IT’S been a strange, discomfiting time lately in Scotland. Talk of hate has lain over the country like a sheen of cold fever-sweat on the body.

What’s been so troubling is how we’ve discussed the issue of hate. We haven’t much concerned ourselves with the consequences of hate - what it does to those on its spearpoint, or the way hate warps a society - rather we’ve concerned ourselves with the right to hate.

The national debate around the new hate laws, which came into force yesterday, wasn’t about how to make the legislation the best it could be, but how to blow it out of the water, so hate can keep feasting. Isn’t that curious?

Until very recently, the only people I ever heard speak positively about hate were the neo-nazis and terrorists I’ve spent decades interviewing and investigating. For them, hate is honourable. Now it seems, Scotland is armpit deep in folk just desperate to hate.

Personally, I’m fairly ambivalent about the law. I see a place for better protections against hate in the 21st century, but I also see the flaws in the way the legislation was brought forward.

Broadly, I share the same position as the former Conservative MSP and law professor, Adam Tomkins, who wrote probably the most intelligent summation of the legislation on these pages recently.

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Tomkins felt that if we focus on what the law is actually about - rather than the fantastical and increasingly absurd claims from the extremes of both sides - then it could be successful.

Listen to one side, and you should be readying yourself for some combination of the Stasi, KGB and SS kicking down your door and carting you off to the gulag. Listen to the other, and there’s a partisan refusal to accept the legislation may be flawed in any way.

My biggest concern is that the police are unprepared. I have police officers in my family, and they’ve had only the most cursory training on the new laws. Couple this with the risk of vexatious accusations, and there’s clear cause for concern over the law’s administration.

The risk of vexatious accusations, though, can - at least partly - be blamed on the woeful state of Scotland’s debate. My profession, the media, must hold up its hands and admit some share in blame. For every frothing claim - on either side - there should have been clear, calm explanation of what the legislation actually said.

However, the mainstream media was but an amateur compared to social media when it came to upending rational discussion. Twitter has been a font of exaggeration, lies and deliberate disinformation. Many politicians haven’t helped, sprinkling petrol where they can. The debate has been culture-warred to oblivion.

Yesterday, Twitter was awash with individuals posting the most hateful remarks imaginable against minorities, relishing the loathing they hold for others. It was a contemptible and shameful sight.

Around the world - for this legislation has got Scotland noticed internationally - all the right people certainly seem to hate the hate laws, that’s for sure: folk who’ve really made hate their own personal online brand for years.

Amid all this sound and fury - which, as the poet said, really has signified nothing - I got to thinking about my own relationship with hate. I’m no Boy Scout. I’m as flawed the next person, and I’ve had my own problems with hate. It’s been a vice I’ve struggled to contain in the past.

My "target" - for that’s what hate does, surely, it "targets" - wasn’t a particular group of people, but more an idea: organised religion. I suppose I should get my defence in here and explain that I grew up in Northern Ireland during the ethno-nationalist civil war we euphemistically call The Troubles.

As a child, all I saw were people talking god and pulling triggers. Religion seemed to me inherently evil. Not faith, I hasten to add, but religion. In youth’s simplistic way, I saw religion stretching back millennia doing nothing but harm to humanity.

Much later in life, as a hopefully more mature man, I felt deeply troubled by this "‘hatred". It’s a bad emotion to carry. It rots anyone who allows it in, that I know, especially from the thousands of hours I’ve spent in the company of those terrorists and political extremists as I interviewed them and saw how hate emptied them out.

So I sought out religious figures and talked to them, trying to understand them. I began to see ordinary folk of faith doing deeds so good, for people so vulnerable, it would make stones weep. Hate started to drain away.

The Herald: The Very Rev Martin FairThe Very Rev Martin Fair (Image: PA)

Then some years back I’d the pleasure of meeting the former Kirk Moderator, Martin Fair. He expressed true Christian virtues. It seemed he was guided by one principle: "love the poor".

What I had hated about religion was its hypocrisy. But Fair, and others like him, didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk, and I admire folk like that.

So hate evaporated for one simple reason: I’d got out there and met and spoke to real people. This is something we should all do: meet those you fear or oppose, and soon you won’t be scared or full of rage, you’ll find common ground.

Now, once again I stress I’m no Boy Scout. I still feel hate. I’d like to see Vladimir Putin dead for a start. However, I have hate - the emotion we all carry within us - in some sort of perspective, under some sort of control. I’ve learned from my mistakes.

Nobody is ever going to be free from hate. It’s part of the human condition. We’re programmed for it deep down in our ancestral core. But we should all want to keep that ancient, ugly side tightly leashed.

We must be able to offend each other and to speak freely. But none of us should champion hate, and that’s what’s been so confusing about Scotland’s recent discussion with itself. So many seemed concerned not with protecting freedom of speech, but with protecting the right to hate.

Surely, if we’re a mature and civilised society, we need to safeguard the liberty to speak as we please, without somehow making the vice of hate into a virtue.