AS we celebrate 20 years of Scottish devolution and reaffirm our commitment to complete the powers of the Scottish Parliament, it’s also worth celebrating the magic ingredient which helped make Scottish independence the likely outcome.

In 2006, in the fag end of the underwhelming Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive, the then opposition Scottish National Party made two very major decisions: firstly to win power and change Scotland forever, and secondly to do so by running a positive campaign.

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Looking back now it’s hard to work out which seemed the more improbable proposition. The Scottish Parliament was established with an electoral system which many believed would make it impossible for the SNP to win. Meanwhile, battle-hardened campaigners were sceptical about the importance of positive campaigning as being naive and unrealistic in the face of combative competition from other parties and long experience of hostile media coverage from large parts of the mainstream media.

At its heart of the positive campaigning decision was an understanding that people in general like positive people and positive ideas more than negative people and negative ideas. Empathy and kindness are strengths not weaknesses, and demonstrating those virtues makes candidates and campaigns more attractive to people who are open-minded or undecided.

It is a no-brainer that people prefer to experience positive emotions rather than negative emotions and those people are, of course, voters.

In the run-up to the 2007 Scottish Parliament election the decision by the SNP to run a positive campaign aimed at winning power was absolutely key to success. Voters needed to hear and see a political party that believed it could and should win to make things better.

Voters also needed to understand that what that party offered was positive because it had been communicated in a positive way.

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These two key factors played a decisive part in the SNP becoming the biggest party (by only one seat) and then governing successfully as a minority government. When the next Scottish Parliament elections came along in 2011, the winning approach of campaigning positively and communicating positively was even more successful. The SNP secured a majority in the Scottish Parliament despite an electoral system that was designed to make that impossible.

Since then the role of social media has become ever more important as a way to communicate directly to the electorate, becoming hugely effective in the 2014 Scottish referendum as a way to share the benefits of independence, help mobilise a tremendous grassroots campaign and maximise the Yes vote.

The National: SNP MP Stewart McDonaldSNP MP Stewart McDonald

Along the way, social media at home and internationally has also given platforms for people who prefer to verbally attack political opponents, insult supporters of different ideas and even threaten people’s safety. This is not an imagined or exaggerated phenomena. In recent weeks we have had horrific examples of Labour MP Jess Phillips being threatened with rape, SNP Home Affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry MP threatened online, and SNP MP Stewart McDonald targeted in person by right-wing extremists.

Many people on the pro-independence side, myself included, can attest to online abuse from Unionist trolls. That phenomena was acknowledged and described by the Unionist commentator Stephen Daisley this week as “obsessive, paranoid, bellicose ... dehumanising of those who disagree with it”.

Given my strong belief in the power of positive campaigning, new focus on persuading the open-minded and recognising the negative experience of unrepresentative extreme online behaviour, I recently gave the following quotes to a journalist when contacted on the subject: “The most important thing in the wider Yes movement is to adopt a new open and welcoming tone. The fact that this has become an issue which people are now prepared to call out is a good first step in hopefully resetting public discourse and letting those people know who engage in this kind of offensive and malicious behaviour that it’s unacceptable …

“Regardless of whether a small and unrepresentative group of people continue in their unacceptable ways – which sadly I fear will be the case – I think if people in general are aware that they are unrepresentative on both sides, that has to be a positive step in the right direction.”

This common sense appeal for positive campaigning was warmly received from more than 1300 Yes supporters and groups, SNP members and representatives at all elected levels.

At the same time it set off a lesser deluge of online accusations suggesting it was an attack on independence marchers, impugning hard working decent volunteers and co-operating with a series of real and imagined enemies.

It was no such thing. The only people my comments were aimed at was that small minority of social media users (on all sides) who are abusive. I did not “declare war” on anybody, I did not mention “cybernats” or “Yoons” for that matter. The intemperate response from some quarters reinforced the point I was making.

With independence closer now than at any other time, I am more convinced than ever that the tried-and-tested winning strategy of positive campaigning with a positive message is what will appeal to the open-minded and undecided, who together with the 45% that voted Yes in 2014 will secure a majority in the next independence referendum.

Running a positive campaign does not mean rolling over and ignoring every opposition attack or the negative record of the other side. It does, however, mean concentrating on the positive message. I am confident that is what the Yes campaign will do in the next referendum and it will be victorious.