The Scottish Police Federation has dismissed political and media claims of heightened indyref tensions.

Its chairman, Brian Docherty, responding to a series of newspaper headlines accusing Yes campaigners of bullying and intimidating their opponents, cautioned against "exaggerated rhetoric".

And as a former Labour first minister insinuated that Police Scotland was not doing enough to investigate such allegations, Mr Docherty warned his members should not be used as "political footballs".

Jack McConnell, now Lord McConnell, this morning tweeted: "There is something very strange about the absence of Police Scotland intervention to stop referendum-related vandalism and intimidation."

Lord McConnell clarified that his concerns relate to what he regards as the failure of Police Scotland to deter trouble.

In a Twitter exchange with reporters, he said: "I think police presence deters and prevents. Why not enough deterrence and prevention? Different approaches in different areas need explaining."

He added: "Policescotland have a public duty to defend their operational judgements and learn lessons afterwards."

The former First Minister also called on the convener of the Scottish Parliament's justice committee, SNP politician Christine Grahame, to led investigations.

He tweeted: If this was England & Wales @Keith_VazMP would be calling @policescotland in for a public hearing. Over to you Christine Grahame MSP".

The Prison Officers Association, meanwhile, backed their colleagues in the Police Federation after the Lord McConnell suggestion of "strange inaction".

The union, in a tweet, said: "A very calm and measured response from the Scottish Police Federation given the attack on their members. A spurious claim at best."

Police Scotland is not understood to be in a position to comment on criticism from Lord McConnell. However, sources within the force highlighted the tatement by the Police Federation.

Mr Docherty of the SPF, did not mention Lord McConnell by name, but moved to tone down the rhetoric.

He said: "The Police Service of Scotland and the men and women who work in it should not be used as a political football at any time and especially so in these last few hours of the referendum campaign.

"As I have previously stated, the referendum debate has been robust but overwhelmingly good natured.

"It was inevitable that the closer we came to the 18th of September passions would increase but that does not justify the exaggerated rhetoric that is being deployed with increased frequency. Any neutral observer could be led to believe Scotland is on the verge of societal disintegration yet nothing could be further from the truth."

Lord McConnell, when challenged on his assertion on Twitter, responded: "I think everyone knows it is more organised on one side, but I am talking about anyone on any side. Very strange police inaction."

He also said: "Posters least important. Cars vandalised, windows broken, people attacked in shopping centres."

The Herald understands that there has been some frustration among officers over having to investigate petty acts of vandalism - such as stickering - as zealous supporters of either camp make what some regard as frivolous complaints.

Mr Docherty added: "Scotland's citizens are overwhelmingly law abiding and tolerant and it is preposterous to imply that by placing a cross in a box, our citizens will suddenly abandon the personal virtues and values held dear to them all.

"At this time it is more important than ever that individuals be they politicians, journalists or whoever should carefully consider their words, maintain level heads and act with respect.

"Respect is not demonstrated by suggesting a minority of mindless idiots are representative of anything. One of the many joys of this campaign has been how it has awakened political awareness across almost every single section of society. The success enjoyed by the many should not be sullied by the actions of the few.

"Police officers must be kept free from the distractions of rhetoric better suited to the playground that the political stump.

"If crime has been committed it will be investigated and dealt with appropriately but quite simply police officers have better things to do that officiate in spats on social media and respond to baseless speculation of the potential for disorder on and following polling day."

Some sources believe that both sides are trying to highlight alleged wrongdoing - often amounting to very low level criminal damage - in what amounts to "time-wasting whataboutery".

Despite reports to the contrary, police leave has not been cancelled for Thursday's vote, although some divisions have re-rostered rest days, a fairly routine move for an election.  

Police Scotland does not comment on how many officers it has deployed but does expect to be dealing with a bigger vote than normal.

Speaking earlier this week, Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: "The referendum is a significant event which is expected to attract a higher than normal turnout. Policing arrangements for the referendum are well in hand and will be appropriate and proportionate.

"Police Scotland's priority is to ensure public safety and security. We will respond appropriately to any issues which arise. We will not offer comment on the numbers of officers or their specific operational deployment."

Senior police sources, however, have always stressed that they do not anticipate serious trouble.