Trolls do not typify debate

WE are now well into the final 100 days of the independence referendum campaign.

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Three separate polls over the past week have all shown support for a Yes vote on the rise, the No vote is on the slide and the race now virtually neck and neck. There's little doubt, then, that the Yes campaign heads into the final strait with optimism, confidence and momentum on our side.

The last few days have also seen some debate about the tone of the debate. A minority - on both sides - who hurl abuse at their opponents on social media have dominated too many of the headlines.

I completely and utterly condemn all such behaviour - regardless of who it comes from and who it is directed at.

I know, from the personal experience of regularly receiving vile comments on Twitter, just how horrible some of this online abuse can be.

Anyone engaging in this kind of conduct who believes, either that their behaviour is acceptable or that it does the cause they profess to support any good at all, is seriously misguided and downright wrong.

They should cease and desist and accept that everyone in this debate - without exception - is entitled to their opinion and to express it freely.

But the wider point I want to make is this. These online trolls are a tiny minority.

They do not typify the debate our country is having. For the vast majority across Scotland, the referendum campaign is interesting, energising and exciting.

People care deeply about the decision they are being asked to make and, no doubt, at times they feel frustrated by both sides of the campaign. But overall, the debate is a good and a thoroughly positive one.

I've lost count of the number of people I have spoken to who normally don't take that much interest in politics but who are, right now, deeply engaged and interested in the issues at stake.

Public meetings the length and breadth of the country are packed out with people eager to listen to the arguments and ask questions.

Indeed, the turnouts at the many public meetings I've spoken at are quite unlike anything I've ever experienced before.

Suddenly, as a nation known, like many others, for low turnouts in elections, we are intensely interested in - and well informed about - the way we are governed, how our economy works, where power is best held, how that power can best be exercised to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country, and how collectively we will be best equipped to address the challenges we face and maximise the opportunities we have.

There is something quite wonderful about all of that and, whatever the outcome of the referendum, I hope that this sense of interest and engagement will continue for a long time to come.

So over the remaining weeks of the campaign, let us all argue our case with passion.

But let us do so with respect and in a spirit of celebration of the fantastic country we are all so lucky to live in.

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