MAKE it Stop. Enclave. Farr Cannall. Miviso. Sleazy Nazi Party. Damian Thirsty. Highland Hero. Ingin Johnnie.

If you don’t read The Scotsman – or, more particularly, the readers’ comments – you’re probably scratching your heard right now. These are just some of the “names” who have posted in response to an article I’ve just read about some of the successes of the Scottish Parliament over the past 20 years.

I quote verbatim from some of the comments: “Immediately – close it down”; "Shut down Holyrood”; “Wasteful and destructive”; “Close down the Poundland Parliament"; “Flatten It”; “The Shortbread Senate”; "Enough is enough – shut it down”; “It’s a total failure and should be shut down”; and “Close it down before it can inflict any further damage on Scotland”.

READ MORE: Glasgow attracts huge turnout of Yes supporters for pro-independence march

Could Damian Thirsty, Sleazy Nazi Party, Ingin Johnnie and the rest all be the same person by any chance? Is fire hot? Is ice cold? Is rain wet? Never mind shut down Holyrood, if I was The Scotsman’s editor, I’d shut down the readers’ comments sections pronto, because it really is an embarrassment. The newspaper, to be fair, has improved since 2014, but its readers’ comments section looks like it’s been taken over, lock, stock and barrel by some sad, deluded and cowardly little keyboard warrior using multiple identities who gets his kicks from seeing his words appear daily on a mainstream newspaper website. Over and over again.

The National:

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe there’s two of them. Whatever.

The Scotsman comments are an extreme example but do underline the fictional character of much online activity. Who needs Russian bots when one or two individuals who have heaps of time on their hands can conjure up phantom armies from the privacy of their own home? The comments I’ve quoted are all harmless, even if they are infantile, and about as representative of Scotland as the man on the moon. Other days their comments are nasty and offensive. But one thing we can learn from the cyber Unionists is how not to conduct yourself online. People who behave like obnoxious little schoolboys showing off to their friends are never going to win the battle for Scotland’s future.

READ MORE: And the Unionists say there’s no appetite for independence?

This weekend, three prominent SNP figures lashed out at the online behaviour of some on the pro-independence side, the so-called cybernats. It’s a drum many of us have been banging on for years and I don’t disagree with Alyn Smith, Angus Robertson and Stewart McDonald. But I detect a growing maturity on the Yes side. My impression is that the arguments for independence are being presented as strongly and forcefully as ever, but with more discipline and self-restraint than in the past.

Independence activists tend these days not to rise to the bait and explode with anger to blatant provocations. More often than not, we either ignore them or dismiss them lightly, sometimes with a bit of wit and sarcasm thrown in on the side. We can’t stop people on either side expressing their feelings strongly. Politics is not a polite dinner party, where everyone errs on the side of blandness for fear of causing offence. People who drive change in society are driven by passion. Extinction Rebellion has achieved more in the past month through no-holds barred direct action than it could have achieved in a year of writing letters to the Guardian or collecting signatures on a petition to send to the Government.

The National:

When centrist politicians – Change UK, the LibDems, New Labourites and Tory moderates talk about “healing divisions” they invariably mean that the rest of us should lie down and accept the status quo. This weekend, even Ruth Davidson jumped on the bandwagon by promising to “bring Scotland back together after a decade of division”. All we need to do is accept Brexit, forget about independence and swallow economic inequality, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

So how and where do we draw the line? Most readers of The National I’m sure would want to see an end to online “bullying, trolling, harassment and intimidation”. Not just because it causes offence and distress but because it’s counterproductive.

READ MORE: Anonymous so-called ‘cybernats’ are harming our movement

We need a battle of big ideas, not a series of petty squabbles in which we trade childish insults with one another. Such behaviour might make some of us feel better, but it’s a monumental turn-off for millions of non-activists, the very people we need to inspire. But it’s not easy. Last month, my local independence group held a workshop exploring how we might persuade people who are not convinced of our cause. It was run by Jamie Jauncey, a local writer and counsellor – and grandson of Robert Cunninghame-Graham, who helped found both the Independent Labour Party and the National Party of Scotland. Part of it involved role-playing sessions with one person on the Yes side given the task of listening to and empathising with someone not convinced by the case for independence. Most people found it extremely hard going.

“Within a few minutes each group had abandoned the attempt to listen actively and reflect back empathetically, and had resorted to arguing the facts,” Jamie wrote in his blog, A Few Kind Words. “It seemed that it was just too difficult for people to set aside their own positions and really hear the opposing one; on feeling threatened, however irrationally or sub-consciously, the act of empathy appeared to become almost impossible, the impulse to fight back took over.”

And the same problems would arise whether we had been discussing Brexit, wealth redistribution, Trident or any major political issue of our times. “How do we suspend those views that we believe define us, that shape our identities, in order that we can begin to engage in real dialogue with those of opposite persuasions?” asks Jamie. It’s a pressing question for anyone who is seeking to shift public opinion.

Our experience showed that without being able to put ourselves in the shoes of people who are worried about independence, we’ll never be able to move on from the listening bit and get to the persuading bit. Not if we want the persuading bit to be effective.

I know there are many people desperate to hear the start gun for a second independence referendum. But I feel we’ve a lot of work to do before we’re ready to move into campaign mode. And improving our collective communication skills has got to be a priority. Let’s be the change we want to see.