Scottish independence: Referendum abuse 'should be ignored'

Twitter logo in silhouette The focus of the referendum debate in recent days has been on abuse sent through social media networks such as Twitter

The Scottish independence debate should not allow itself to be "drowned out" by online abuse, the moderator of the Church of Scotland has said.

Right Reverend John Chalmers said the "real debate" in the campaign was being "held at a very high standard".

But he said a small minority were using underhand tactics to intimidate people.

Mr Chalmers said he had received intimidating emails from people on both sides of the debate, but added that the delete button was "very useful".

The quality of the debate ahead of September's referendum has been in the spotlight in the wake of abusive messages sent to Harry Potter author JK Rowling and carers' rights campaigner Clare Lally after both gave their support to the pro-UK Better Together campaign last week.

Supporters of independence point out that figures on their side have also been abused on Twitter, while Better Together leader Alistair Darling compared First Minister Alex Salmond to former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in a recent New Statesman interview.

Start Quote

I actually think that the leaders are setting the tone that I would want to see. I am just sorry that their voice sometimes seems to be drowned out”

End Quote Right Reverend John Chalmers Church of Scotland moderator

Referring to online abuse, Mr Chalmers said a "very small minority" were "trying to intimidate people into taking up a position rather than trying to persuade people with the real facts that lie behind each of the campaigns".

He added: "I am saying 'don't listen to it'. I am saying that the real debate is being held a very high standard but as passions run high and as we get closer to the day of the referendum we shouldn't get too carried away in the passion and keep the discussion respectful.

"It is such an important question and of course people are staking an awful lot on the outcome from both sides, but that makes it all the more important that the principal voices are heard at a level that is acceptable.

"Their voice shouldn't be drowned out by the voice of a minority who are using underhand tactics."

Mr Chalmers, who was principal clerk to the Kirk's General Assembly before becoming moderator in May, said he was "well used to getting intimidating mail from people or correspondence from people who believe that they are right and everybody else is wrong."

"There has certainly been some of that coming my way, people who are not respecting the fact that the Church of Scotland has said it wants to remain neutral on this matter," he said.

In a letter sent to BBC Scotland, Mr Chalmers said the emails had come from both sides of the debate.

'One nation'

The letter said: "If I was at all a sensitive chiel I would think I was being bullied.

"Sometimes the writer purports to respect the fact that the Church of Scotland has declared its neutrality in the campaign, but they offer some other reason why it would be morally or theologically indefensible for me to maintain silence on one or another aspect of the public debate.

"I will not yield to their pressure and I have sincere hopes that no-one else bows to such offensive approaches."

The moderator, who took up his role last month, said that Scotland would be "one nation again" after the referendum, regardless of the result on 18 September.

"There will be no them and us - there will just be us and we have to respect one another now if we are going to get along together afterwards and build the kind of Scotland that we really want," he said.

"I actually think that the leaders are setting the tone that I would want to see. I am just sorry that their voice sometimes seems to be drowned out and they are having to respond to this current of underhand methodology."

The Kirk has previously said it will hold a special healing service on the Sunday after the referendum, which will be attended by prominent figures on both sides of the argument in a symbolic display of unity.

On Sunday, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie and Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins both condemned online abuse in Scotland's referendum campaign.

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