I don’t suppose my endorsement will do him much good in the Caledonian Court of Star Chamber, but Fergus Ewing should take comfort from the fact that on every issue where he is deemed to have transgressed, he was right and they were wrong.

The remarkable point is that, having had time to think about it since last September, they are still hanging him out to dry for dissent when, in each instance, its basis has been exonerated by their own government’s retreats, however grudging. And it’s quite an impressive list of battle honours.

Deposit Return Scheme (no more); Gender Recognition Reform Bill (no more); Highly Protected Marine Areas (no more); dualling of the A9 (not yet). On each, Fergus was ahead of the game and his initial offence was to say so.

There are other Holyrood epics in the making. I doubt if the idea of shutting down the right to trial by jury in rape cases will ever see the light of day, and neither should it. Again, Fergus has not minced his words. Maybe his colleagues should envy his perspicacity rather than punish it.

The common characteristic of these issues is that they have nothing to do with independence or, overtly at least, the constitution. On that, he and I will continue to disagree with mutual respect. But there are a lot of other policy areas on which it is possible to make common casue. They are about competence, the squandering of public money and breaking of commitments.

A political party which is so paranoid about its failures being called out that it takes disciplinary action against the lone miscreant who dares to do so deserves the “authoritarian” tag which Fergus Ewing awarded the SNP this week.

I must admit to having been a party to Fergus’s first offence against the SNP/Green coalition. In June 2022, appalled by the sudden outbreak of a desire to close down the North Sea prematurely, a cross-party group of former ministers, he and I included, came together to make the case that oil and gas production should continue while its expertise and infrastructure are essential allies of energy transition.

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I’m sure Fergus got his first black spot for that heresy but we were entitled to a quiet chuckle last week as Humza Yousaf hastened to Aberdeen to pose as friend of oil and gas, saviour of jobs, denouncer of “traitors” and enemy of the same tax rate as Norway. If the previous script still exists, it was almost as well hidden for the day as Patrick of Partick.

Of course, the headline on the charge sheet was about Fergus’s failure to support a vote of confidence in Lorna Slater, the Green minister responsible, if that is not too strong a word, for the Deposit Return Scheme of not very blessed memory.

In his response to confirmation of his suspension, Fergus said: “The public wants, expects and deserves competent government. They did not get that from the Green minister who so disastrously mismanaged the Deposit Return Scheme. In 41 meetings with businesses over a two-year campaign, not one single man or woman believed the minister in charge was competent”.

When one also takes account of the fact that Ms Slater is not a member of his own party, was Mr Ewing duty-bound to disregard these views as well as his own belief and declare confidence that did not exist? Is there no right to dissent from a fiction?

The Herald: Fergus Ewing was scathing in his condemnation of Lorna SlaterFergus Ewing was scathing in his condemnation of Lorna Slater (Image: PA)

What many of us would like to know is how much Ms Slater cost us by persisting with the doomed scheme in the face of all reason and then abandoning it altogether rather than accept a compromise? How many tens of millions were wasted? How many useless machines are scattered round the country? How much will Biffa, the main contractors, come looking for? With every public service in the country cut to the bone, money matters and the glib presumption that incompetent ministers can sail merrily on after wasting large sums on failed projects needs to be challenged. If an SNP backbencher puts that interest in front of mindless party obedience, is he really deserving of sanction?

Fergus’s star turn was in the Holyrood debate on Highly Protected Marine Areas when he theatrically tore up the offending consultation document in the course of his denunciation. It is certainly the only Holyrood speech I can remember from the past year but maybe being memorable in the SNP is an even bigger offence than being found out. Once again, the policy was abandoned and no minister took the rap or suffered any inconvenience. How much did that debacle cost? The communities which endured months of uncertainty and were ignored until that became impossible were grateful to Fergus Ewing, without regard for party allegiance. Was that what really upset the ministerial clones?

I see a lot of issues from an islands perspective, though the same principle can be applied in any part of Scotland. There is a shocking dearth of Scottish Government ministers who have any hinterland in complex policy areas which they are supposed to be in charge of. The only cause that excites them is not in the ministerial brief.

Trying to silence an MSP who knew what he was talking about on matters of regional, constituency or peripheral issues is a sign of weakness which only serves to highlight the inadequacy of those who push through polices which they neither understand nor care about. Some of them can barely read out what the civil servants write for them.

The SNP’s problem is not Fergus Ewing. It is the mediocrity of its own government, reflected in just about every statistic that becomes available. Under Ms Sturgeon, its MSPs lived in terror of challenging anything for fear of excommunication. Now they don’t know if her successor is going to be there in six months' time, so the fear factor is not the same.

It should not just be Fergus Ewing who summons up the courage to challenge rather than obey.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.