THOSE old enough to remember the so-called golden age of the 1950s and 60s will be saddened by the coarseness of present-day politics. Sure, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Nevertheless, the politics I remember from my youth was largely free from the vitriol and nastiness that masquerades as “robust” debate.

Back then, and before Donald Dewar, the Aberdeen South constituency invariably returned Tories to Westminster. Although I profoundly disagreed with the political views of Lady Tweedsmuir and Bob Boothby, they were decent enough people and worthy of respect and courtesy. At the time, most of us obtained our political news from the local and national press and BBC radio. Most newspapers carried lengthy accounts of parliamentary proceedings, contributing to a politically literate and informed electorate.

Voters were generally comfortable discussing social and economic policies. It was also a time when politicians were willing (and safe) to engage with the electorate in the raw. Prime Ministers, including Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, addressed open meetings and happily engaged in battles of wit with hecklers. It’s unlikely their modern counterparts would (or could) take that risk. The nature of those meetings was captured for posterity in Joseph Strick’s 1967 film, The Hecklers. Sure, they were rowdy and shambolic, but there was little or no threat of verbal or physical violence. It’s striking how many of the hecklers were able to engage prime ministers on details of domestic and foreign policy.

It was also something of a golden age for parliamentary oratory and rhetoric. Most MPs could make speeches that were well prepared and delivered concisely and coherently. Generally, they were received respectfully, without the partisan braying that is part and parcel of present-day Commons’ debates.

In November 1989, parliament finally agreed to televise its proceedings. It was a welcome development, but it came at a cost. Ian Gow, later murdered by the IRA, made the first televised speech. In joking about his baldness, he put down a marker that television would mean image and appearance would supersede content.

Televised debates ushered in the age of grandstanding and soundbites. As Andy Warhol nearly said, MPs wanted their 15 minutes of fame. Contributions such as those made by Geoffrey Howe and Robin Cook became the exception rather than the rule. The overall quality took a nose dive. The lamentable standard of debate at both Holyrood and Westminster suggests the dive has yet to bottom out.

The decline of reading in the digital age has also contributed to the superficiality and coarseness of modern politics. Reading requires time, concentration, and reflection; the very antithesis of social media. As far back as 1964, Marshall McLuhan was prescient in warning that the medium through which a message is delivered can be influential in changing how we think and behave.

How right he was. Social media is built on “flow,” involving short activities, speed, switching and filtering. There’s little room for thought or reflection. Anything that can’t be explained in 280 characters is way too hard work.

Through widespread use of social media, politicians have contributed to the epidemic of political ADHD. It’s alarming that a US president believes Twitter to be the best platform for sharing his thoughts and policies. The anonymity of social media is another major factor in coarsening political debate. It has become commonplace to post things that would never have been said face to face.

More traditional media is not blameless. Headlines demonising “enemies of the people” and “saboteurs” would not have been written in the 50s and 60s. Regular contributors to newish TV and radio stations would never have had airtime back then. Their irresponsibility has contributed to the unprecedented polarisation and coarseness of views on Brexit, gender recognition and immigration.

It's hardly surprising that an increasing number of MPs and MSPs have had enough. The coarseness of political life isn’t just rough and tumble. A vacuum is being created that may well be filled by sloganizing demagogues who represent the lowest common denominator.