During exchanges in Scottish questions in parliament, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael highlighted the role of so-called “cybernats” on the internet for poisoning the debate but also condemned an SNP Scottish minister for allegedly asking for an academic to be sacked for backing the No campaign.
Labour shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran welcomed the intervention by BP chief executive Bob Dudley and Sainsbury’s outgoing chief executive Justin King in highlighting concerns over independence.
But she added: “Does the Secretary of State agree that all businesses, trade unions and voluntary organisations have a right to be heard without insult, intimidation or fear of the consequences, regardless of which side of the debate they are on?”
Mr Carmichael repled: “I do, absolutely.
“Other members have also raised this issue. Whatever the outcome on 18 September we will all have to work together in Scotland for its best future, and that will not be possible if we allow the well to be poisoned in the way the cybernats in particular seem determined to do.”
He added: “She knows as well as I do that the incidents she highlights are by no means isolated—we hear them anecdotally all the time.
“I encourage anyone who is bullied or intimidated in that way to follow the example of Chris Whatley, an academic from Dundee university who appeared at a Better Together event before Christmas, following which a Scottish Government Minister [sports minister Shona Robison] was on the phone to his employers saying he should be silenced.
“That is deplorable and no way in which to conduct the debate on Scotland’s future.”
SNP MPs used the questions to push for an independence debate between Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond.
Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “The White Paper has caused ripples. The polls are tightening and the Tories, with their Labour friends, are worried, but still the Prime Minister is afraid to debate with Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland?
He added: “This week the Financial Times tells us that an independent Scotland could expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK. Our GDP per head is higher than France’s and Italy’s.
“Will the Secretary of State use his position to ensure that people know these facts and stay away from scares and fears designed to stop them making the best decision for Scotland?”