LAST week's front page of the Sunday Herald provoked an outburst of anger on social media. We ran a main story, about political allies of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon encouraging her to put Brexit before independence, and we ran a front page image of the independence rally which happened on Saturday afternoon.

First of all, let's deal with the issue of the picture - which was the cause of the vast majority of the upset. The image showed the Yes rally walking past a small group of unionist protestors staging a counter demonstration. The main story included a reference to the fact that the First Minister was facing calls to concentrate on Brexit rather than independence at the same time "as tens of thousands of Yes supporters marched in support of independence yesterday in Glasgow. The rally - one of the biggest in Glasgow since the Iraq war in 2003 - highlighted a growing gulf in future direction and strategy. The grassroots are eager for the SNP to set a date for a second independence referendum soon, but many party insiders and senior officials want to wait until the post-Brexit picture becomes more clear. The rally also saw unionist campaigners stage a counter-demonstration. There were some ugly scenes, including a small group of men jeering at Yes supporters and giving a Nazi salute."

We also carried a story inside on the rally headlined 'Thousands join rally calling for indyref2', which was accompanied by a picture of Yes supporters marching through the streets, and a smaller secondary image of a group of men waving a Union Jack and giving Nazi salutes. The story reported that somewhere between 35,000 people (estimate by the police) and 90,000 people (estimate by march organisers) took to the streets, but a small group of men gave Nazi salutes.

Details of the Nazi salutes came to our attention due to a tweet from SNP MSP Stuart McMillan who described seeing the gesture being given. There was also a separate incident where a Nazi salute was recorded on film by a pro-independence supporter.

The front page picture was also captioned: "Yes supporters took to the streets yesterday, but ugly confrontations marred the event."

Those upset at the way we covered these two stories - the rally, and the front page article regarding the First Minister, Brexit and independence - made a number of points:

1. that the picture was not representative of the day's event.

This is a fair criticism and one that, with the benefit of hindsight, we accept. The event itself saw tens of thousands of people march through the city, and only a small group of counter-protestors. It would also be fair, then, to ask why we used the image on the front page. Part of our thinking was that throughout the day, the Scottish public was able to see image after image, both on our own website and other sites such as the BBC, of Yes voters marching through the city. As a Sunday newspaper, it is our job to look for something new to tell our readers, rather than just regurgitate yesterday's events. When an SNP MSP brought attention to the fact that counter-demonstrators were behaving in a totally unacceptable and threatening way, we considered this news worthy of our attention.

The Sunday Herald has long tried to provide balance to other newspapers which often describe Yes voters in disparaging ways or highlight behaviour by Yes voters which they deem unpleasant. When there was a campaign against so-called 'cybernats' in other papers, we turned our attention to look at the behaviour of unionist voters online who were equally engaging in bullying or unacceptable behaviour. We wish to provide balance, accuracy and fairness. Our coverage last Sunday was an attempt to maintain that tradition.

In essence then our decision-making came down to this: to use either the images of a sea of Saltires, which felt well covered by Saturday evening, or to use a fresh front page image, which also spoke to our coverage of the small but ugly counter-demonstration.

The executive team working that night had a long conversation about using the image and in the end we made the choice we did - with hindsight we could have run an image on the front page which was much more representative of the entire day's events, and kept pictures of the isolated unpleasantness for the inside.

2. that we should not have reported the Nazi salutes.

We would politely disagree. Reporting facts is our business. The Sunday Herald office is staffed with some of the most experienced and talented reporting staff in journalism. None of us would ever condone 'not reporting' the news. If an event happens it is our duty to tell our readers about it.

Both these criticisms are completely valid - even if we do not accept the second - and we hope our explanation of events goes someway to satisfying readers who felt our coverage not up to standard.

However, there were many more attacks which came our way - and these were of a very different nature. They included:

1. claims that the Nazi salutes did not happen, or were made up by the Sunday Herald.

As we have said, the information first came from an SNP MSP and was captured on film and was thus worth following up in news terms. Readers of the paper would have had the pictorial evidence in front of their eyes inside the paper.

2. that the front page picture was fabricated or manipulated.

This is clearly wrong. The Sunday Herald prides itself on the accuracy of its journalism and photo-journalism.

3. then, bizarrely, we were accused of deliberately NOT reporting Nazi salutes and unpleasant behaviour by anti-independence demonstrators.

To reiterate: after Stuart McMillan broadcast details of Nazi salutes on social media, one of our senior reporters immediately put a short story, with images, of the behaviour online. We also reported the events in the paper. In essence then, we were being accused of both doing and not doing something at the same time, namely the reporting of Nazi salutes.

4. there were also claims that our front page story was made up.

Anyone who reads the paper would know that the Sunday Herald has impeccable credentials when it comes to our journalism. The story was sourced to named allies of the First Minister, so was not only absolutely accurate, but checkable by anyone who wished to speak to the named sources.

You may see, then, that the complaints break down into two categories - those from readers who felt we had not done our job properly (which we accept as legitimate criticism, even though we may disagree with some of the criticism), and those that appear to be from people who not only do not read the paper, but are deliberately misrepresenting what the paper did and does.

This is of concern. Some of the email complaints which we received clearly came from people who did not read the paper (as evidence, they said that there was no coverage of the Nazi salutes in the paper, when there was) - and some of these emails were identical. Word for word, and typo for typo complainers were sending in the same letter. It appeared to have an orchestrated feel to it.

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On social media, some of the same people who attacked the Sunday Herald for reporting on Nazi salutes, then discovered film of the salutes being given and put the images out themselves. Understandably, it is confusing if a critic attacks a paper for reporting on a specific subject, only for the same critic to then later effectively report on the same subject themselves. At the very least, this is double-standards of the worst sort.

Some of the language used towards staff was also threatening and clearly unacceptable. Staff were shouted at over the phone, and foul language used towards them. One email said staff should be skinned alive. And there was a constant refrain that the Sunday Herald was some treacherous, false friend to the SNP and the Yes movement.

Let us make one thing very clear - firstly, the Sunday Herald endorses no political party. All political parties, especially one that has been in power for ten years, deserve microscopic scrutiny. Secondly, while the Sunday Herald was the only paper to support independence - and still supports independence - we are here to report news, not to be an echo chamber.

There have been a number of comments made that the direction of the Sunday Herald is changing. If that means we need to be a more open, inclusive newspaper in an often bitter, divided and prejudiced world, then that is true. We maintain our core values - including our support for independence - but this paper is not a closed shop. Unionist voters, Conservative voters, Labour voters, would not be blamed for feeling that the Sunday Herald appeared for a time after the referendum to be something of a closed shop; that there was no home for them here. We wish that perception to change.

This paper can still hold our core values, and also be a home for friendly, healthy debate in which all sides feel they will be respected and listened to and given a fair hearing. A paper which supports a political position - be it Brexit, independence, or anything else - should make sure that it subjects that position to as much scrutiny as it does alternative points of view. If one wishes independence to succeed then it needs to be rigorously tested and objectively examined to see if the case is strong enough. There is no point in supporting a position which has gone unscrutinised and unquestioned.

It is, therefore, disappointing that a small minority of both the Yes movement and SNP voters should turn on a paper that has supported the central tenet of their beliefs - independence - for many years. There seems to be a hatred of journalism - of questioning, of analysis, of nuance, of open debate - at the heart of such sentiment which is truly not good for democracy. The Sunday Herald has long taken positions - from supporting devolution, to outspoken opposition to the Iraq war - that other papers have not, and done so with pride. So to be pilloried as liars is not only very wounding to an incredibly hard-working team, but it is completely wrong and without any factual basis. Some of the criticism levelled at us has had the feel of a complete disconnect from reality, and has echoes of the worst of the online world as exhibited by the Trump campaign and its dissemination of lies as fact.

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It is also disheartening that SNP figures do not speak out to condemn such distortion of the truth, when they know full well the values and the standards of the Sunday Herald. By maintaining their silence, they are allowing lies to poison the body politic. Staff in this paper have had many conversations with many senior elected figures in the SNP who are as disgusted by the conspiracy theories of the Yes fringe as any right thinking person would be - so we would ask them: when you see your supporters lying and bullying, have the courage to stand up and call them out; failing to do so betrays any claims by the party that it stands up for what is right and fair and decent.

The behaviour of a minority is damaging the hopes of independence. The failure to speak out against the excesses of this minority is also damaging the hopes of the Yes movement. The Yes movement should be an inclusive welcoming place which embraces debate - not a closed-minded echo chambers of threats, bullying and fake news.

Unless you raise your voices, the sound of a mob will drown out your cause - and then all that will be left is noise.