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Encouraging consensus at the heart of the campaign

During the admirable STV panel debate on Tuesday night there was a telling moment when the Yes campaign's Elaine C Smith and Labour's Kezia Dugdale found that, try as they might, they just couldn't disagree.

Indeed, when Kezia started extolling elderly care in Finland - where one in four people is expected to live to 100 - I thought she'd switched sides. "That's the ambition they have got for their country there", she said. Well quite.

Then Elaine C laughingly found she couldn't quite bring herself to endorse the SNP's cut in business taxes in the White Paper. "I'm starting to sound like a politician here", she said, disarmingly. Which was fine. She wasn't there as a politician but as a passionate social democrat who thinks the country can become a fairer place if it takes charge of its own affairs. This really isn't about the SNP or Labour, even though it is Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling who have been doing the heavy lifting.

All of the speakers in the STV debate sounded open-minded, intelligent and non-sectarian - which must have made the programme-makers wonder what had gone wrong. TV generally prefers a fight to a dignified exchange of views. But this was surely much more representative of the civilised debate going on the length and breadth of Scotland than the Darling/Salmond confrontations.

I simply don't recognise the "something ugly" the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Right Rev John Chalmers, claims has been entering the referendum from both camps. The campaign I have been following in meetings around the country, online and on TV has largely been sensible and high-minded. This is not Northern Ireland.

Apparently, the Moderator has been a victim of online bullying from unionists and nationalists, which is very unfortunate. However, the internet is a unique form of public communication that puts extraordinary responsibilities on the reader not to seek out such material. In short: there are times when you just have to avoid the temptation to look.

The internet allows all manner of angry and troubled individuals to post their venomous thoughts anonymously and instantaneously online without thought or fear of comeback. Almost anyone in public life now can compile a dossier of vile abuse about them from all sides. I certainly can and I'm only a hack. Politicians by the nature of their job face a daily barrage of hate speak that they simply have to ignore, if for no other reason than they would go mad. But they also have to avoid the temptation to use this material to blacken their opponents. They, like the Moderator, have to observe a self-denying ordinance.

Both campaigns really have to rise above all this, and here's the thing: they largely have. All attempts to drag this referendum into the gutter of sectarianism and racialism have failed. This has been a great moment in Scottish history, precisely because the debate has not been corrupted by hate and division. As Elaine and Kezia eloquently demonstrated, there is a huge reservoir of consensus. Increasingly, Labour and SNP politicians are finding themselves on platforms where they are supposed to be opponents but discover themselves to be allies.

There is universal condemnation of inequality and poverty, a determination to achieve social justice and a common language of social democratic priorities. These aren't just empty cliches either. Both Labour and the SNP oppose NHS privatisation and want to move from the minimum wage to the living wage. Both want to improve childcare, defend public services, build social housing, support comprehensive education and ensure the last remnants of sexism and homophobia are driven from Scottish public life. The two great parties of Scottish politics are pro-Europe, pro-immigration and opposed to the kind of welfare reforms that are being introduced south of the Border.

Even on the constitution, the most remarkable thing is the degree of consensus in Scotland on the way forward. The vast majority of Scots want, essentially, a form of federalism or devolution max in which Scotland acquires true economic autonomy while still working hand in hand with the other nations and regions of Britain. They have made that abundantly clear, even though they lack to opportunity to vote for it.

I can't see this happening without Scotland voting Yes and ensuring a confederal rearrangement of the United Kingdom. I also believe that what the Scottish Government has proposed in the White Paper is in essence a form of federalism, not least because the Bank of England will continue to determine interest rates and borrowing in an independent Scotland. People keep saying to me: "But that's not real independence". To which I reply: "So what?".

And the press has to show responsibility too, in the final two weeks of this extraordinary campaign. Some elements will try to turn the volume up to 11 and claim the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding over the hill with Alex Salmond holding the reins. Pensioners will be pulverised, homeowners impoverished, cancer research abandoned as Scottish children are barred from life-saving operations in England. Denied the pound, rejected by Nato, the EU and the UN, Scotland will cease to be a geographical entity, as Mr Salmond invites his mate Vladimir Putin to send in his annexers and oppressors. You think I'm joking? Well Google the former Labour shadow secretary Lord Robertson and see some of his speeches.

But the bottom line is that everyone in Scotland suddenly seems to be talking about how to make the country a better place. Of course, politicians are supposed to do that all the time, but usually it is in a political bubble from which the ordinary voters are excluded as rather grumpy spectators. This time the people of Scotland really are owning the political process and taking charge of their own destiny.

There has never been a campaign like this in my adult lifetime - and I've been covering politics professionally since 1979. Unionists, while obliged to bang on about the risks and uncertainties, find that in spite of themselves they are excited by the sudden realisation of what is possible, the intoxicating prospect of a new Scotland. Just as Kezia and Elaince C found themselves inadvertently on the same page.

Elections are normally about voting for party that you want to form a government, but this is rather different - it's about the kind of country you want and party is largely irrelevant. Indeed, it's not inconceivable that after a Yes in the referendum Labour would be the first government. Scottish voters don't like to be taken for granted.

Come to think of it, perhaps that's what the Labour MP Jim Murphy's presidential 100-town tour is all about. He's laying the ground to be the first Labour prime minister of an independent Scotland. You heard it here first.

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