Is the general election getting you down? Do you feel your mental health is threatened by the relentless proliferation of election news on television, online and in the print media? Is the wall-to-wall chatter about polls, NHS funding and internal party strife causing you, heedless of the state of the piggy-bank, to consider taking a continental break (not in equally election-ridden France, obviously) to preserve your sanity and get away from it all? 

In that case, calm down. There is no need to break the bank by splashing out on a continental holiday: just make the short journey to Scotland and relax in an election-free environment. It is not the case that Scotland is constitutionally excluded from the general election, it is simply that, north of the Border, there is no evidence of its existence. Of course, there are a few ritual television debates, the media dutifully relay information about the course of events to an uninterested public, but the election has not impinged upon that public’s consciousness to any significant degree.

Why is this? Are Scots indifferent to politics? Far from it: the most frenetic activity and partisan engagement you will find on mainland Britain (Northern Ireland is an even more excitable community) has traditionally convulsed Scotland. From Covenanters, to Jacobitism, to Red Clydeside, to Nationalism, the Scottish population has always exhibited a level of commitment (euphemism for fanaticism) far more robust than elsewhere in Britain. Anyone who doubts that should view a few videos of the 2014 independence referendum: it is not footage of a war zone, but anyone could be forgiven for assuming it was. Today, things are very different.

First, to address the basic nuts and bolts of the Scottish political situation, there are 59 Westminster parliamentary seats in Scotland. Of these, 43 are held by the SNP, seven by the Conservatives, four by the Liberal Democrats and just two each by Labour and the Alba party, with one independent. Those figures show the massive rejection of Labour by Scottish voters since 2007.

How is that situation expected to change on 4 July? Using the opinion polls as the only concrete indication, we see that the SNP, after 17 years in Scottish government, during which it has presided over meltdown in health, education and other public services, become mired in scandal, besides passing massively unpopular laws on “gender” and “hate”, is set to suffer electoral losses, but not on the same scale as the Conservatives across the UK.

Similarly to the UK, there has been a stubborn immobility in the polls in Scotland. On the day the election was called, the SNP was at 30 per cent and it is at 30 per cent today. During the campaign, there have been minor fluctuations – one dip to 29 per cent and another brief surge to 36 per cent, but averaging 31.5 per cent – most of the variations being within the margin of error. While those figures indisputably reveal the Scottish electorate as more forgiving of bad government than the English, if one recalls that the SNP went into the last general election in 2019 on 43 per cent in the polls and secured 45 per cent of the actual vote, a very significant decline is evident.

The most recent YouGov poll records a drop in Labour’s lead over the SNP of six points, but that is from YouGov’s own previous estimate in May of a 10-point lead for Labour. This apparently dramatic change simply brings YouGov into line with the other polls, indicating a four-point Labour lead and confirming the findings of other pollsters.

Sir John Curtice, the digital age’s answer to the Delphic Oracle, has delivered a chilling analysis of the SNP’s situation, saying recently: “At the moment it’s not unrealistic for the Labour party to be picking up around 30 seats or so, while the SNP may well find themselves with perhaps no more than around 18.” An SNP drop from 43 to 18 seats reveals how misleading Labour’s relatively modest lead of a little over four points (Labour is currently on 34 per cent, averaging 37 per cent over the campaign) can be, in the ruthless context of the first-past-the-post system.

The SNP’s other problem, apart from its leaders and its record, is that many of its seats are highly marginal and the challenger in those seats is resurgent Labour. The fact remains that managing to keep its vote above the shelf of 30 per cent – a modest achievement that the doomed Rishi Sunak would give his right arm to attain – suggests that the election result north of the Border, though catastrophic for the SNP, will not amount to absolute wipe-out.

The Tories, incongruously, have better prospects in Scotland than in England. Their six seats (they also had a defection from the SNP) are split evenly between the Borders (it is possible to travel from the west to east coast in the Borders without leaving Tory territory) and the North East. They are predicted to hold all of their seats, though making any gains might be a bit of a stretch. 

The Conservatives’ surprisingly secure position reflects their good fortune in having the plummeting SNP, not Labour, as the challenger in their constituencies. That said, the Tory vote is also falling – they are at 14 per cent in the polls, having started the election on 17 per cent. Sir John Curtice says it is a question of which of the two – Tory or SNP – manages to fall by more.

The Liberal Democrats, on four seats and at nine per cent in the polls (though their strength is the concentration of their vote in pockets of strength), are necessarily fighting a defensive campaign. The Greens, who benefit from proportional representation at Holyrood elections, are at a poor four per cent, with few prospects. 

Reform is barely a player in Scotland, historically lost deposit territory for the party. However, it is currently at seven per cent, just two points behind the Lib Dems – one point, in the latest YouGov poll – which, in the hostile terrain of Scotland, amounts to an achievement. Reform started the campaign, pre-Farage, at four per cent, which suggests the Reform leader may not be quite as universally unpopular north of the Border as previously thought. The figures also match the three-point fall in Conservative support, suggesting that the Tory drift to Reform in England is being replicated in miniature north of the Border. 

All those psephological statistics and observations might suggest an active and lively election campaign in Scotland, but that would be a misapprehension. Interest is low. One telling phenomenon casts light on that situation. Scots, usually regarded as reticent, are aggressive in displaying party posters and signs. At the time of the independence referendum, in Glasgow, so many Yes posters were covering windows that thousands of households must have been deprived of healthy daylight for weeks: some of them remained in place for years afterwards, as a sign of dissent from the democratic verdict.

Today, little more than two weeks before polling, you could walk through the West End of Glasgow – prosperous and academic stronghold of virtuous progressive opinion – without sighting any evidence of an election in progress. Granted, the student population is on vacation, as signalled by a decrease in Palestinian flags, but that does not entirely explain the absence of partisan displays. What does explain it is indifference.

That does not mean apathy. Scots are as politically engaged and pugnacious as ever, but not with Westminster politics. A quarter of a century of toxic devolution, with Little Scotlander propaganda, like water dripping on stone, brainwashing the public into ever more inward-looking attitudes, has changed the entire psyche of a nation. Scots have come to regard Holyrood elections as the ones that matter.

That is understandable, when almost every policy area that affects Scots’ daily lives is decided at Holyrood. It is Holyrood that has imposed additional income tax on fat cats, defined in Scotland as anyone earning over £28,000, and has decreed a possible prison sentence for anyone voicing a politically incorrect opinion in the former privacy of their own home.

For Unionists, this is a deeply ominous development. It means that a separatist mindset is already embedded in the population, even without independence. For now, Scots will not supply a majority for independence, with the former wealth guarantee of North Sea oil and gas no longer offering a plausible source of revenue – its demise, ironically, hastened by the SNP that first achieved credible parliamentary representation on the back of the claim: “It’s Scotland’s oil.”

A narrow majority of Scots still votes in favour of their wallets; but if the separatists are ever able to cobble together a plausible fiscal scenario for independence, the Union will be in serious danger. A potential peril lurks in 2029: if Labour proves as unpopular and incompetent a one-term government as seems likely, an SNP resurgence, possibly under the persuasive Kate Forbes, cannot be ruled out.

The SNP leadership of John Swinney (again!) offers temporary respite to the Union. Not only is Swinney, like David Cameron, a ghostly revenant from Politics Past, his effortless anti-charisma makes Keir Starmer look like Boris Johnson on steroids. A Swinney speech is an existential threat to Mogadon shareholders. Think Joe Biden on a bad day.

Yet the significance of a muted general election in Scotland is alarming for all those who believe in the United Kingdom. Scots have become indifferent to the numbers or political stripe of those they send to prop up the bars at Westminster and indulge in contrived grievance tantrums on the floor of the House of Commons. Scotland no longer contributes big beasts to that menagerie, formerly dominated by Scottish contenders, in the days of John Smith, Donald Dewar and Charles Kennedy.

The underlying reality of Scotland’s relative indifference to the current contest is that elections to Westminster have assumed the same level of perceived unimportance as elections to the EU parliament, pre-Brexit. That is a development that should provoke serious concern.

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