This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

One of the great pleasures of newspaper journalism is the letters page. It’s a direct pipeline between reader and writer, providing columnists with nuanced, intelligent feedback from informed and exceptionally bright folk.

There is, incidentally, no comparison between the letters page and what passes for so-called digital ‘feedback’ on Twitter or the like. Being shouted out by BigMalky07585738 is never enlightening.

Only the letters page gives writers real, nourishing food for thought. That feedback can be uncomfortable, as smart readers have taken the time to pull you up on short-comings. That’s valuable, though. You learn from it. It can also be quite the morale boost when an article you’ve grafted over gets the thumbs-up from those same smart readers.

Letters are seldom nasty, nearly always considered. I often exchange private emails with readers who write into the letters page, taking our conversations further.

It’s that spirit which prompts this column. Two readers wrote fascinating letters this week analysing my thinking around the SNP. The letters were elegant, polite, pointed and persuasive – and crucially made me realise I owe readers further explanation about why I write what I write. As all good writing should, the letters provoked introspection.

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Both letters responded to a column in which I said the SNP is bringing defeat upon itself through continual policy failure, scandal and in-fighting. I was, it’s fair to say, quite caustic.

Let me add that being true to my beliefs and honest with readers are the values that guide me as a columnist. I’ve never written one word I don’t believe.

Reader Derrick McClure wrote to say that as “an independence-supporting columnist”, I “would be better employed in calling on the SNP to get its act together than in predicting its collapse”. 

Reader Mary Thomas’s letter made the point that I should have acknowledged that under the SNP Scotland fares much better than England under the Tories.

As a left-of-centre moderate Yes voter, I understand and respect where Derrick McClure is coming from. Evidently, he wants to see independence happen. So do I.

However, I cannot in good faith keep repeating the same points. For years now – literally – in my columns I’ve beseeched the SNP to do better, not just for the sake of independence, but for the sake of Scotland and every citizen.

My position is that independence will only be achieved when – if – the SNP learns to govern so well that majority support solidifies for Yes, leaving no room for Westminster to deny another referendum. I cannot change my view on that.

The Herald: 'I’ve beseeched the SNP to do better, not just for the sake of independence, but for the sake of Scotland and every citizen''I’ve beseeched the SNP to do better, not just for the sake of independence, but for the sake of Scotland and every citizen' (Image: Newsquest)
I also understand and respect Mary Thomas’s opinion. I agree with her that Scotland fares better under the SNP than England does under the Tories. No question.

However, again, I’ve said that often. I regularly single out the Scottish Child Payment for praise as an exceptionally positive SNP policy.

Nevertheless, the SNP cannot rest on so few laurels. Nor, I’m afraid, is being ‘better than the Tories’ good enough for Scotland and its citizens.

I’ve always seen independence as existing outside of politics. It’s a civic matter, for the conscience of individual citizens. It is not owned by any party. In fact, tying the fortunes of independence to the SNP’s fortunes is dangerous, I believe.

Read Neil every Friday in the Unspun newsletter.

But my disappointment in the SNP is tempered by the fact that my thoughts on our government led to such an interesting – and hopefully positive – exchange with valued readers. I hope this shows journalists listen respectfully to their audience.

I also hope Derrick and Mary tell me what they think of my response to their thoughtful contributions. Long may such exchanges continue.