THERE was a time – a much simpler time, now long past – when a UK general election was a simple contest between the Conservative and Labour contenders for Prime Minister.
Given that, for decades, we expected elections to produced a clear winner between the two largest parties, this was an obvious course of action.
But times have changed. Five years after the Tories had to strike a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats in order to create a majority, we face the prospect of yet another hung parliament. Polls show the Tories and Labour neck and neck, while the SNP is on course to return a battalion of MPs in Scotland.
In 2010, the SNP sent just six members to Westminster but, this year, it’s not inconceivable it could win in more than 50 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies.
These circumstances have created an opportunity for Prime Minister David Cameron and he has quickly taken it, without regard for the potential implications. Increasingly, as the campaign enters its final phase, the Tories are using the prospect of Scottish Nationalist MPs wielding power across the UK – in a deal to support a minority Labour government — as a key tactic.
The Tory view is that English voters will be so horrified by Scots “pulling the strings” that they decide a vote for Ed Miliband’s Labour is too big a gamble.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may now be in charge of the SNP but her predecessor Alex Salmond remains the bogeyman-in-chief as far as Mr Cameron is concerned. The Prime Minister yesterday warned that Alex Salmond would write Labour’s first budget and then, for good measure, compared the former SNP leader to a pickpocket.
These attacks, accompanied by the relentless evocation of a UK government being held to ransom by the former First Minister may yet play their part in helping Mr Cameron return to Downing Street. Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby certainly seems to believe so.
But this is a risky game, which has divided even the Conservatives. While Mr Cameron and others, such as former PM John Major, are happy to stoke up fear of the SNP, others – including former Scottish Tory MPs Michael Forsyth and Sir Malcolm Rifkind – are less than happy.
Unionists may have legitimate concerns about the tactics the SNP would employ in a hung parliament but the Tory campaign implies that Scottish Nationalist MPs would somehow have less legitimacy than those elected elsewhere in the UK.
This is reckless rhetoric. To suggest that democratically elected SNP MPs would not have the same authority as others at Westminster is to undermine the unionist principles on which Mr Cameron campaigned during last year’s independence referendum.
The consequences for the future of the UK of this divisive short-term strategy could be grave.
Do Shetland ponies hold the secret?
WHAT a simple, if rare, pleasure is a sunny day in Scotland. We are so used to the rain and the cold and the greyest of skies for much of the year, that a bright, warm break in gloomy proceedings is a cause for celebration.
Parks and city spaces overflow, the air has the whiff of cider and sunscreen, and even the chunkiest chaps can be seeing indulging is the practice known as “taps aff”.
The sunshine of recent days tells us summer is almost upon us. Who could fail to be filled with optimism at the prospect? But summer in Scotland – even when the rain abates – is not completely without its stresses. For higher temperatures bring with them that most irritating of visitors, the midge.
For Scots, the punishment for daring to enjoy the outdoors is to be attacked by these terrible beasties, which swirl in bubbles before pouncing and biting. And, after the bite, the reaction: the itches that no amount of scratching can satisfy.
Those in the know talk of many and varied ways of protecting oneself – the use of a particular brand of moisturiser, perhaps, or the practice of chain-smoking cigarettes. But the Scot who makes it through summer without at least once suffering the irritation of these tiny creatures’ appetites is lucky, indeed.
So here’s to the Shetland pony and the scientists now examining why this animal seems impervious to the midge’s bite. If current studies into the ponies’ immune system can provide an answer, and then an antidote, it would be an extraordinary moment in Scottish life.
A programme of inoculation would increase gross national happiness exponentially.