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Alan Bissett on his social media faux pas

When I committed to becoming active for a Yes vote a couple of years ago it was to change Scotland for the better.

Indeed, my main experiences along the way have been energising and inspiring, and I've done a lot of good, positive campaigning. But sometimes, given the intense friction between the two camps, one's less noble self emerges.

There are inevitable clashes between Yes and No - on panels, on Twitter, on Facebook or in print - which can be a wearisome experience for both parties. This being politics, neither side can understand why the other doesn't agree with their point of view. Attacks and counter-attacks are made. Frustration rises. The combatants try to stay focused on the arguments, but every so often one just finds a dod of mud in one's hand and a strong desire to throw it.

Earlier this week I apologised for reposting a meme I'd seen on Facebook of a woman with a sticker over her mouth, which I'd used to make a point about Scots being ideologically hostage to the Union. It was thoughtless and crass, and those offended were justified. It also made me wonder what I was playing at - I'm a feminist, but there I was using insensitive, gendered imagery to score a point. I looked around at the wider circumstances. If both sides claim to be representing the best of Scotland, how come much of the discourse becomes simply about "winding up" the opposition?

Ian Davidson MP once talked about "bayoneting the wounded" after a No vote. Alex Salmond probably wishes he'd never called the BBC's chief political adviser "Gauleiter". Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont described the independence movement as a "virus". Beneath this tip is an iceberg of local councillors, professional journalists, amateur commentators and Facebook/Twitter users who aim to simply smear their opponent, football-fan style.

Partly, this arises out of conviction. Each side feels themselves to have a moral objective at odds with the other's selfishness. The Unionists believe Yes are trying to wreck a family of nations and sow division. Yes believes the No campaign wishes to deny Scotland a proper democracy and a better future. Given such diametrically opposed views, of course there is going to be conflict. But it's the ability to pause, reconsider and - yes - reach out a hand that mitigates against lasting bitterness.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one who permanently bemoans "the quality of the debate". It's frequently exciting and intellectually vibrant - otherwise it wouldn't have captured the imagination of the whole country. There have also been moments of which we can all be proud. We saw Scotland at its best in the aftermath of the Clutha crash, rancour put aside for a shared mourning, or on the death of Margo Macdonald, when politicians of every stripe united to pay tribute. Margo's lasting message was not only that Scotland should be independent - rousing as that argument was - but also that we all have to live together afterwards and that our opponents are as human as we are. Her lesson was forgotten, not least by me, as soon as her funeral was over.

It's worth saying that anger in political discourse is not a bad thing per se. Aristotle concluded that anger is justifiable when directed at the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way. Meeting all of these conditions is a good rule of thumb. When one fails, however, and lashes out blindly, then the right thing to do is apologise, offer a handshake and hope that it is reciprocated. And there's not a lot of that goes on in politics.

Scotland at the moment reminds me of the Elastica principle, developed by physicist Leonhard Euler, whereby structures have a tendency, when forced out of their initial shape, to go through a period of distortion before assuming a new form. Scotland is currently in the stage of distortion - which is why the torrid to-and-fro - but if the new form it takes is to be better than the one we left behind, much will depend on the ability of Scots to recognise each other's humanity and respect each other's sense of self. On this particular occasion I was found wanting, but it has given me a resolve to do more, for the sake of that future Scotland. This means making symbolic concessions.

I once wrote a poem called Vote Britain, which received quite a degree of attention, about the ways in which Scots are marginalised by the British establishment. It is loved by many in the independence movement and loathed by Unionists. I felt it necessary to write the poem two years ago, to encourage Scots to reassess our place in the Union, but it is no longer helpful to fostering positive relations in the present climate. As a gesture of goodwill, I promise to retire it from public readings.

One of my favourite moments of the campaign was an outbreak of peace on Twitter last year, when each side warmly embraced those that they most respected on the other. Right now an #IndyRefArmistice is more vital than ever.

I invite everyone, from both camps, to join me over the next 24 hours in ceasing the debate for one day, to instead wish each other well on social media. Let's start on healing that future Scotland now.

l Alan Bissett is a Scottish author and playwright, and a cultural ambassador for National Collective, which supports Scottish independence

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