Home Tags Posts tagged with "Annabel Goldie"

Annabel Goldie

<em>Picture: James Cridland</em>

Picture: James Cridland

I never met Sir Jimmy Savile, who has died aged 84, but did once interview him on the phone – and it was a memorable experience.

A dozen years ago, while working on the Outdoors section of the Scotsman, one of my tasks was to interview celebs and in-the-news people for a Q+A column called Outdoor Life.

The idea was to ask questions about their particular outdoors enthusiasm – hillwalking, horse-riding, fishing, whatever – and the resulting first-person quotes would fill a column at the edge of the page.

For almost 18 months I found and interviewed people for this – musicians, sportsmen and women, politicians and so on. Mostly it was done by telephone, occasionally by email. And sometimes the interviewees were delightful: friendly, polite, providing anecdote-filled quotes. Hazel Irvine (on skiing), Gavin Esler (hillwalking), Annabel Goldie (birds and bikes) and Anna Ford (walking) were my favourites. Although it’s as wrong to make up one’s mind about somebody on the basis of a 15-minute phone interview as it is to judge a book by its cover, I’ve found myself warming to those four, and to various others, ever since.

Some interviewees were less fun to deal with, particularly those who were either just a bit dull or who gave good copy while being too snippy, catty or snooty to really warm to. But it takes all sorts, and as long as the paper didn’t have a column-sized hole in it come Saturday morning, I was happy enough.

Every now and then, when the well of interviewees was looking a bit on the shallow side, I would spend a Friday afternoon racking my brains and sending a batch of letters and emails to various personalities or – more often – to their agents. This needed to be done in good time, as only a third ever replied and even then not usually for at least a fortnight.

On one such Friday afternoon in October 1999 I was drafting letters when someone in the office asked if I’d ever tried to get Jimmy Savile. No, I hadn’t, but it was a good idea: he was hugely well-known, wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet, plus there were at least three outdoor angles – the marathons, the house halfway down Glen Coe which he owned at the time, and his earlier career as a strong amateur cyclist.

So I wrote the letter, somehow got hold of an address – not of an agent, but of Savile’s own house in the Roundhay area of Leeds – and stuck it in the post late on Friday afternoon. And thought nothing more about it all weekend.

My Scotsman job was only half-time, and I wasn’t in the habit of going into the old North Bridge office on a Monday morning – but the following week, for some reason, that is what I did. Not long after I settled down at the desk, the phone rang. It was Savile. I didn’t ask him, but I’m as sure as I can be that he had just opened his mail and – true to his reputation of grabbing any publicity that was going – had rung immediately, pretty much on impulse.

In a slight panic, I scrabbled around to find the questions I’d drafted for him, and 15 minutes later finished one of the best – and easiest – interviews I’d ever done. It was just a matter of asking a question and then scribbling away as Savile poured out long and entertaining answers. Some were about the Glen Coe cottage – which he endearingly and repeatedly referred to as “my gaff” (and even though he sold the house some years later, I’ve been unable to drive past ever since without thinking of it as “Jimmy’s gaff”).

“You see,” he said, “the road outside my gaff is not just any road – I often go out there when there’s no traffic, smoke a cigar and think ‘This is the road, baby!’”

He told of having first seen – and coveted – the house over half a century earlier: “I was a racing cyclist on one of my training routes back in the war years. I would start from Leeds and go via Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, down the Caledonian Canal and so to Glasgow and Penrith before doing a left down through Ingleton – 1,300 miles that I would knock off with some regularity. I remember stopping outside the house – well, by the waterfall anyway – in around 1942. I was working down the pit at the time and could never have dreamt that some fluke would bring me to live here.”

Savile also told of having walked past it during his 1971 John o’ Groats to Land’s End trip, then again in 1974 when doing the route in reverse. “So as well as being beautiful it’s doubly so for me for entirely separate reasons.”

He took an unorthodox line on housekeeping: “When I moved in, folk said to make sure to keep the gate shut to keep the sheep out, but I took the gate straight off its hinges. I don’t see this as a domestic house but as part of the area, and the sheep were here before me. When I get up in the morning I hear the clip-clop and there are seven or eight sheep and a couple of rams using the place as a kip house – that’s fine by me. Anyway, they keep the grass down.”

There were other stories – of injured walkers or stranded motorists coming to the door, and of simply milking the celebrity status in a tourist honeypot: “I take the chair into the garden with the cigar and the coaches all slow down, honk their horns, flashbulbs going off and all that kind of thing. My house is on the tourist itinerary for every coach!”

And there were glimpses of both the hard upbringing and the optimistic take on life: “There’s an old saying I’ve just invented,” he said, “‘Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others can’t keep it from their own’. I’m a people person and being here is total, total magic, total joy. Who would believe that after working deep in the bowels of the earth I would come to live here?”

It was great – if only all interviews went so smoothly and so enthusiastically. Except that after 15 minutes I had all I needed and didn’t want to use up any more of his time – plus I had other work to do. But it wasn’t easy to break into the increasingly monologue-like flow of anecdotes, and after fully 30 minutes more I was aware of starting to sound tetchy as I said things like “Thanks Jimmy, that’s great Jimmy, much appreciated Jimmy but I really must let you go now…”.

Eventually I did manage to ring off – it felt almost like I’d had to negotiate terms and sign a treaty – and was able to flop back into my chair and laugh. He was quite something – I’ve never met or interviewed anyone so eager to sit in the limelight, or so full of himself in an entertaining and amusing (if ultimately rather exhausting) way.

And as with various of the other more sedate – dare I say more normal? – interviewees over those 18 months, I’d warmed to him. Sure, there was known to be a dark, unsettling side, and six months after we spoke the BBC aired Louis Theroux’s documentary that was destined to be remembered for the moments when Savile was caught off guard and revealed a not-so-light-entertainment side to his character.

But even after seeing that, I found myself still smiling at Savile’s almost-bonkers enthusiasm and the overriding sense that he was a complete one-off and that the good outweighed the bad in what was clearly a complex and not entirely happy makeup.

It was impossible not to respect the charity work – tales abound of his turning up “in character” but otherwise unheralded at Stoke Mandeville to see, and to cheer up, spinal-injury patients. And he deserved respect for an extraordinary ability to combine genuine graft (the mines, the massive cycle-rides, the 212 marathons) with a sort of crazy glam-rock proto-bling.

Savile might have been a troubled, at-times-difficult loner – and might have been as mad as a bucket of lobsters – but he kept the viewing public entertained and made a lot of people happy. And he certainly brightened up what might otherwise have been a drab Monday morning for one junior Scotsman journalist a dozen years ago.

Update 31 October –
Having said that Jimmy Savile “sold the [Glen Coe] house some years later” – based on a comment a couple of years ago from someone with local knowledge – it now appears that Savile might well have owned the house right up to his death. There was a break-in at the start of 2008, but this blogger suggests he still owned it in September 2009 (“I drove up to a little spot near Jimmy Savilles [sic] house and wished him good morning”), while one of the Clachaig employees, Alex Roddie (aka “Only a hill”), says in this UKC thread says Savile still had the house in June 2010, as does another poster, “3leggeddog” – “No matter what anyone says, Jimmy still owns it.” And this article has him still owning it in March of this year. There is also discussion over at Scottish Hills.

There have been plenty of obituaries and tributes, as might be imagined. Adam Sweeting’s piece in the Guardian is a good read – “Behind the professional good samaritan there was a man of ruthless willpower, intelligent enough to become a member of Mensa. It was as if the scale of his charitable efforts was an expression of his enormous desire to be seen to have achieved something.” Also in the Guardian, some of the commenters on the initial news story of Savile’s death get into a predictable tizz over his friendship with Margaret Thatcher.

A candidate for the best tribute is that by the religious blogger Cranmer: “over the course of his professional life, Sir Jimmy ran more than 200 marathons and raised in excess of £40 million for charity. While many civil servants, bankers, industrialists and politicians expect to receive their knighthoods and their OBEs and CBEs for doing nothing but their jobs, Sir Jimmy Savile thoroughly merited his honour whilst having no expectation of it. He fixed it for thousands of people to experience something in life which would otherwise have been denied them. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Rest in Peace, Sir Jimmy.”

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

Murdo Fraser MSP <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

Murdo Fraser MSP Picture: Scottish parliament

In one of the most astonishing moves ever made by a leading politician, the frontrunner for the Scottish Conservative leadership has promised to disband his own party if he wins the contest.

Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservative Party and favourite to succeed Annabel Goldie, believes that the only way to save the Scottish Tories is to destroy them.

Mr Fraser will launch his leadership bid tomorrow by telling activists that their party should be scrapped – and a new centre-right party started in its place.

Many observers – inside and outside the Conservative Party – have believed for some time that the Conservative brand has become so toxic in Scotland as to be no longer electable.

But Mr Fraser is the first senior politician to announce his intentions of doing something radical (and bold and risky) to reverse his party’s seemingly irreversible decline.

Mr Fraser believes a new, modern, specifically Scottish party needs to be established in its place if its centre-right values are to survive.

A key strategist behind the radical plan said: “Murdo believes that there is no point having a new captain on the bridge of the Titanic. Whoever is captain, the Titanic is going to sink. We don’t need a new captain, we need a new ship.”

Writing in the Scottish Mail on Sunday today, Mr Fraser said: “Our party – the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party – will never succeed. It will never be able to promote the values we stand for – the values which Scotland needs.

“It is time to start again. So if I am elected leader, I will turn the party into a new party for Scotland. A new party, distinctly Scottish, standing up for Scottish interests. … A new party, with a new name.”

And he added: “It’s time to learn the lesson. It’s time to change. It’s time for a new party for Scotland.”

Mr Fraser’s plans are certain to lead to a civil war within the Scottish Conservative Party, with traditionalists pitched against modernisers – and it is not going to be pleasant.

If Mr Fraser is defeated, some of the modernisers may leave the party and start their own breakaway. If Mr Fraser wins, some of the traditionalists may leave.

But Mr Fraser believes that there are enough centre-right voters in Scotland to join in his crusade – and, crucially, that there will be enough big-money business backers to bankroll his new enterprise.

In one sense, Mr Fraser’s plans can be seen as anticipating the change in Scottish politics that would happen if the country goes independent. But he is adamant that his new movement will fight independence, even though it will pursue a defiantly aggressive pro-devolution and pro-decentralisation agenda.

The party would have a new name and – although this has not yet been decided – the terms “progressive”, “democrat”, “unionist” and “Scottish” have already been mooted by some of those behind the plan.

The new party would also be completely distinct from the UK Conservative Party – although it would establish a formal alliance to make sure the two parties worked together – and it would have its own policies.

It is understood that David Cameron has been informed of Mr Fraser’s intentions – and, although there are some senior party figures in London who support the move, others close to the prime minister are more anxious about the proposed change.

They realise that it would send out a signal that the Conservative Party has given up on Scotland completely.

Mr Fraser believes that the party should have different policies from the UK Conservative party, particularly on fishing – he advocates withdrawal from the European Common Fisheries Policy – and on defence, where he supports the retention of Scottish air bases.

But, crucially, he believes the new party has to be really positive about devolution and embrace the Scottish parliament in a way that the Scottish Conservatives have often had trouble doing.

Mr Fraser, the MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, is one of three MSPs vying to succeed Annabel Goldie as leader of the Scottish Conservative Party when she stands down this autumn.

But his controversial plan to ditch the party he is trying to lead is going to make the leadership contest much closer and much more exciting.

He is being challenged for the leadership by West of Scotland list MSP Jackson Carlaw and by new Glasgow MSP Ruth Davidson.

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament

Alex Salmond refused to apologise today in the increasingly acrimonious row over the UK Supreme Court and, as a result, he now faces the possibility of having to contest a defamation suit brought against him by one of the country’s top lawyers.

The First Minister was given three opportunities during First Minister’s Questions today to withdraw remarks he made, both about Professor Tony Kelly, a visiting professor at Strathclyde University and an authority on European human rights law, and about Lord Hope, one of Scotland’s senior judges.

But, despite being accused of “bombast, arrogance and conceit” by his opponents, Mr Salmond spurned each one.

Professor Kelly announced this morning that he was so upset with Mr Salmond’s remarks in Holyrood magazine this week that he could not let them go by unchallenged and that he intended to take steps to take the issue further through the courts.

A full and unequivocal apology by Mr Salmond during First Minister’s Questions today could, possibly, have averted a defamation case but the First Minister’s decision to brazen it out now makes a legal suit against him more likely.

The row over the UK Supreme Court has been smouldering for weeks. It is the final court of appeal for UK human rights cases and, on two occasions recently, the court has made controversial decisions which affect Scots criminal law – even though the cases were brought under human rights legislation.

This has angered many, including Mr Salmond, who has gone on the attack, not just against the structures which have made the UK Supreme Court an unexpected arbiter for some contentious Scots law criminal cases, but against Scottish judges sitting on the court as well.

This reached a peak yesterday when Holyrood magazine was published containing an interview with the First Minister.

Mr Salmond used the interview to lambast, not just Lord Hope of Craighead, one of the Scottish judges on the Supreme Court, but also Professor Kelly, one of the country’s leading human rights lawyers.

The First Minister accused Prof Kelly of exploiting the system to make “an incredibly comfortable living” from human rights cases.

Mr Salmond said: “The judicial system does not exist to serve Professor Kelly, it exists to serve the people and any judicial system which allows that to happen would fall into disrepute, and what’s more, it costs lives because if you take £100 million out of the justice budget you cost lives; less police, less courts, less effective justice and incidentally, less Legal Aid and it is an inevitable consequence of that sort of thing.”

And, on Lord Hope, Mr Salmond said: “All I would say to Lord Hope is that I probably know a wee bit about the legal system and he probably knows a wee bit about politics but politics and the law intertwine and the political consequences of Lord Hope’s judgments are extreme.

“And when the citizens of Scotland understandably vent their fury about the prospect of some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money off the public purse, they don’t go chapping at Lord Hope’s door, they ask their parliament what they are doing about it.

“I am perfectly happy if Lord Hope wishes to exercise his freedom of speech and I hope he is happy with mine but at least I went to the bother of being elected. It may be an inconvenience but nonetheless it has to count for something.”

In response, Prof Kelly said: “I am sad that the First Minister has called into question my professional integrity.

“I act for the most maligned in our society and in so doing fully expect that such a role is disliked and at times misunderstood by others.

“However, for a politician to attack me for the work that I do – and to mistake so seriously my motivation – cannot be left unremarked upon.”

He added: “With regret, I have had to take legal advice and following upon that, given the nature of attacks upon me, I have decided to formalise my opinion.”

With legal figures, senior nationalists like former MP Jim Sillars and the entire opposition in the parliament ranged against him, Mr Salmond came under intense pressure this morning to apologise, to withdraw the remarks he made about both Lord Hope and Prof Kelly and defuse the row.

With no public comment by the First Minister before he appeared in the chamber at midday, no-one knew how he would react to the inevitable demands for an apology.

Labour leader Iain Gray was the first to ask Mr Salmond to apologise.

“These crass personal attacks demean the office to which he was elected. He should retract them now,” Mr Gray said.

And the Labour leader added: “The First Minister attacked a lawyer for representing people because they are ‘vile’. His justice secretary threatened to cut off funding from a court because he did not like their judgements. I do not like some of their judgements too.

“But vile people having rights is the price we pay for us all having those rights. Vile people being properly defended is the price we pay for our right to be defended too. We make the laws but the independence of the judiciary is the price we pay for the for the freedom to do that. “

Mr Salmond refused. He said: “I think we all have a right to fair comment.”

And he added: “As well as a right to free speech, we have a duty as parliamentarians to articulate public concerns.”

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie then said: “The First Minister’s interview with Holyrood magazine amounted to an extraordinary rant, characterised by bile, intemperance, provocative personal insults and a sneering disregard for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

“No-one denies there is a serious issue about how the Supreme Court engages with Scots law in determining human rights issues. It is right that the mechanisms be looked at.

“But the First Minister’s blustering, bellicose outburst has totally obscured the real issue, made a laughing stock of Alex Salmond and most seriously of all, has diminished the office of First Minister.”

And she added: “The First Minister said just over a month ago that he did not have a monopoly on wisdom – that is self-evident. Unfortunately, as he has just demonstrated, he can claim to have a monopoly on bombast, arrogance and conceit.”

Miss Goldie then asked: “Will you apologise?”

To which the First Minister replied: “No.”

Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, also used his questions to the First Minister to ask for a retraction from the First Minister.

“The answer is the same as I gave to Miss Goldie,” the First Minister replied.

Willie Rennie MSP <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

Willie Rennie MSP Picture: Scottish parliament

It didn’t take the Scottish Liberal Democrats long to find a new leader. Less than two weeks have gone by since the resignation of Tavish Scott following the party’s disastrous showing in the Scottish elections, yet today Willie Rennie was appointed as his replacement.

But that short timescale was fairly inevitable given that the parliamentary party was reduced to a rump of five. A contest drawing in almost half of the party’s MSPs would have seemed a little eccentric, so Mr Rennie emerged as the uncontested choice as leader.

It does seem that, as Margaret Thatcher once remarked about Willie Whitelaw, “Everyone needs a Willie” – although, as one member of the press pack at Holyrood added with reference to the Lib Dems yesterday, “Perhaps some balls wouldn’t harm, either.”

A former backroom fixer of the party – he was chief executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and chief of staff for the party at Holyrood – Mr Rennie is now stepping into the limelight. The regional list MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife certainly knows the party, but what his activists will want to know is that he can revive its fortunes as well.

A 43-year-old father of two, Mr Rennie has an unlikely claim to fame in that he was once runner-up in the annual Scottish coal-carrying championships.

He has a background in PR and has already been an MP, winning the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election for the Liberal Democrats in 2006 but losing the seat in 2010.

Mr Rennie accepted the appointment at North Queensferry, with one of the party’s oldest members and one of the youngest.

“I’m delighted to be the new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats,” Mr Rennie said. “We need to reflect on the disappointment of the Scottish parliament election results and move on and up. I’m here today with Jimmy Gordon and Neil Alexander. Two of our oldest and youngest members. I want to connect with the party at all levels.

“Scotland needs a strong Liberal voice at all levels of government. And I am determined to see that strong Liberal voice flourish.

“I will be working with my colleagues in the Scottish parliament to stand up to the SNP bulldozer. We will not sit on our hands in the face of an SNP majority – we will be that Liberal voice standing up for the values that Scotland holds dear.

“Scotland needs us to stand up for local services, for long-term solutions and for making our country a place that finds opportunities for aspirational Scots.”

Scottish secretary and Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Michael Moore, added: “This is great news. Willie will be a first-class leader for the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Willie and I have worked together for many years. His energy, integrity and commitment make him the right person to lead our party in Scotland.

“As an experienced politician and a veteran campaigner, he is ideally placed to promote our values in the new Scottish parliament and throughout Scotland too.”

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said: “I congratulate Willie Rennie on his appointment as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

“He is a well-respected individual across the political divide and it is good for Scottish politics that he has made the journey from Westminster to Holyrood. Welcome to the hurley burley of political leadership, Willie!”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray added: “I would like to congratulate Willie Rennie on taking over from Tavish Scott as leader. Willie is well respected by members of all parties and brings extensive experience as a former MP, chief executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and as the party’s chief of staff. I look forward to working together with him in parliament in areas where we share common ground such as job creation and eradicating youth unemployment.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Tricia Marwick MSP <em>Picture: Scottish Parliament</em>

Tricia Marwick MSP Picture: Scottish Parliament

To say that Labour MSPs were unhappy with the result of the presiding officer’s election would be a serious understatement. Most were unwilling to go public because they knew it would seem churlish, but a good number were spitting fire over Tricia Marwick’s victory.

This Labour antagonism was not directed at Ms Marwick herself. She is a well-liked and well-respected MSP – across all sides of the chamber. The anger was directed first at the SNP and secondly (although they wouldn’t like to acknowledge it) at their own impotence.

Labour’s anti-SNP grumbles were based around the convention that the presiding officer’s job is shared around between the parties. Labour is the only major party not to have provided a presiding officer – the previous incumbents having been David Steel (who came from the Liberal Democrat benches), George Reid (SNP) and Alex Fergusson (Conservative) – and, on that basis, this was Labour’s turn.

There was also the distinct feeling in Labour ranks that it is somehow undemocratic for one party to control the votes so completely as the SNP will now do, and also control the chamber.

At the heart of this controversy over the election of the presiding officer is the unstated implication, therefore, that Ms Marwick will favour the SNP in any tricky decisions she has to make.

That is certainly debatable. Anybody who has played football with a referee picked from their own side will know that it often works the other way: arbiters are frequently harsher on their own side just to prove they are not prejudiced, and this may be what Ms Marwick ends up doing.

What this really does seem to be about, then, is not the fear that Ms Marwick will be biased, but the realisation that, as opposition MSPs, there is nothing Labour – or the Tories, or the Lib Dems – can do about it.

If the combined forces of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs could do nothing about the election of the presiding officer in what was supposed to be an unwhipped secret ballot, how more powerless will they be when it comes to real pieces of legislation and formal votes?

Labour MSPs could huff and puff and mutter about the unfairness of the presiding officer vote, but they couldn’t do anything to change it. They are going to have to get used to that, though, because if they get worked up every time the SNP railroad something through parliament, they’ll have blown their blood pressures before the summer recess.

Ms Marwick is a feisty, strong-minded and experienced MSP – this will be her fourth term at Holyrood, having won the Mid Fife and Glenrothes seat with a 4,188 majority and 52.3 per cent of the vote on 5 May. She will certainly bring a different feel to the job than the three men who preceded her. She is not much of a monarchist (she made it clear earlier this year she would not be watching the royal wedding), so will probably adopt a less deferential role when showing the royals round the parliament.

Would Labour’s Hugh Henry have done a better job? Possibly, but it’s impossible to say. What about Tavish Scott or Annabel Goldie? Possibly – but, again, that is now hypothetical.

What is not hypothetical is that an SNP MSP is now in the chair at Holyrood while her party enjoys a clear majority in the chamber, the first time this has happened.

Ms Marwick’s appointment was not really about bias, or prejudice, or democracy. It was a reflection of the SNP’s unchallengeable power at Holyrood – but also of the powerlessness of the opposition.

This is a theme which everybody in politics, including the opposition MSPs at Holyrood, will have to get used to – and soon.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Annabel Goldie <em>Picture: Wsdouglas</em>

Annabel Goldie Picture: Wsdouglas

Annabel Goldie became the third leadership casualty of this election this afternoon when she announced she was standing down as Scottish Conservative leader.

Miss Goldie is due to face a contest for the leadership later this year as a result of party reforms agreed last year.

Today she issued a statement announcing that she would not be seeking re-election as Scottish Conservative leader.

Her departure follows that of Iain Gray, as leader of the Scottish Labour Party and Tavish Scott as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Miss Goldie’s decision to stand down paves the way for her deputy, Murdo Fraser, to go for the leadership of the party. He may, though, be challenged by fellow MSP Gavin Brown.

Miss Goldie said: “The Scottish election result was seismic. Nobody, not even Alex Salmond, thought that the SNP would win an overall majority at Holyrood.

“I am of course disappointed that the Conservatives are returning to the parliament with two fewer MSPs than last time, but I am heartened by the observations of many independent commentators that our result was, by comparison to the other opposition parties, credible.”

And she added: “For the opposition parties, we will all have to adjust to the new realities. It will be a test of our mettle and resolve to be an effective opposition. We must remember that although the SNP has a majority of seats, it did not win a majority of votes, and has a minority of support for independence.

“For me, and for my party, we will play our part. Now the election is over, the implementation of the 2011 review into our structures can be completed. In particular I understand that the new leadership structures will be in place by the autumn.

“I am an enthusiastic backer of the new plans – including the call for the party to have one overall leader in Scotland. It is likely that the first election under these new rules will take place later this year.

“I believe that the time has come for the torch to pass and I can confirm that I will not be a candidate. There are four years until the next UK general election, and five years until the next Holyrood contest. I want my successor to have the maximum time for him or her to shape the Party and its policies and to lead the opposition at Holyrood.

“For the sake of clarity, I will remain as leader of the MSP group until my successor takes over, and I will of course remain as an MSP for the duration of the parliament.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Taxes and opinion polls dominated the political chatter yesterday, as the final poll results were published, the leaders debated on STV, and Labour and the Conservatives attacked the SNP’s plan to fund Scottish independence.

Our penultimate word cloud showing the hot topics of the day in yesterday's political press releases. Common non-policy words were removed, the bigger the word, the more it appreared.

Our final word cloud showing the hot topics of the day in yesterday's political press releases. Common non-policy words were removed, the bigger the word, the more it appreared.

Our cloud shows tax, council, independence and percent, received high usage as the Scottish Conservatives said that only they can protect Scotland from “dangerous and costly excesses of nationalism”, and claimed the SNP’s plans to take Scotland out of Britain could mean a basic rate taxpayer paying almost half their earnings in tax.

Commenting on figures published in yesterday’s Daily Mail, Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader, said:

“Alex Salmond would turn Scotland into the highest taxed part of Britain. His dangerous plans to rip Scotland out of the UK would hammer hard working Scots, rip our country apart and decimate our economy.

“The Scottish Government’s own figures show that separation means up to a 12p hike on income tax, pushing the basic rate to 32p.

“Added to the SNP’s madcap plans to introduce a local income tax – which the report they tried to cover up said would be 4.6p – and then national insurance contributions on top of that, then it is clear the bill for divorce from the UK would cripple basic rate taxpayers in Scotland.”

Labour’s finance spokesperson, Andy Kerr, said of the report:

“This is a damning reminder of the SNP’s economic madness but we cannot forget that Alex Salmond is using the courts to hide his tax plans from the Scottish public.

“On the big economic decisions, the SNP have called it wrong time and time again and the financial crisis showed how flawed the SNP’s economic approach is. The choice in this election is between two visions for Scotland – Labour’s plan for jobs or the SNP’s plan for independence.”

The SNP laughed off this figure, claiming it was based upon an out-of-date figure of £3.8 billion in the 2010 Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) report.

The Tories and Labour use the £3.8 billion figure, which also reflects capital investment, to claim an income tax rise of 12 pence in Scotland. They then add to this the existing basic rate of income tax of 20p, national insurance contributions of 12p, and the rumoured 4.6p local income tax figure.

An SNP spokesperson said:

“The Tory figures are unutterable garbage – an embarrassing effort from an embarrassing party.

“On the basis of the Tories’ absurd figures, the UK basic rate of income tax would be 63 per cent, and the higher rate would be 83 per cent. And that is before the plans of the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems for a real increase in the real council tax of between £200 and £300.

“Labour’s panic and desperation in this campaign is revealed by the fact that they are actually recycling this Tory garbage – another example of the unholy Labour/Tory alliance.”

People, greens, and votes are the next most prominent in the cloud with the final poll results released and the final televised leadership debate airing last night on STV – both boosting the occurrences of percent along with the taxation debate.

The Scottish Greens launched a final push for the Holyrood election, urging Scots to give the party their second votes on Thursday.

Patrick Harvie said:

“While others have run campaigns based on fear and empty promises, Greens have set out a consistently practical and positive programme for the next parliament. Our campaign has made cast-iron promises on keeping tuition free, on insulating every home in Scotland, and bringing in fairer taxes to cut household bills for most Scots and to invest in our essential public services. The polls suggest that more and more Scots are planning to give their second votes to their local Green candidates on Thursday, and we could be on the brink of winning seats in every region.

Elaborating on the importance of the second vote, he added:

“The second vote is vital. It might not tell you who governs Scotland. But it’ll certainly tell you who they have to govern with. That can only mean one of the coalition parties or the Greens. If you want a Scottish parliament that builds a positive alternative to the coalition’s ideological cuts agenda, only a second vote for the Greens can deliver it.”

Yesterday’s TNS-BRMB poll for STV – released to coincide with the final televised debate – shows the Scottish Greens up from 5 per cent to 8 per cent on the regional list, the best result yet for the party during the 2011 election campaign.

The SNP also welcomed the poll which shows them ahead of Labour in the constituency vote by 18 points. Scottish National Party depute leader and deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“This is an excellent poll – it indicates that people want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister because they want to achieve the five-year council tax freeze, protection for Scotland’s health budget, and retention of the 1,000 additional police officers that the SNP have delivered.

Emphasising caution against complacency, she added:

“We are taking nothing for granted. People support our record, team and vision for Scotland – many for the first time – and we will work harder than ever before to achieve the re-election of the SNP Government and Alex Salmond for first minister on Thursday.”

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Johann Lamont said:

“With over half of all voters undecided how they will vote, this poll show it is all to play for.

“The SNP are arrogantly slapping themselves on the back before a single vote has been cast, but the only poll that matters is polling day and every hour between now and polling day Labour will be fighting for every vote.”

Whereas Liberal Democrat campaign chair George Lyon reflected on his party’s poor scoring – they came in 4th behind the Conservatives – saying:

“Pundits are always interested in polls ahead of elections. What Liberal Democrats are focused on is the poll on 5 May.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Iain Gray

Iain Gray

Iain Gray tried his best to fight back both against the SNP and against further appalling poll news in the last of the televised debates tonight.

But the Scottish Labour leader ultimately found himself harried to such an extent, both by his political opponents and by a feisty Glasgow audience, that he was unable to claw back any of the ground his party has already lost through the campaign.

None of the leaders emerged as the clear winner of the debate. Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, gave his best performance of the campaign – possibly because he has become so resigned to doing badly that he has relaxed enough to enjoy it.

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, did not quite make the impression she has done in previous debates, but was clear and decisive – while Alex Salmond was his solid, competent self without excelling and dominating the way his party managers had hoped he would.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

But, as the clear leader going into this STV debate, Mr Salmond didn’t need to win: he only had to make sure no one would win and he would emerge ahead at the end – and that is what happened.

All the leaders went into the debate on the back of the latest poll, this one by TNS-BMRB for STV, and it showed the Nationalists extending their lead over Labour with just one day’s campaigning left until polling day.

According to the poll, the SNP are on 45 per cent in the constituency vote, a massive 18 points ahead of Labour on 27. The Tories are on 15, the Lib Dems on ten and the others on three.

In the regional list vote, the SNP are on 38 per cent, 13 ahead of Labour on 25 with the Tories on 16, the Lib Dems on nine, the Greens on eight and others on four.

Translated into seats, this would give the SNP 61 seats to Labour’s 32 with the Tories 18, the Lib Dems nine, the Greens eight and the others one.

Each of the leaders was asked to react to the poll and all Mr Gray could do was stress the usual politician’s mantra that “the only poll that counts” is the one on Thursday. But it sounded weak and Mr Gray – understandably – sounded battered by the constant bad news.

There was more to come when the debate started.

Mr Gray found himself on the back foot right from the off when he was set upon by the first two questioners. The first said he had been a victim of knife crime, that he had written to Mr Gray’s office, but had not received a response.

The second tore into all the unionist parties who had voted against minimum pricing for alcohol, but reserved most of the criticism for Mr Gray, demanding: “How you could have voted against minimum pricing when it is the major Scottish problem is beyond belief.

“What planet are you living on?” he demanded.

Mr Gray came back quickly to apologise to the crime victim: “If you have written to my office and I have not replied, I apologise for that. It would be extremely unusual.”

But, by then, the damage had been done.

Mr Gray did rally by coming up with good, strong answers on modern apprenticeships, but Mr Salmond was also solidly competent on that issue, preventing Mr Gray from edging ahead.

Miss Goldie showed her experience in always remembering the questioner’s name and referring to them directly. She also made it clear that she would keep stressing the core message she wanted to get across.

Time and again, almost regardless of the question, she replied: “That is the core issue here: we have to grow the economy.”

It was clear that Miss Goldie was aware of what would appeal to her party’s traditional base and the debate presented her with the last real opportunity to appeal to that audience.

Not for the first time, Mr Scott found it difficult to fight his way into the centre-left ground occupied by Mr Salmond and Mr Gray, but he found his voice on the independence referendum issue.

At first, it appeared as if the Scottish Lib Dem leader was about to endorse an independence referendum, talking about how the ground had shifted and how the SNP appeared to be heading for victory.

But he changed tack at the last moment and told the audience that they should realise they would get independence if they continued to back the SNP. But if they wanted something different, they should vote for the Lib Dems.

Mr Scott then turned on Mr Salmond, accused him of being “wily” and added: “He will cook up the question [on the referendum], he will cook up the timing and he will probably cook up the result as well.”

STV’s questionmaster Bernard Ponsonby missed a trick by not hauling Mr Scott up on the AV referendum. Why, he should have asked, have the Lib Dems driven through a referendum on something no party actually believes in, but the party is opposing a referendum on independence?

This was the point made by Mr Salmond. The SNP leader was well rehearsed on this subject but he made his case well and convincingly.

But Mr Ponsonby did at least spend time focusing on the key issue of the financing of public services and the claims made by most of the parties that they could keep most services without making cuts just by saving money through efficiency savings.

It was then that Mr Salmond found himself on the wrong side of an audience member. A nurse from Greater Glasgow and Clyde tore into the first minister over his claim that he would protect the health service from cuts.

She claimed student nurses couldn’t get jobs, that nurses weren’t being replaced and that beds were being closed because of the Scottish government’s management of the service.

“That’s not protection, that’s the annihilation of the service,” she said.

By this time, the audience had heckled both Mr Gray and Mr Salmond, giving them both an equally rough time as the partisan members of the audience reacted to the comments of the leader they didn’t like.

If Mr Gray thought he had escaped from the audience’s attacks, he was wrong. Near the end, he got another curve ball, this time from a man who referred to Mr Gray’s embarrassing escape from anti-cuts protestors in Glasgow Central station at the start of the campaign by hiding in a sandwich shop.

“Can Mr Gray recommend a sandwich and doesn’t he think a potential leader shouldn’t run away?”

Rather than duck this, Mr Gray decided to take this challenge to his leadership credentials head on.

“I have never run away from anything,” he said.

And he added: “Leadership is important. I tell you this, anybody who thinks that I would not spend every waking minute of every day creating jobs and opportunities for young people simply doesn’t know me. It’s what I have done all my life and it is what I want to do for Scotland for the next five years. That is the leadership I offer.”

It was a feisty reply to a difficult issue he could have ducked.

Mr Gray ended up appearing battered and bruised, but combative and strong too. Mr Salmond was not given such a hard time and he appeared smooth and in control – if not as dominant as usual.

Mr Scott did well and Miss Goldie forged her own path, as has now become something of a trademark for her.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Annabel Goldie <em>Picture: Alexford</em>

Annabel Goldie Picture: Alexford

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie gave the most striking and successful performance last night in what was a closely fought and fairly even leaders’ debate on the BBC.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was much better than he had been during the opening debate, right back at the start of the campaign.

But even though Mr Gray was solid, competent and managed to score a couple of good points off Alex Salmond, he didn’t do enough to really raise himself up to or beyond the first minister’s level.

That was what he had to do to put Labour in the lead ahead of Thursday’s poll – and, although markedly better than before, he didn’t quite manage to do that.

Mr Salmond, the SNP leader, was as professional and composed as ever and although he didn’t win many of the exchanges, he won those that mattered to him: making a big impression with his arguments on independence and sectarianism.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, also performed better than in the first debate, but again found himself sidelined, both by the presence of the two candidates vying for the first minister’s job and then by Miss Goldie, who managed to elbow her way in to the debate in a way that Mr Scott couldn’t quite manage.

Once again, Miss Goldie’s more individual stance – of opposing universal benefits and arguing that students contribute to their own education – set her apart from the others.

But it was her waspish one-liners – at one point she implored the audience to make sure someone had the next first minister by the “short and curlies – that gave her a slight edge over her rivals.

All the party leaders finished close to each other, but, on performance, the order was first, Miss Goldie, second, Mr Salmond, third, Mr Gray and fourth, Mr Scott.

Overall, this was a much better debate than the first, which had been broadcast by STV. Glenn Campbell, the host, went straight to the key issues of the campaign.

The first question raised the issue of universal benefits and why a 60-year-old earning £40,000 a year should get a free bus pass.

Both Mr Salmond and Mr Gray were used to simply championing the rights of universal benefits, but now they had to justify them.

Mr Salmond warned of the costs of means testing, which was a valid point and a better answer than Mr Gray managed.

Both Miss Goldie and Mr Scott did better – particularly Miss Goldie, who remembered to talk to the questioner from the audience directly and to use her first name, and she finished with her main message of the evening.

“We have to consider what we can afford and what we cannot afford,” she said.

Mr Gray and Mr Salmond then got into difficulties with the next question, about job losses in the public sector. Both talked about pay restraint, but both were hazy and appeared unused to having to justify the promises made in their manifestos.

It was then, though, that the debate sparked into life with Mr Gray deciding to take on Mr Salmond directly. The Scottish Labour leader challenged Mr Salmond over his claim that more teachers had been employed under the SNP government.

Mr Gray was cheered when he claimed this to be untrue. Mr Salmond parried by arguing that most of the teachers had been lost by Labour-controlled councils, but the point had been made – and won – by Mr Gray.

Miss Goldie tried to set herself apart from the spat between the men in suits, appealing: “Who is going to get them under control, grabbing them by the short and curlies?”

The Conservative leader then took a more serious line, admitting that she could not protect every public sector job and then astutely broadening the debate out by reminding everybody that the public sector wasn’t the only part of the economy that was having trouble, that there was a big private sector out there too and it also had to be nurtured and protected.

Mr Scott found himself put into an uncomfortable position when asked bluntly if he would “do a Nick Clegg” and break his promises if he got a “whiff of power”.

“No,” replied Mr Scott, which was as wise and as decent an answer as he could give, in the circumstances.

Miss Goldie again showed that she wasn’t afraid to duck the big issues when sticking to her unpopular approach to higher education, arguing that it was not realistic to promise “free education” as the others were doing.

She was applauded by a sizeable group within the audience too, for saying it, which suggests there may not be the unanimity around this issue that the other parties think there is.

And, in the line which may resonate more with voters than any other, she warned – wagging a finger at the three men alongside her – “You are going to see a lot of humble pie being eaten big-time by these three in years to come.”

Of the others, Mr Salmond was the most cogent and convincing in his response, arguing passionately that “free education is at the heart of the Scottish tradition in education”.

With neither Mr Scott nor Mr Gray convincing on this subject, the dividing line was clear – practical warnings over cost from Miss Goldie versus a declaration of principle from Mr Salmond.

That was really the main theme of this debate. As the subjects moved from renewables to independence, Miss Goldie took a down-to-earth approach, warning of the costs involved and urging realistic (and sometimes uncomfortable) solutions to them, while Mr Salmond urged the audience to consider the wider, more theoretical and principled implications.

As a result, there appeared to be a clear ideological drive behind the first minister’s answers, while Miss Goldie appeared to give the most rational responses – guided at all times but the financial realities of Scotland’s position.

Mr Gray and Mr Scott kept in the hunt, but neither managed to assert themselves above this now-dominant narrative.

The final question offered the leaders the chance to make a witty and lasting impression. Asked what the title of their autobiography would be, the three men could only come up with lame responses.

Mr Salmond talked about winning re-election, for Mr Gray it was “jobs, jobs jobs” (which is slightly ironic as he may have a new job in the not-too-distant future if Labour loses heavily on Thursday) and Mr Scott rambled on about “an island life” and his home on Shetland.

Miss Goldie did have more thinking time than the others, but her response that it was “always good to kick a politician’s posterior” had the merit of being the only vaguely and witty response of the four.

It showed that Miss Goldie has the (limited) ability to think on her feet while the others merely repeated a version of a campaign slogan.

If she hadn’t already edged the debate by then, she would have done so anyway with her final answer.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Stenhouse <em>Picture: Kim Traynor</em>

Stenhouse Picture: Kim Traynor

The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. David McLetchie is a former leader of the Scottish Conservatives and is standing for re-election in Edinburgh Pentlands.

Wednesday 20 April
The prime minister joins the campaign and speaks at a rally in Inverness attended by 300 people and meets Save Lossiemouth campaigners. He is well received at both events. The organisation is spot on, whereas before he entered Downing Street it was all a lot more fluid. I have noticed a big difference between an opposition politician and the leader of the UK government visiting us, that’s for sure.

After a constituency visit it’s across the city to The Tun, where I take part in a panel discussion on the constitution for the Scotland at Ten radio programme hosted by Sarah Paterson. I’m in the studio with Sarah and Fiona Hyslop and the other three panellists are in a Glasgow studio. It’s all familiar territory which we could do in our sleep.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Sarah comments at the end that it’s all very polite – which it was, but it’s quite difficult to have an animated discussion with someone 50 miles away. No one wants a radio programme to degenerate into a rammy of people talking over one another where the listener can’t distinguish who said what.

Thursday 21 April
David Cameron does well in his Good Morning Scotland interview, which is a good start to the day. He is pictured by the Clyde with Ruth Davidson, who is our no.1 candidate on the Glasgow list and who we hope will succeed Bill Aitken.

Ruth has a background in broadcasting and a sparkling personality. She is quite open about being a lesbian and tells a wicked joke or two, but beneath that bold and breezy exterior there is a serious and intelligent young woman, who I think will be a great asset to us in the parliament.

I have the afternoon off to attend the funeral service of my friend and neighbour Iain Sinclair in our local parish church. Iain had been fighting bowel cancer for the last two years and showed tremendous courage and strength of character throughout. He lived life to the full and was great sportsman, reflected in the huge turnout for the service. His wake is at the Grange Club and is a lively gathering full of people sharing stories and jokes about Iain which he would have relished and enjoyed. I miss him.

Friday 22 April
Good Friday – the first of the four public holidays between now and election day, but there is still work to be done delivering my constituency newspaper before we break off early to enjoy the rest of the day. My sister-in-law Anne from Bridlington in Yorkshire is staying with us for the holiday weekend.

Nationally, Annabel [Goldie] rouses my jealousy by getting a tour of the Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston, where she launches our economy manifesto. It’s a credit to Derek Brownlee, our finance spokesman, who spent many painstaking hours fully costing our entire four-year spending programme. There’s no point promising something if you can’t deliver it, although try telling that to the SNP. The economy manifesto is well received, but in all honesty I think the big media turnout has more to do with the teacakes and caramel logs on offer.

Saturday 23 April
Out in Stenhouse and Saughton with a team of helpers. These are new parts of the constituency, so I am keen to make an impact here – but it is hard going in the teeming rain and not for the first time I am grateful to everyone who signs on to help not for any personal reward or glory but simply because they believe in the party and what it stands for. As a candidate, you can’t say thank you enough, no matter how elevated you may be.

In the afternoon I watch Hearts blow a three-goal lead against Motherwell and end up hanging on for a draw. Talk about momentum shifts – Labour must know exactly how the Hearts players feel.

Sunday 24 April
Present Sheila and her sister with Easter eggs inscribed with their names before heading off to party HQ to do an early morning interview with Bernard Ponsonby who is providing the pool coverage for the broadcasters. A token question about testing the three Rs in primary schools which is our topic for the day, then it’s on to questions about the polls which show the SNP as having a commanding lead over Labour.

The Labour campaign is in disarray and I say so. They have deliberately chosen to blur dividing-lines between them and the SNP and have spent all the campaign so far attacking us in a rerun of 2010. Labour should have said they did not support a council tax freeze and framed a choice between them and the SNP.

Our media team identified today as the day to announce we were now actively targeting Liberal Democrat list votes, as we enter the last ten days of the campaign. There is a degree of media scepticism, as journalists enquire why any Lib Dems disaffected with the UK government would vote Tory, but this misses the point. Annabel has had a great campaign and people have warmed to her. Our canvassing returns suggest an opportunity to bolster our list vote with former Lib Dem voters, so we’re determined to seize it.

Monday 25 April
Another holiday and some more campaigning in the morning for me before I take the afternoon off to have a game of golf with my son James. He is in sparkling form – I am well below my best and he wins comfortably. Roll on the summer recess when I can get my game in shape.

Talking of outdoor pursuits, today Annabel launches our sports and healthy living manifesto – fit4life – with rugby legend Gavin Hastings and education spokesperson Liz Smith. The three pass a rugby ball about for the cameras and it’s almost perfect until one person drops it. The culprit is not Annabel, nor Liz, but possibly the finest full-back we have ever produced. I would like to have seen the odds on that outcome.

Tuesday 26 April
I am at Leith FM this morning to record an interview for this local radio station in my capacity as the leading candidate on the Conservative list for Lothians. Some would see this as an insurance policy, and there are a fair number of critics of the list system and the way candidates are selected and ranked in order on the list. In our case, you have to be a constituency candidate before you can be considered for the list.

The purpose behind this rule was to ensure that all candidates had to work on the ground and there were no free riders who could expect to breeze into parliament without contributing to the campaign. Our list order is determined by a ballot of party members in the region, and this took place six months ago. The system does tend to favour incumbents who work hard and are well-known and respected in their areas, but that’s not exactly a crime.

The interview ends up being conducted in the peaceful sanctuary of the Leith Dockers Club, next to the Leith FM studio, because workmen are banging away in the main building and the noise interferes with the recording. Fairly standard stuff, but it takes well over an hour to do.

I have strong local connections as the product of a mixed marriage – mother from Leith and father from Edinburgh. I attended Leith Academy primary school and am proud of the fact that last year Leith Academy celebrated its 450th anniversary. It was a great school for me. Only three marvellous teachers in seven years of primary education and never in a class with fewer than 40 pupils! Education is all about the quality of the teachers and their ability to educate and inspire.

Back to Pentlands for more local campaigning before I travel to Glasgow in the evening for a Newsnight Scotland special edition on the constitution, where I am one of a seven-strong panel. Late-night live political programmes at the end of a long day are an occupational hazard for politicians. No wonder people become a cropper or stumble under interrogation.

However, this event is pretty plain sailing. A lot of focus on an independence referendum to which we are opposed, but on which both Labour and the Lib Dems are distinctly wobbly. It’s pretty plain that the overwhelming majority of Scots don’t want independence, so why we should waste time on this when there are far more important decisions to be taken in the next parliament is not obvious. It’s typical of the willingness of politicians to be diverted to sideshows.

Wednesday 27 April
I visit Stevenson College with Liz Smith and meet the principal Brian Lister and staff and students to discuss the funding issues which affect them. Our visit coincides with an announcement that agreement has been reached in principle for Stevenson to merge with Jewel and Esk College to form an Edinburgh super-college which will have over 20,000 students.

Brian is a bundle of energy and ideas and provides great leadership to Stevenson. One of his biggest concerns is that the determination of other parties in Scotland to avoid tuition fees or a graduate contribution for higher education will mean a real squeeze on the college sector, even although colleges are capable of delivering degree courses far more cost effectively than universities.

Stevenson offers a degree in music in conjunction with Abertay and we visit one of the recording studios where a group is recording its version of the Beatles classic Eight days a week. Brian suggest this as a policy to boost productivity. I feel as if I am already on such a schedule.

There’s a bizarre row between Labour and the SNP over who-ran-away-from-who in an Ayrshire Asda. Labour say the first minister scuttled off when they arrived, the SNP release so-called “damning” footage which they say claims Iain Gray ran away from Alex Salmond. Notwithstanding the fact that Iain Gray has form for running away, the footage doesn’t actually prove anything. It’s pretty pathetic and I say so in a media release. As a politician, you have to cherish the times when you truly hit the nail on the head and this is one of them.

In the afternoon sunshine I canvass homes in the Cherry Trees in Balerno – a group of streets which live up to their name and where the trees are in beautiful full bloom. The positive results set me up nicely for a hustings meeting in Fairmilehead Church with the other Pentlands candidates – Ricky Henderson (Labour), Gordon Macdonald (SNP) and Simon Clark (Lib Dem).

We each give a four-minute opening speech to an audience of 50 and then its question time chaired by the local minister. We cover sectarianism, denominational schools, transport priorities, policing, universal free services, climate change and nuclear power and how people should use their second vote.

It’s all very polite, but the last question does give me a chance to slate the SNP for its false assertion that the second vote determines who is first minister. Alex Salmond is not the president of Scotland, however much he may want to be the new Papa Doc. I tell them and this goes down well. Return home for a late supper of pasta and to discover that Barcelona have just beaten Real Madrid. There is no end to the sacrifices I make for the cause.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum