If Alex Salmond were really confident that Scotland was a trendsetter in integrating people of Muslim faith or background, he would be more relaxed towards sceptics like me. He might even welcome my contributions to the necessary debate on how best to devise pathways for integration that will enable these new Scots to feel at ease here and their co-citizens to value their presence.

Even though some of my criticisms about the SNP's record in this sensitive field may have been provocative, it is not very sensible simply to brush me aside as "a daft professor", as Mr Salmond did at Bute House on July 31 at an event promoting togetherness.

This defensive attitude is a poor showcase for the kind of Scotland of which, presumably, he would like to be an architect, and it revives legitimate concerns that an SNP-run Scotland would not have much room for nonconformist voices that challenged its agenda.

My principle concern is that Mr Salmond is establishing a partnership with religious figures and community activists, and not reaching out to Muslims as individual citizens. This is a failed policy which, when tried out in England, backfired on Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard and also on Tony Blair and Jack Straw. The only well-known figure continuing to pursue a radical multicultural agenda is London's Mayor Ken Livingstone, with whom the First Minister had a well-publicised meeting last month.

Such Muslim dialogue partners often wish to advance a religious agenda that gives international loyalties primary consideration or else they hope to obtain special concessions, especially in the educational field.

To campaign like this is their entitlement but it does not necessarily assist those Muslims who wish to set down durable roots in Scottish society. My quarrel is not with Osama Saeed of the Muslim Association of Britain, whom the electronic media has turned into the chief spokesman of the 60,000 strong Muslim community in recent weeks, but with politicians who fail to see that ill-judged initiatives can prove disruptive inside that community.

It is a community in which young people, especially, are pulled in different directions. Besides the appeal of secularism, moderates attached to the Sufi tradition are locked in competition with Islamists who promote a purist form of belief influenced by austere Arabian norms. Some of the latter see salvation as emanating from a politicised form of Islam and, where appropriate, do not rule out violence.

It is right that public figures engage purposefully with the Muslim community, but they need to display a modicum of religious literacy and be aware that huge issues are at stake extending beyond the Scottish arena. Before Mr Salmond states that "we are ahead of virtually every other European country on this", he needs to inform himself of the balance of forces within the Muslim community and also what relations are like between Muslims and non-Muslims in particular localities.

The biggest concentration of Muslims is to be found in Glasgow and its environs, where the SNP, traditionally, has not prospered. I would recommend that he reaches out for advice to figures in other parties and the wider society who are knowledgeable about inter-ethnic relations and who know where the pressure points are. They would include politicians such as Mohammad Sarwar, the MP for Glasgow Central whose determination to bring to justice the killers of Glasgow teenager Kriss Donald after they fled to Pakistan in 2004, was politics at its most principled.

Mr Salmond might also consult with Labour MPs in the north of England such as Ann Cryer and Shahid Malik who have got very worthwhile insights on how to prevent an enclave identity growing up which plays into the hands of both white extremists and Muslim radicals.

As someone who has observed inter-communal relations in a large north of England city with a growing Muslim population, I would be happy to meet with him if he feels such an encounter would be beneficial.

Some unenlightened Labour politicians in England have tried to monopolise the Muslim vote in their seats by colluding with clan politics and turning a blind eye to problems within the Muslim community that they wouldn't ignore in other settings. Community relations only suffer as a result.

The SNP needs to resist the temptation to court a narrow range of Muslim voices in parts of Scotland where the party's appeal is still limited, in the hope of obtaining electoral advantage. This means challenging self-styled Muslim leaders on occasion when their statements and actions fall short of expectations.

Otherwise, Alex Salmond will simply be replicating failed English policies and revealing that he prefers soundbites and simplistic answers to tackling social challenges that will determine the face of Scotland whether under home rule or independence.

  • Tom Gallagher holds the chair of ethnic peace and conflict studies at Bradford University and has published several books on politics and religion in Scotland.