A FORMER editor of mine was clear about how his relationship with elected politicians ought to proceed. During his tenure he received several invitations to meet various first ministers and their staff at informal receptions in Bute House. He politely refused every one of them and urged his executive team to do likewise.

My old boss, being a gregarious and sociable chiel, felt that by attending these Bute House functions he would run the risk of getting too close to senior politicians. “I’d probably end up liking most of them and finding connections with them,” he told me. As such, he felt this would make his job of scrutinising them and criticising them more difficult.

Politicians are pretty easy to like. You have to assume they must actually enjoy the company of their fellow human beings and that they relish engaging with them. How else could they hope to persuade people to cast their votes for them?

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I’m struggling to think of any professional politician I’ve met – of any political persuasion – who hasn’t been at least civil towards me. This includes a fair number who probably had reason to be upset at me for having rebuked them or ridiculed them in print.

On those occasions I’ve ventured into Westminster or Holyrood, I often found myself gravitating towards Tory politicians and right-wing journalists. I can’t quite explain why this is the case but it’s probably connected with their remaining cheerfully insouciant in the face of my regular criticism of their party and beliefs.

Many of them are also independently wealthy and perhaps their good humour stems from this. They like a drink, too, and tend not to take themselves – or their work – too seriously.

The National: A picture of Sir David Amess

Following the brutal assassination of Sir David Amess MP (above), many of us who, directly or indirectly, are connected to the world of professional politics, have been forced to re-assess our relationships with them and with each other. We’ve also begun to resume a conversation that began following the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016.

In the way that we discuss their work on our behalf could we be kinder to them, even when we are calling them out for making the wrong choices or failing to fulfil their electoral pledges? Perhaps more crucially, do we need to examine ways of protecting them from hateful and threatening messages on social media?

There are, of course, several reasons why politicians seem to be subject to more abuse than previous generations of their predecessors. It’s not that there was once a golden age where politicians were venerated and treated with respect and cap-doffing deference. Simply that ugly sentiments about our elected representatives were confined to social gatherings or the workplace. Social media has brought them closer to voters. It also provides anonymity for cowards who wouldn’t dare to convey their abuse honestly and face to face.

Another major reason, though, is that the detail of politicians’ work and the network of influences in which they move has become much more transparent in the 24-hour, multi-platform coverage of politics. Their failings and their little hypocrisies and inconsistencies are laid bare. When people see direct connections between this and economic hardship suffered by the usual communities, quite reasonably it sharpens their sense of having been betrayed and fed lies.

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None of this, of course, justifies threatening a politician with physical harm. Yet it should also be acknowledged that politicians collectively have the legislative power to force big tech companies to identify those who make such threats.

They can also force the police to use their existing powers and their increased technological armoury to apprehend culprits. Although, given how many police officers have been subject to complaints of sexual misconduct and how few of these have resulted in disciplinary action it’s understandable why we might recoil from this.

YET the public also has a reasonable expectation that politicians treat each other with decency. Certainly, the esteem in which Sir David was held across the political spectrum seems to have been genuine, on account of the decency and kindness with which he conducted himself.

I’m in receipt of information that the proceedings of the SNP’s Westminster group of MPs and on its National Executive Committee are often conducted in an atmosphere of outright bullying and intimidation involving a handful of senior figures. This is often a pitiless place where it seems easier to sit still and say nothing lest you become a target. Several female members of the SNP have seen their complaints of being intimidated by known party colleagues ignored.

The National: Mark Francois MP (Kirsty O'Connor/PA)

On Monday, the Tory MP Mark Francois (above) spoke passionately about abuse and misogyny on social media. Yet Francois was accused of making vile throat-slitting gestures at Theresa May, his own party leader, during a Brexit campaign characterised by some deeply unpleasant behaviour by Leave politicians.

The Labour Party in Scotland targeted a handful of its own MSPs for supporting Jeremy Corbyn in a leadership contest. These were orchestrated by the party leadership and designed to create a hostile environment for politicians who were deemed “problematic”.

And such was the degree of hostility directed from inside the Scottish Greens that Andy Wightman, its most eloquent and reasonable politician at Holyrood, felt he had no option but to resign. The deeply unpleasant and entirely false sentiments made about him by senior party figures in the aftermath of his departure were frankly disgraceful.

Holyrood is still a very young Parliament and its customs and practices are still evolving. In the quality of its debate and personnel it’s nowhere near the standard it ought to be, but we must give it time to settle and to improve.

We could start by making it much more inclusive and an authentic representation of Scotland in real time. Presently, it’s dominated by a clique of middle-class, degree-laden performers drawn from a handful of elite professions.

If you are from a working-class background and don’t possess a parchment from our elite universities you have a very slim chance of ever being considered for a party list. On the other hand, if you are a party loyalist and done little else but kept your head down and held doors open for the right people then you will be fast-tracked. This needs to change. And with that change we might see a kinder, less aggressive style of politics.

Certainly, we can all do better in the way we engage with politicians in print and on social media. But before decrying the behaviour of the public towards their elected representatives perhaps our politicians could lead by example and start treating each other with a measure of respect and decency.