DAVID Cameron contributed a public service this week by providing an example of the difference between legitimate, vigorous public debate and low-blow, personal attack.

In Scotland a remarkable five years after September 18, 2014, we are entitled to be angry at how this “Flashman” Prime Minister cheated us out of our destiny by solemnly “vowing”commitments that the Westminster establishment had no intention of ever honouring.

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That said, we can take an element of grim satisfaction at the picture painted in his memoirs of him tossing and turning at night as the polls tightened, wondering if the Queen would ever forgive him for “losing Scotland”.

However, this week Cameron was also on the receiving end of unacceptable personal attack.

The Guardian were not entitled to suggest the Cameron family’s grief on the death of their son Ivan was lessened in any way because they are rich and powerful. There is no such thing as “privileged pain” in these tragic circumstances, only pain.

Indeed the early death of a child is one of the things in the human condition which unites us all and you would expect a great newspaper to understand the proper limits of acceptable political debate. The Guardian, which prides itself on progressive discourse, was right to amend this article and apologise.

Unfortunately, on the opposite deck of the good ship Rule Britannia we had another example of people showing little compassion for the death of children. Last weekend saw the explosion of the most ridiculous and depressing hoo-ha about the Royal National Lifeboat Institute committing a bare 2% of their charitable funds to rescue drowning children in lands firth of the UK.

The Mail on Sunday published an article which described the RNLI’s international programme and how the charity has been forced to cut 100 jobs in the UK. Cue xenophobic outrage and a disgusting lack of humanity as some people stopped their regular donations to the charity as a protest. In my opinion, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that rescue boats should only save people who look like you and are on your own shores, then you’re not so very far away from the bile-inducing, far-right attention-seeker Katie Hopkins.

The National: Reactions to a story about the RNLI were reminiscent of Katie HopkinsReactions to a story about the RNLI were reminiscent of Katie Hopkins

Thankfully such people are not the majority. Just think back to how the heart-rending image of Alan Kurdi’s tiny limp body, washed up alone on a Turkish beach, changed the general tone of the migrant debate in 2015.

The connection between the attack on Cameron and the attack on the RNLI is empathy, or the lack of it. These instances show how far the UK body politic has fallen in every sense and how this failure stretches across traditional political divides and affiliations. It is an empathy bypass, an “othering” because of perceived differences, a separation due to a severe lack of compassion and human understanding.

That is the devil’s bargain that unites so many in the country post the Brexit referendum, from true blue to red in the debasing of Britain.

The blame for this loss of empathy falls at the door of many of our most senior public figures in league with a mainstream press largely run by a shadowy clique defined by self-interest and greed.

You could call this acceleration of division and polarisation, this us-and-them mentality, the “Faragisation” of Great Britain. The BBC, who have promoted their Nigel in umpteen media appearances, have put ratings and entertainment above education and information. Before we knew it, he was everywhere, spreading his nasty Britain First agenda.

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The infamous Question Time selection panel have always had great trouble booking a Nat but no trouble at all in fronting a Farage. And now here we are in 2019 with a PM in charge who has singled out Muslim women with his Islamophobic rhetoric and an opposition up to their necks in alleged anti-Semitism. The genie is well out of the bottle and there is no sign of an Aladdin to tempt it back in.

Across the political divides this lack of empathy has crept insidiously like a late-night tide upon the shore, sucking back compassion and concern for others in its wake. It’s a lowering of standards and debasing of once taken-for-granted mores.

And it’s coming from the top down, from Westminster to Weston-super-Mare. The signs of this degradation have been there for some time in the corridors of power. If you want to see the cut of a politician’s jib, then look at their voting record on child refugees.

You’ll discover that the ones who care little for destitute children across the channel in Calais or indeed floating to their deaths in the Mediterranean are also the ones who care little for the working poor in their constituencies closer to home, for the vulnerable and sick, for the elderly and destitute families, for the terrifying number of children living in abject poverty in the UK.

Which leads neatly to “austerity”, a policy constructed and implemented by those who would never feel its harsh reality, would never be touched by its cruel balancing of the books. And I include the Liberal Democrats in this bag of callous cats, this lofty bunch more concerned with power-sharing than real and vital lives. It looks like they might make this mistake again if recent reports on their secret union with Tories has any truth in it.

It is in this context that The Guardian could have legitimately emptied the lexicon of attacks on Cameron’s heartless and privileged policies – but turn on the politics and leave off the family. Play the political ball not the private person. Have a little respect for personal tragedy amid political controversy.

In any discussion on such matters we should always turn to the master of empathy Robert Burns:

“Then gently scan thy brother man, still gentler sister woman
Tho’ they may gang a kennin wrang
To step aside is human.”

It is a reminder five years on to the day of indyref that Scotland, our Scotland, can still do so much better.