A FEW days ago on the BBC’s Politics Live programme we witnessed a rare event in UK politics. Former broadcaster Andrew Neil took on the grievance narrative of the SNP’s Alyn Smith and systematically dismantled the nationalist’s empty rhetoric on the life chances of deprived kids from where I’m sitting here in the East End of Glasgow.

I say that this is a rare event in British politics because traditionally, the SNP are given a largely free ride in UK-wide media because of their capacity to deflect attention from where their record is weak – education, justice, civil liberties, health, transport, etc – to constitutional grandstanding or nationalist dog-whistling.

The SNP do not want devolution to work – they want devolution to end. So it is perhaps logical from their perspective not to use the full powers that devolution affords them to improve lives here in Scotland because that would be contrary to their assertion that only independence can bring about meaningful change.

It is the responsibility of democratic opponents of the governing party here in Scotland and, crucially, a free and independent press to hold them to account. This is why the role of scrutiny as performed by Andrew Neil is so vital for our democratic process. The First Minister claims not to shy away from such scrutiny and uses the example of her daily press briefings as proof that she is willing and able to subject herself to questioning from journalists. Put to one side the affront to the very same Scottish Parliament she continually claims is disrespected by Westminster that policy is announced at these briefings rather than to elected MSPs, Nicola Sturgeon continually claims that she never uses these events – broadcast live and uninterrupted on our public service broadcaster – to make political or partisan statements.

Anyone who has watched a single one of these briefings over the past eight months knows this to be patently false. She regularly invites criticism of the UK Government in full knowledge that the UK Government has no opportunity to rebut her assertions. Just saying that she will not be political does not prevent the First Minister in the very next breath from straying into political territory.

She regularly shows contempt for journalists from certain publications – whose readers include many tens of thousands of our fellow Scots – who dare to ask her questions that she deems to be inappropriate. Instead of addressing whatever substantive issue they raise, be it care home deaths or the SQA scandal, the First Minister regularly pivots into a purposeful interpretation of the question

as a personal attack on her. This is important because it activates a legion of online SNP supporters who identify any slight against their leader and spring into action on social media to defend her and viciously denigrate the journalists who have the temerity to scrutinise her record. This is not a healthy state of affairs for Scottish democracy.

We have seen in other countries the perils of a weak press that is continually demonised by the political party in control of government, and the effect this can have on our trust in the democratic process. We cannot allow this to happen in Scotland. So I would say to the First Minister and her party colleagues: the “mainstream media” whom so many of you despise is fulfilling a vital role in our democracy and should not be vilified in the way they are or baseless aspersions cast upon the motivation of journalists for questioning your government. And I would implore journalists not to be dissuaded or intimidated from fulfilling your role in speaking truth to power and following the lead of Andrew Neil in pursuing the substantive case against the SNP’s spin when it comes to their 13-year record in government.