The Independence referendum last September 18 was widely hailed as a triumph of democratic participation by both sides of the debate, and the arguments of the campaign clearly energized the electorate: a turnout of 85 per cent was absolutely extraordinary, and was in real terms even higher given the number of non, late or double registrations in the system.

Social media played a bigger role in the referendum than in any previous UK political campaign. This was widely remarked on, but it is less clear how it changed the terms of debate and the nature of the rhetoric used.

Established forms of media have traditionally relied on the perceived authority or status of their columnists or readers or the strength of their circulation to set the terms of the debate.

One of the key issues in the campaign arose from the fact the BBC still retains quite strong authority. The question as to how far it was biased in its coverage was therefore critical: the Yes campaign were angry about this particularly because of the high valency (=trust) the BBC enjoys throughout the UK by comparison with tabloid newspapers for example; yet it also enjoys a greater circulation than such newspapers.

An article appearing on the BBC website was much more likely to be picked up by social media than one from other sources. This reflects the level of trust the BBC enjoys; so those who thought it had betrayed that trust were correspondingly angrier than they were with the No supporting newspapers.

The surest way to prevent an opponent occupying a particular space is to occupy it first yourself, and there are various ways of doing this. These include suggesting a consequence which does not follow (at its simplest, Scotland will be a poverty stricken wasteland if it chooses independence, though more complex variants were available); the removal of the space altogether (by ruling out a currency union for example), and the use of the law to try to block politics: though politicians make laws, law was used in the debate as if it could answer questions which were a matter of political decision.

The principal rhetorical device though was the question. These convey implicit authority in an era when explicit authority is doubted or disbelieved. Used in the right way, they withdraw ground from an opposing case as they construct the conditions in which they can be made impossible to answer satisfactorily: "What will Scotland's economic growth rate be in 2019 if you are independent?" for example.

They produce what can be called the Quizmaster Effect, where those who ask questions on quiz shows or reality TV are given the illusion of power and omniscience, all the way from The Weakest Link to University Challenge. To be the questioner and to claim there are questions to answer gives one an appearance of authority.

How did the use of social media change the terms of the debate ? Its speed changes the ground which it occupies and which its adversaries seek to occupy with rapidity and the recreation of contemporaneity in real time.

This is at the core of social media's power: that it destabilizes the standard rhetorical exchange, and its ability to anticipate, defend and celebrate established positions.

YouTube was heavily used in the Referendum campaign as a social media rebuttal unit, with clips from the mainstream media presented in lightly editorialized form to demonstrate the lack of fair hearing that the Yes campaign believed it was receiving.

The rhetoric of Twitter is still developing, but its key elements are definite statements driven by the limits of space to 140 characters; building momentum through dissemination and repetition, promoting engagement and providing a vehicle for platform sharing through embedded video content. It is difficult to anticipate or rebut.

How do you occupy the space that your opponent is going to occupy before either that opponent or that space is defined ? The world of social media moves ever faster, and it outpaces the conventional means of argument and political or media management.

Murray Pittock, Professor of Literature at the University of Glasgow, is giving a public lecture on Referendum Rhetoric tomorrow at 5pm in Boyd Orr Lecture Theatre D.