Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the former Tory leader Annabel Goldie and Labour’s Malcolm Chisholm were among those to highlight the need for a robust yet respectful debate.
In a speech which was applauded on the SNP benches, Mr Chisholm said politicians must not “go to war” on whether or not Scotland should leave the political union struck in 1707.
He said: “The two sides on this question are not enemies. We all inhabit the same country, we all share many of the same values.”
Labour and the SNP share many thoughts on domestic policy, he told parliament.
“There are many families where one member may be voting Yes and another voting No,” he said.
“I think it’s very important that we conduct this debate without losing the friendships and the positive relationships we have in this country and in this chamber.
“It will be important, not least for what happens after the referendum, because whatever the result we will want to come together on 19 September and whatever the people have decided we will want to act upon.
“I think we should remember that. We mustn’t create a legacy of bitterness and hatred.
“What we need to have is a civilised debate rather than warfare between two tribes.”
Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that arguments would be “passionate” and “at times heated”, but said they must be informed and constructive.
As MSPs unanimously approved the Referendum Bill, which sets out procedural details such as the question which will be posed to the electorate, extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds and campaign spending limits, Ms Goldie said the debate should be free from “intimidation, jeering and sneering”.
SNP MSPs lined up to argue for independence, while those from the pro-Union parties made the case for staying in the United Kingdom.
Labour’s constitution spokesman Drew Smith said that with procedural matters out of the way, the focus could now shift on to what independence would actually mean and the nuts and bolts to be set out in a white paper.
MORE REFERENDUM NEWS
• The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit www.scotsmanconferences.com