DIRTY tactics have always played a part in election campaigning, but this year’s battle has been described as one of the most dishonest and polarising in memory.

From the Conservatives changing their social media name to "Fact Check UK" during one televised debate, to confusion over the legitimacy of a photograph of a boy lying on the floor of a hospital for treatment, the LibDems' bar charts and the bizarre story about a Labour activist punching an opposition member which turned out to be untrue; the lines between propaganda and truth are getting more blurred than ever, according to experts.

Academics and pundits from across the globe say this rise in dishonest campaign messaging, the echo-chambers created by social media and the surge in popularity for nationalist-leaning parties in England, Ireland and Scotland could be making way for more extreme, radical views to seep in to the mainstream world of politics, and eventually Parliament.

Senior politicians have called for this type of campaigning, attacks and lies which beset this week’s general election to "never happen again", with some suggesting the political party structure and electoral law needs to be completely redrawn.

Alyn Smith, the newly elected SNP MP for Stirling, said politicians should refrain from using those tactics and call it out when it happens on their own side as well. He added that electoral law needed reformed to keep up with modern political campaigning, and criticised the Conservatives' tactics in particular.

Smith said: "There were umpteen times when the Tories were quite deliberately setting out to mislead people.

“The biggest one being, ‘Let’s get Brexit sorted’. It cheapens everything.

“It’s deep, subliminal stuff, and the rest of us who try to say 'Ah but this doesn’t get Brexit sorted, ah but what comes next, ah but –', we’re all on the back foot.

“It’s empty and it’s vacuous, and it takes politics to a really bad place really fast.”

Smith said he “absolutely” worries about how future elections will now be fought, including the upcoming Holyrood poll.

He added: “Unless we see a wholesale review of electoral finance laws, electoral law itself, data protection law and have a proper discussion about the role of social media, then they are going to take advantage of whatever rule is sloppy.”

He said electoral law “is still designed for when you physically put pieces of paper through people’s letter box”, and added: “The law has just not caught up at all.”

Andy Maciver, a former Scottish Conservative spin doctor and now a political analyst and PR firm director, said that while election campaigns have always been fought on the “edge of truth”, the situation is getting gradually worse.

He said: “There would be little better for this country than throwing up the cards and starting again with the political party structure and system.

“I think it’s getting gradually worse, but it’s not like everything was fine then this happened ... for example '24 hours to save the NHS' has been running at every election for 10 years.

"If it was true wouldn’t the NHS be dead now?

"Political parties live on the edge of truth, especially during campaigns

"All of them [do]. I could give examples from every party, including the SNP.

"Things like 'the punch' are one example but there are lots of others that are products of the same life on the edge of truth.

“For example, the talk of ‘privatisation’ of the NHS, which is an argument about an issue which isn’t actually privatisation – edge of truth; the LibDem leaflets, with their graphs – edge of truth.

“What I’d like to see is politicians behaving like normal people behave. This isn’t about telling the truth, as such. You can tell the truth without being straight.

“This is about being straight with the people and straight with your opponents. We won’t be able to move on until we start doing this."

Lord Menzies Campbell, former Liberal Democrats leader, said the messages from this campaign have been "disturbing" from some parties, and that a shift "back to basics" was needed, not just for the LibDems but for all parties.

He said: "We can see some people who today would tell you something was white and tomorrow they would tell you it's black, and it wouldn't matter if they were telling you the truth or not, they still get away with it.

"Despite what Boris says, the notion that we have fixed Brexit by electing Boris Johnson – we ain't seen nothing yet. Politics has to get back to basics."

Travis Ridout, Professor of Government and Public Policy at Washington State University, told The Herald on Sunday that attack-style campaign advertising, so prominent in the US political scene, is now a firm part of UK politics.

He added dishonesty and untruths are now spread more widely and quickly due to the internet.

He explained: “To some extent that is the nature of politics but it has been sped up, its distribution is wider now because of the growth of digital and social media.

“That is more of a global phenomenon, this misinformation. It may suggest there are changes in the norms of politics. Donald Trump is a good example of that, he is not playing by the rules which typically govern a president.

“You are seeing more of that in the UK as well. Boris Johnson is hardly a typical British politician in the mould of Theresa May or David Cameron. By in large it’s the access to digital and social media which allows this to happen, not just the uniqueness of politicians.”

In terms of the attack-style campaigning used throughout the general election campaign this year, Ridout explained it also has its roots in US politics, which has spread to the UK.

He said: “In the US we have been used to this style of attack advertising for a long time and a lot of that is to do with the prominence of television in our campaigns.

“There are billions of dollars now spent on TV ads, and that has been going on since the 1960s. Because of that, ads have had to be 15 or 30 seconds, and candidates and parties have to make their points very quickly, and they want them to have impact.

“In the UK that wasn’t really an option until 10 years ago with the onset of online video

“Party political broadcasts are a different format – five minutes in length, not a lot of people watch them. With the growth of the internet, you are seeing more of the attack-style 30-second ads.

“I saw a good example from the Conservatives this time. There was jarring music, talking about the chaos that would come from Corbyn in Downing Street. It was attention grabbing.”

Rob Johns, of the University of Essex, said that while nationalism in the UK is nowhere near the levels seen in other European countries, the extreme views being expressed in politics and online can have an impact on voters.

He said: "In this election, there were some elements that were very reminiscent of what has happened in the US.

"We are so polarised. There were a lot of people in the run-up to the election who believed that the polls are just a capitalist conspiracy, because everyone they were taking to were voting Labour but the polls said 43% of people were going to vote Conservative.

"There was a genuine disbelief, and I think that kind of distorted view is exactly what polarisation does – if you can’t quite comprehend how anybody could be on the other side you stop believing reasonably reputable sources like opinion polls, maybe slightly less reputable sources such as the BBC.

"It’s just a climate in which anybody expressing anything not consistent with your opinion is seen as all the way on the other side. Everybody has to be on one side or the other and that can be potentially dangerous."

Dirty tricks - some of the tactics used this election

It’s been called the “battle of the thumbs” between the parties, the importance of smartphones and sharing online content, much of it raw and unprocessed.

• After true reports of the four-year-old lying on the floor of a Leeds hospital, online sites claimed that it had been staged. • A fake assault on a Tory aide outside the hospital was leaked and broadcast by BBC and ITV.

• Boris Johnson refused to appear with Andrew Neil after all the other party leaders had participated.

• Tories rebadged their Twitter account "factcheckUK” to look like an independent fact checking one during a leaders’ debate, and also tried to “Google-jack" Labour Party’s manifesto launch with a fake news site. Then edited a video of Labour’s Keir Starmer to look as if he couldn’t answer a question.

• The LibDems made up misleading bar charts in campaign literature to overstate their position as well as distributing materials deliberately designed to look like local newspapers.

• Nigel Farage accused the Tories of dirty tricks and threatened to report to the police over claims a number of his Brexit Party candidates had been offered peerages in exchange for standing down in the election.