The membership may be bemused, but the SNP is not in turmoil. Given their party has only one newspaper supporting it, they inevitably tread warily in what is disclosed to the media, and recent comments by many political journalists seem misinformed and highly speculative. So what is going on inside the SNP? Does the party truly belong to Nicola Sturgeon or to the former 'king over the water,' Alex Salmond? Neither, it belongs to its membership and is not being split by divided loyalties.
There is a shared perception by party members of ingrained negativity from the UK press and broadcasters towards the SNP's aim of Scottish self-determination and detachment from an imploding British state. As with any mainstream party, the SNP is a coalition, so there are always tensions, and these are essential to facilitate informed and effective internal debate. Frustration exists about a presidential style of leadership developed under the charismatic Mr Salmond – subsequently continued and reinforced by Ms Sturgeon.
It is easily forgotten, but when Alex Salmond became first minister in 2007, it was by sheer chutzpah and force of personality. His minority SNP government, which the Lib Dems refused to join in a coalition, had a majority of one seat over Labour. Remarkably, that government survived for its full term and an unprecedented landslide was achieved in 2011, when he won an overall majority at Holyrood. His original cabinet of six has now doubled in size, and there are also more junior ministers as the Scottish government has grown to take on greater responsibilities.
An expanded government has given rise to concerns at the role of special advisors in a democratic institution which had transparency as a founding principle, and also the possibility of a 'kitchen cabinet' developing. Those of us who have been around for long enough will recall that term coming into use under Harold Wilson, referring to his close working relationship with Marcia Williams, subsequently Baroness Falkender. There is undoubtedly widespread unease within the SNP that the party's chief executive (effectively general secretary), Peter Murrell, is also Nicola Sturgeon's husband.
Another area of tension is Ms Sturgeon's stance on gender issues, where an insistence on a simplistic gender balance is regarded by many as dogmatic and discriminatory against many talented members of the party who happen to be male. There is also incomprehension that two serious allegations of sexual misconduct against her immediate predecessor, Alex Salmond, were being made public by her permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, despite having been referred to the police. This followed an internal inquiry conducted by Ms Evans under an untested procedure which Mr Salmond has now referred to the Court of Session for judicial review.
The SNP meets for its annual conference next month, which rather strangely runs from a Sunday through to a Tuesday, and thus may prevent many members from attending what was traditionally a weekend-focused event. The return of Moray's Richard Lochhead to government will be warmly welcomed, and viewed by some as signalling a less formalistic approach on gender issues from Ms Sturgeon. In the 2016 election, in constituencies where the incumbent stood down, their SNP replacements had to be female, as in neighbouring Aberdeenshire East. Mr Lochhead has now been given the ministerial post originally allotted to Aberdeenshire East's MSP, Gillian Martin.
A significant event at this year's SNP main conference will be final approval of a revised party constitution, designed to better equip it to accommodate membership numbers, which have more than quadrupled in recent years. Alex Salmond has stated his case and raised funds and a court action to seek remedy to what he perceives as unfair treatment. What constitutes 'fairness' is likely to be much discussed by SNP members and more widely across Scotland in the next few months. While our senior judiciary examine the issue laid before them for determination, ordinary Scots will also debate it. Unlike most of our press, I expect that debate will be similarly based on principles rather than personalities.