SNP's opponents must make Scottish Parliament election about issues like health, education and jobs, not independence – Brian Wilson

In a rational society, a Prime Minister would come to Scotland or any other part of the UK in time of crisis for business-like discussions – just as Macron in Brittany or Merkel in Bavaria.

Politics needs to be about more than a battle of the flags, of whatever design (Picture: John Devlin)
Politics needs to be about more than a battle of the flags, of whatever design (Picture: John Devlin)

Reasonable people would recognise such travel as “essential” because political leadership against the pandemic is essential and the country is crying out for evidence of politicians working together for the common good.

Political differences would be set aside. Socially distanced discussions would focus laser-like on how more deaths could be avoided; how vaccine distribution could be more efficient; how economic consequences could be better addressed. All by working together.

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The constitution would not arise because it is utterly irrelevant to the suffering endured, the fear engendered and the frustrations felt. It would be an argument for another day; the agreed approach of any politician aspiring to the status of statesman or stateswoman.

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Walked into a trap

Since all hopes rest on vaccination, visiting a laboratory on the verge of producing one would be a sensible public morale-booster, jointly by Prime Minister and First Minster. The media would be told that only questions on the pandemic would be countenanced.

All of that in a rational society; none of it at all in today’s Scotland. Instead, we have had a week of political stupidity in which the right of the Prime Minister to be in Scotland has been made an issue to drive division while he has reciprocated with clumsy messaging around the Union.

There will be a time for pointing out that Scotland has benefited from massive financial support within the UK, from the vaccination programme and anything else that can be called in evidence. But that time is not now – any more than for Ms Sturgeon to launch campaigns about a second independence referendum.

If Mr Johnson was coming at all, it should have been to rise above divisive arguments – not to walk straight into the trap of feeding them. For the foreseeable future, saving lives is more on people’s minds than saving the Union, in Scotland as anywhere else.

Losing doesn’t count?

Linking the two is as disrespectful as seeking laurels for Scotland having performed “better” while almost 8,000 families grieve. From whichever quarter it comes, exploitation of the pandemic to make capital over the constitution is deeply unedifying. Yet it goes on all the time.

In an interview this week, Ms Sturgeon told an Irish audience that “democracy is not a fixed moment in time. People have a right to change their mind”. The problem with nationalists is the belief that this argument cuts only one way. Winning once on a day of their choosing is their definition of democracy while losing doesn’t count.

Ms Sturgeon has had every possible political advantage over the past year – unlimited and largely unchallenged media exposure, the unpopularity of the Prime Minister and his effete demeanour, the shambles over Brexit. It is scarcely surprising her party and cause have risen in opinion polls.

Nonsense to appease the faithful

But, to quote her own words, “democracy is not a fixed moment in time” and to seek advantage from these circumstances in the middle of a pandemic to turn an election into a referendum on a referendum has little to do with democracy or Scotland’s needs.

That is particularly true because there will not be a referendum any time soon. As commentators of a nationalist persuasion have queued to point out, the “11-point plan” is nonsense to appease the faithful. It offers nothing more than another five years of constitutional wrangling with no end-game.

If that is what a majority in Scotland wants, then it is what we will all get. There is still time to demand that the election should be about how the vast array of devolved powers and huge budget could be used over five years to give people work, education, health and hope.

Non-nationalists who demand these priorities just might find a bigger audience for their message than opinion polls suggest. It is a much better option than being suckered into the “referendum on a referendum” prospectus, or a battle of flags to “save the Union”.

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