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Whatever the result, we are all winners in this debate ...

Remember Prescott, the bruising baron?

Baron Prescott is a senior British statesman who was deputy prime minister for a full decade. When he was campaigning, as plain John Prescott in the 2001 UK general election, he was involved in a minor contretemps in North Wales.

A disaffected Welsh farmer threw an egg at him. Mr Prescott responded immediately and, for some onlookers, very effectively. He punched the farmer, hard.

Mr Prescott's boss, the prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, dealt with the matter dismissively, shrugging it off as an incident of no importance. He smiled and said simply: "John is John."

A UK-wide opinion poll found Mr Prescott's reputation had suffered no harm whatsoever. Indeed many folk seemed to approve of the fact he had rendered his reputation as a political bruiser literally true.

The incident was shown time and time again on national television, but there was no lasting residue. People moved on. Few in the media, and indeed in the Tory opposition of the time, were disposed to make much of it.

In other words, the UK political class and the UK media behaved with a benign maturity. Of course nobody was endorsing Mr Prescott's behaviour; they were merely ensuring that not too much was not made of a minor incident. That was their main concern, and it was principled, mature reaction.

And of course there have been other incidents. Paint was thrown over Prime Minister John Major. He made little of it, but reacted with the understated dignity that was his main characteristic. Further back, eggs were thrown at both Ted Heath and Harold Wilson.

Now let us just imagine for a moment what would happen if another statesman, this time First Minister Alex Salmond, dared to punch, Prescott-style, someone who was acting provocatively during the current referendum campaign.

There would, I'm pretty certain, be an extended, quivering, self-righteous orgy of over-the-top condemnation.

Indeed I reckon ordinary Scots would be led to believe the very basis of our civilisation was now under extreme threat. The rhetoric from the likes of Jim Murphy would no doubt take indignation to a sublime pitch that I can hardly imagine; I'd certainly never underestimate this man.

I'm sure that after Mr Murphy and his advisers had consulted their thesauruses and dictionaries, they would be using adjectives some of us hardly knew existed. Or perhaps nouns would suffice. Apocalypse would be upon us, barbarity would be about to befall.

Please, let us instead return to reality, and very positive reality at that. The real story here is that the referendum campaign has been a remarkable success. Thousands upon thousands of ordinary Scots have been engaged in an extended political discussion that has been respectful, measured and decent.

This, in my experience, is unprecedented. As a journalist I've been covering and commenting on general election campaigns, and other political campaigns, since 1970. The norm has unfortunately been a sad, vegetative apathy.

Remarkably, there has suddenly been a sea change. I've been to several public meetings over the last few months and I've been both impressed and humbled by the scale of the considered and careful engagement of people who, as many of them have remarked, have up till now taken little interest in politics.

For the first time that I can remember, I've heard ordinary folk in audiences asking far better questions than the journalists and politicians have asked.

The turnout on September 18 may well be over 80 per cent. This is utterly extraordinary, and it is a huge positive. It's something we should surely all welcome wholeheartedly.

If people really were being turned off and intimidated then the turnout might just descend to the pitiful, abysmal level that is commonplace at general elections and local elections.

This is the norm, the routine comfort zone, of too many cynical and mediocre Scottish politicians, many of whom have become well used to getting elected on derisory turnouts.

There are many reasons for this apathy and I'd never blame any one particular party as being solely responsible. But the turnout at elections, especially local elections and by-elections, has been shameful.

So surely Mr Murphy and his colleagues should be delighted the Scottish people are now so enthusiastically engaged in the political process. This is by far the best and most benign civic development in my lifetime, and I'm proud and happy.

Whatever the result of the referendum, I'll accept it with good grace, knowing there has been a remarkable revival of informed grassroots debate and public engagement.

But I'm not important; what is important is that the huge, resounding majority of those who vote No and those who vote Yes will, I'm certain, react on September 19 in a decent, gracious and respectful way, whatever the result. Scotland is obviously divided right now; but it is also, in an almost magical, undreamt of way, united.

This is because the people are stirring; they are considering possibilities that were undreamed of a generation or so ago, and even more importantly, they are realising that they, the people, are enfranchised and they have a huge, all-important say in the future.

I sense the many people south of the Border are looking on with both awe and a tinge of envy.

So please, Mr Murphy: I beseech you: Try not to turn minor incidents, which should no doubt be condemned (in a way that John Prescott's punch was not generally condemned) into something much more significant.

Please don't let those around you predict "absolute carnage" at the polling stations. Please don't ratchet up your rhetoric overmuch. That may be left to a few immature folk on the fringes of our national debate, in cyberspace, and in the poisonous delusion of their own limited mindsets.

Whatever happens on September 18, something glorious has already happened.

We have reawakened as a people.

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