-independence Scottish Daily Mail, for example, outsells several other dailies put together, supporting the revolutionary thought that maybe readers simply want good stories rather than editorials extolling the virtues of sovereignty.

And besides, several “new” media outlets have already plugged that undeniable gap, many boasting readerships most newspapers can only dream of. Making it pay, however, is the sticking point. “Demanding Democracy” ends with 25 recommendations, including publication of a media “charter” and establishing lots of new bodies with generous budgets and equally generous tax breaks. If only it were that simple. As Ian Bell told the author: “there’s no such thing as free in journalism. Free is just another word for hobby.”

Independence is not a panacea, neither for the media nor inequality. I’m old enough to remember when devolution was viewed as the saviour of the Scottish media, so we’ve been here before, and even if several titles switched to supporting independence overnight, with declining influence (Ofcom recently revealed that newspapers are now the least popular medium for keeping up to date with news and current affairs) it’s not clear what purpose that would serve. In any case, many newspapers act as platforms for both pro- and anti-independence columnists, and I think it’s safe to say they’re more widely read than leader columns.

To repeat: the Scottish media is far from perfect, yet it has heaps more self-awareness and integrity than many of those who zealously traduce it. Last week many of those invited to Bute House for Christmas drinks also took part in the “Tartan Bollocks”, an annual gathering contrived to poke fun at the most inaccurate stories produced over the past twelve months. Next to me at dinner were two colleagues known to support independence but it wasn’t discussed, because first and foremost they’re journalists, not political activists.

They find themselves working in an increasingly challenging environment, so the problem is the capacity and ability to carry on producing quality journalism, not the media’s constitutional stance. And that’s the central point: if you, dear reader, want the press to be “free”, then newspapers must be left free to judge the great issues of the day, be it independence or Jeremy Corbyn, on their own terms.

“I’m with you on the free press,” remarks another character in “Night and Day”. “It’s the newspapers I can’t stand.” But that, as Stoppard surely meant to imply, is an irreconcilable belief, and a damaging one too.