Moments that are already defining for the SNP - Paris Gourtsoyannis

Alex Salmond leaves Edinburgh Sheriff Court after he was arrested and charged by police. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
Alex Salmond leaves Edinburgh Sheriff Court after he was arrested and charged by police. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
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Alex Salmond built the modern SNP. It took him and his allies the better part of three decades to resolve the party’s internal contradictions as a broad coalition seeking a single aim.

Thursday’s events will be, as Nicola Sturgeon suggested in her brief remarks, profoundly shocking to many, particularly a political generation that has known little else but SNP government at Holyrood, most of it under Salmond.

All the individuals involved in the case deserve their day in court, without the influence of politics. But the reality the SNP has to come to terms with is of a shock already delivered.

While he was still an MP, Salmond began offering his own views about when a second Scottish independence referendum should take place, putting him at odds with the party leadership.

His decision to appear on the Russian state-backed broadcaster RT forced senior SNP figures to quietly distance themselves from their former leader.

Tensions could no longer be concealed during his civil case against the Scottish Government over its internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment from while Salmond was First Minister.

That brought about an unprecedented confrontation between the two titans of the SNP, as Salmond and Sturgeon’s representatives engaged in a bitter briefing war.

Before yesterday’s events, calls had already been made for Salmond to be reinstated to the SNP despite party rules setting out a waiting period of two years. The question is now unlikely to arise until the conclusion of criminal proceedings, but it would have placed the SNP leadership in an impossible position. Follow the rules and alienate supporters of its greatest hero, or bend them and alienate everyone else?

Civil wars are the most brutal because they force families to pick sides. They may still support the same party and the same cause, but SNP parliamentarians and ordinary members have had to work out whether their deepest loyalties lie with the current leader or the last one.

Those decisions can leave deep scars - ones that the SNP and the independence movement will carry for years, whatever the outcome.