THE Manchester bomb attack and the agonies of two families on Barra have rendered what happened at a shambolic Scottish political leaders’ TV debate last Sunday almost meaningless.

The General Election circus started to rumble again yesterday and we clung to the idea once more that this imperfect democratic process remains our most powerful defence against a descent into barbarism and hate.

Not that a hard-pressed nurse from Edinburgh who became the unwitting star and culprit of the BBC leaders’ debate will take any consolation from that. Her experience of the ‘civilising democratic process’ was anything but as she found her character, values and motivation torn apart by the scarecrow element of the SNP’s cyber brigade, a mob who in real life would be incapable of fighting sleep. I know because I’ve seen them.

The faux outrage of the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour were almost as difficult to take. Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale have become specialists in the arts of wailing and gnashing of teeth at the merest hint of anything unruly coming from the SNP’s supporters while cheerfully ignoring the much more sinister hillbilly element in their own followings.

Almost since the start of the independence referendum campaign in 2013 I’ve consistently highlighted the contrived expressions of mock outrage with which the pro-UK parties have reacted to anything they considered offensive from nationalists and their supporters.

Jim Murphy, leader of Scottish Labour during that referendum, was especially adroit at it. His daft soapbox tour of Scotland’s towns and villages allowed him plenty of opportunities to rage against some old-fashioned heckling. If Murphy were to be believed you’d have thought that the SNP had sent out lynch mobs for the purpose of suspending him from a lamp-post.

On another occasion, Yes supporters engaged in the harmless act of covering a public building with stickers were accused of wrecking the shop. And who can forget the phantom ‘Burly Men’ of Ms Davidson’s vivid imagination who were preventing gentle Borders folk from casting their ballots in 2015?

It was all an act though, and designed solely to counter the phenomenon of vast swathes of Labour supporters migrating to the Yes side.

I still believe that the main reason why Labour and Conservative politicians become distressed at mass participation by the great unwashed is that their comfort levels diminish as popular engagement by the hoi polloi increases. Most of what they regard as horrific and unacceptable is nothing of the sort. Most of it …

There’s no doubt, though, that some of it is simply nasty and unpleasant and hands the Union Jack twins opportunities for cheap propaganda. They also tend to lose the plot when those who are pro-independence nevertheless insist on criticising the SNP on the slow pace of its ‘radical and reforming’ agenda; that’s slow spelt: N-O-N E-X-I-S-T-E-N-T, by the way.

A Scottish nurse claimed she’d had cause to visit food banks principally owing to her low rate of pay as a nurse. The authenticity of her claims were not contested, though it later transpired that she didn’t easily fit the lazy assumptions that most of us possess about a typical foodbank user. This is chiefly because, since the advent of the DWP’s fitness for work assessments and sanctions regime, there is no longer a typical foodbank user.

Social media provided pictures of her enjoying food and a glass of bubbly at a hotel in New York and cruelty and vitriol ensued. Oh, the horror of it; imagine a professional nurse having the temerity to actually have a holiday to New York and then having the arrogance to think she was good enough to enjoy a glass of champagne. Doesn’t she know her place? Poor people daring to live the high life for a few days… we can’t be having that, can we?

Anyone who has recently visited a foodbank or who has the slightest notion of how they work would know that many people who might not fit our normal assumptions of poverty have recently had cause to use them. Sudden unemployment; divorce or separation; release following a period in prison: all of these can leave a person suddenly vulnerable to economic distress. When there are children involved the need to feed them comes above all else. The DWP’s sanctions and fitness for work assessments are the closest approximations to pure and unmitigated evil that I’ve seen in UK politics. A sudden sanction can lead to a delay in receiving a benefit that can leave a person who had previously been living a reasonably comfortable existence struggling to pay bills. A few adverse factors occurring together can leave you without the means to provide your children with food or heat. Nursing unions have reported several cries for help from full-time members in despair at the prospect of complete financial breakdown.

Yet this woman was mocked and abused by SNP supporters for her appearance; her body image and her intellect. They left her with nothing. Yet, all she’d done was to highlight a very uncomfortable truth: that we have a low-wage economy and that, in some circumstances, a reasonably well-paid job does not inoculate you from the sting of sudden need.

Some have claimed that there ought not to have been any discussion on foodbanks simply because the conduct of the DWP and the cuts to benefits are reserved matters. The SNP doesn’t have any jurisdiction in this. And anyway, aren’t nurses in Scotland paid at a higher rate than nurses elsewhere in the UK? This is to miss the point entirely.

The SNP have been in power for 10 years or so. Their writ runs unchallenged in this country despite all the recent fake talk of a Tory surge. To many who are uncertain of what is devolved and what is not, the SNP Government is the final court of appeal in Scottish politics. They certainly act like that and they talk like that.

Many former ministers and advisors have materially done very well out of being in power for so long. Neither they nor their family dependants will ever have to bother themselves about what the inside of a foodbank looks like.

Nicola Sturgeon was temporarily railroaded as this Edinburgh nurse let off some steam. I thought she handled it quite well. She let the woman have her say and resisted the urge to dismiss her with a smart apercu. The First Minister is the UK’s most experienced and battle-hardened senior politician. She’ll have worse moments than this and she’ll be capable of handling them on her own.

What she can do without are a squad of middle-class visigoths sticking the boot in to a woman who doesn’t measure up to their own highly subjective poverty indexes. Not that many of them would recognise a poor person even if they came up and spat in their hessian eco-bags.

At the next independence referendum the Nationalists need to persuade more than five per cent of the adult population to come over to their side. They won’t do this by jumping all over their critics like a pack of playground bullies.