I DON'T know about the Scottish cringe, but I found last Thursday night's Question Time programme toe-curling.

The BBC debate, broadcast from Edinburgh, presented a nightmare version of the referendum campaign, complete with Respect MP George Galloway forming a devil's alliance with the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, to suggest that the latter had been the victim of anti-English behaviour when he last appeared in Scotland.

I felt some sympathy for the journalist Lesley Riddoch, trying confusedly to make a moderate non-party case for voting Yes against those two Unionist foghorns. The SNP Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, made the cardinal error of attacking the programme for bias. This never works as it looks like an attack on David Dimbleby, who is a national institution. Robertson may have had a case since he was outnumbered three to one, but in these situations you have to suck it up as whingeing antagonises viewers.

Having worked on BBC shows such as QT, I'm sure there was no bias intended by the producers. They wanted a good old confrontation, and because it was Scotland they could get away with it. If it had been QT the week before, say, the Eastleigh by-election in Hampshire, rather than Donside in Aberdeen, they wouldn't have dared pack the panel with eccentrics and nationalists representing constituencies in another country.

But better get used to this, because I suspect the QT spat is what next year's referendum campaign will be like, only on a larger scale. The "story" of the referendum will be Nationalists trying to break up Britain and setting Scots against English. The Scottish press is hostile to independence, so imagine how certain newspapers will cover the referendum for their English readers – they will portray the SNP and the Yes campaign as anti-English bigots.

Even the liberal Guardian presented last month's confrontation between Scottish anti-racism demonstrators and Nigel Farage in Edinburgh as a "battle of nationalists", suggesting a moral equivalence between Ukip and the SNP. There will be more of this in the run-up to September 2014 – Alex Salmond will be portrayed, inaccurately, as a liberal version of the French nationalist, Jean Marie Le Pen. The SNP will be unfairly compared with ethnic nationalist parties like the True Finns.

There will be lots of boring and balanced BBC Scotland programmes on late at night that no-one will watch, and then a series of dramatic UK-led prime-time debates chaired by David Dimbleby and Jeremy Paxman, which will define the campaign. It will be about acrimonious divorce rather than the highly nuanced and consensual separation proposed by Yes Scotland. But TV doesn't deal in nuance.

And anyway, from an English point of view, the story is about the break-up of Britain. It's no use the Yes campaign saying they don't want to set up border posts or victimise English people and that they want to keep the Queen and the pound. It will be entirely natural for the 55 million people who do not live in Scotland to feel a sense of rejection.

There will be lots of "vox pops" – those supposedly random but highly selective interviews with citizens of the English street – which will no doubt reveal a well of antagonism towards Scots over things like free personal care and free tuition fees being paid for by English taxes. These attitudes have already been exposed in research conducted by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in its report last year, The Dog That Finally Barked, which noted growing hostility towards Scots.

Holyrood policies are not paid for by English taxpayers, but out of the fixed block grant set by the Barnett Formula. Free care has to be financed by economies elsewhere in the Scots budget. But try explaining that to an undergraduate in Brentford racking up debts of £9,000 a year to get a degree, or to English families selling granny's home to finance her nursing care.

I felt every sympathy with the bright young woman in the QT audience who expressed her dismay at the inability of either side to address the real issues in the referendum. But sitting next to her was a misguided young man who seemed to believe that Scottish people were routinely victimised when they travel to England. Guess who David Dimbleby chose to focus on? That young man and those like him, will be pursued by UK newspapers and his views relayed to English readers.

The portrayal of the Scottish debate as divisive and essentially about ethnic chauvinism will be encouraged by Scottish politicians such as Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Labour's Anas Sarwar, who has described the Scottish Parliament as an elected "dictatorship". And the former president of the Scottish Law Society, Ian Smart, who will no doubt be asked to elaborate on his tweet about "the turn on the Poles and Pakis" after independence (he later insisted he'd been referring to a "rhetorical caricature" used by others).

Many Scottish voters will be horrified by what they see of themselves refracted through the prism of a hostile London media. They don't want to be accused of breaking up anything, let alone hating English people and foreigners, and many will simply turn away in disgust.

What can the Yes campaign do about this? Not a lot. I have argued before that the Scottish Government could try to convene a new cross-party constitutional convention to build a consensus for post-referendum Scotland. But that isn't going to happen as it would look like defeatism by the SNP, and anyway the other parties wouldn't participate. Labour wants a convention after the referendum – a pointless exercise.

But one bright note: the Question Time audience – all 16- and 17-year olds – sounded more intelligent than the politicians, thus making a strong case for lowering the voting age for all elections. I'd trust them a lot more, certainly, than the middle-aged suits on the panel.