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Ipsos MORI

polling2Some might call it blatant electioneering, others might laud it as a long-overdue extension of democracy. Either way, the SNP’s plan to extend the vote to 16 and 17 year olds looks likely to be introduced in time for Scotland’s forthcoming independence referendum.

UK ministers have admitted that they cannot stop the Scottish government lowering the franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds for the referendum.

Meanwhile, Scottish ministers have made it clear this is something they are committed to and that there will be clauses inserted into the referendum bill paving the way for a new, younger floor on the voting franchise.

The result is likely to be that 16 and 17 year olds are likely to be offered the vote in a major Scotland-wide poll for the first time in the independence referendum, due to be held in late 2014 or early 2015.

The current age limit for voting is 18 and it is controlled, for elections, by the Westminster government – which has no plans to change it. But the referendum is different. That is totally within the power of the Scottish government and it can set the rules for every part of it, including the franchise.

Even from a cursory look from the outside, it is obvious what Alex Salmond is keen to lower the voting age for the independence referendum. He is aware – as is every student of elections in Scotland – that young Scots are generally much more enthusiastic about independence than are their older counterparts.

Existing rules allow 16 and 17 year olds to be on the electoral register if they will be aged 18 within 12 months of the period beginning on 1 December after their application is submitted.

At the moment, they are on the register but cannot vote until they turn 18. Under the SNP plans, these 16 and 17 year olds would be on the register and, for the first in a national referendum, would be able to vote.

Up to 125,000 new voters would be added to the Scottish electorate if 16 and 17 year old Scots were given the vote. This would add 3 per cent to the voters’ roll and, in a referendum which is expected to be very tight, this extra block of new voters could prove to be very significant, even decisive.

The unionist parties, desperate to stop Mr Salmond from lowering the voting age, have been looking for ways to stop him. But UK ministers have now admitted privately that, after taking legal advice, that they cannot stand in Mr Salmond’s way.

All Scottish ministers have to do is make sure that the referendum bill which is passed by Holyrood contains appropriate clauses to make such a change legal.

“The Scottish government has the power to legislate to determine the franchise for any referendum in respect of a devolved matter,” a senior UK government source told the Times.

“If the Scottish government brings forward legislation to hold a referendum on independence then it would be for the Scottish government to decide on the franchise. That would normally be provided for in the legislation setting the question.”

Polling evidence suggests that younger voters are more enthusiastic they are about independence.

In an Ipsos MORI poll conducted at the end of last month, 46 per cent of voters aged between 18 and 24 said they wanted Scotland to become independent, compared to 48 per cent in this age group who said they backed the union.

The poll revealed also that, as the age of the voters increased, so their support for the union grew stronger. Among voters aged 55 and over, for example, only 32 per cent backed independence with 62 per cent supporting the union.

Scottish ministers have already established a precedent for lowering the voting age. A pilot project lowered the voting age to 16 for two health board elections last year and, with that principle established, SNP ministers believe they have everything in place to lower the voting age for their referendum on independence.

A spokesperson for the first minister pointed out that, in the most recent TNS poll – which put independence ahead by 39 per cent to 38 per cent among the whole population – showed support for independence at 40 per cent (with 32 per cent opposed) among 18–24 year olds.

He said: “All sections of Scottish society will come together to choose Scotland’s future and independence in the referendum, and it is only right that young folk – who can legally marry and join the armed forces – should have their say.”

A senior Scottish government source also suggested that the Scottish government would conduct a major publicity drive in the run-up to the referendum in an attempt to get as many 16 and 17 year olds on to the voting register as possible.

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission confirmed that many 16 and 17 year olds are already invited to be on to the electoral register, so the infrastructure is already in place for them to vote.

What happens at the moment, though, is that 16 and 17 year olds are put on the register but are not sent polling cards until they reach the age of 18.

The referendum bill is expected to change this part of the election process, paving the way for all those on the electoral register to be sent polling cards, not just those who are over 18.

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libdem1Scottish Liberal Democrats

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Tavish Scott launched the party’s Sports Action Plan after joining Spartans FC for a youth training session in Edinburgh. At the session, Mr Scott also expressed his support for Scottish sport by signing the “Vote for Sport” pledge, an initiative organised by the Scottish Sports Alliance which is encouraging MSPs to act as Scottish Sporting Champions during their time at Holyrood.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced plans for a Scotland-wide school Olympics along with changes that would allow community organisations and co-operatives a greater say in the running of football and other sports.

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Commenting, Mr Scott said: “Sport is more than taking pride in the achievements of Scotland’s elite athletes. Sport should genuinely be for all. Our policies would provide people of all ages with more chances to get involved at both the local and national level. We would support the immense contribution volunteers make towards making sport accessible for as many people of all ages as is possible.

“Sport can bring people together in a way that few other things can and we need to be doing everything we can to ensure that we maximise the benefits it brings to Scotland.

“The training session I participated in this morning was what sport should be all about – people coming together to play their game in the right spirit and enjoy themselves.”

Brian McKelvie, chair of the Scottish Sports Association, said: “The campaign has been received very positively and it’s great to see such a demonstration of support for sport here at the Spartans Football Club with the Liberal Democrats.”

Commenting on Shelter Scotland’s analysis of the parties’ manifestos, Liberal Democrat election chair George Lyon said:

“We recognise the need for serious, long-term investment in Scotland’s housing stock, which is why we”ve identified £250 million for insulation of homes and buildings, cutting household energy bills and creating jobs. We”re pleased that Shelter recognises this substantial investment.

“We will also take steps to bring back into use the 70,000 homes lying empty in Scotland, with grants to homeowners who take this on, provided they allow housing associations to rent them out for 10 years. And we”ll extend programmes to help people who are struggling to get on the housing ladder, afford their first home.

“These are ambitious plans that will make a real difference to people in Scotland. “Providing decent housing is essential if we”re to meet our long-term ambitions for the economy, health and social well-being.”

greens2Scottish Greens

The Greens welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll showing the party on 6 per cent on the second vote, a result which would see a significantly larger group of Green MSPs elected to the Scottish parliament, and noted an additional question which asked Scots who they would like to see the next first minister work with. This second question shows that the Greens are the preferred post-election partners for both SNP and Labour voters.

Patrick Harvie said: “This election will answer two questions: who will be first minister, and who will they have to work with at Holyrood. Today’s poll indicates that both Labour or SNP voters would prefer to see their candidate for first minister working with Greens to deliver a fairer and more sustainable Scotland.

“Perhaps the worst outcome of this election would be a Scottish government dependent on one of the coalition parties driving the cuts agenda from Westminster. That way lies a continued assault on public services and an administration which pours cold water on Scotland’s economy. The only alternative to this bleak scenario is a strong second vote for the Scottish Greens.

“Overall this result shows the Greens as one of only two parties heading upwards in the polls. We’re running a positive campaign to defend public services, to guarantee the funding which can keep tuition free, and to insulate every home in Scotland, and we’re delighted to see this approach getting such a warm response.”

Scottish Greens also announced their plans for a true zero-waste Scotland, pledging to back communities across the regions fighting plans for a generation of mass-burn waste incinerators, and to scale-up support for local reuse and recycling initiatives. The Greens are the only party that consistently opposes these incinerators, and Greens are committed to revising the Scottish government’s waste strategy to bring in a moratorium on new facilities. The party argues that burning waste will significantly undermine recycling efforts by creating a built-in demand for waste.

The party will make the case in the next parliament for a strategy that reduces overall levels of waste at source, conserving valuable resources and creating more jobs in community reuse and repair projects, as well as supporting the local provision of recycling facilities. Greens would also pilot a packaging “deposit and return” scheme, which has resulted in very high recycling rates in countries such as Denmark and has long been pioneered with glass bottles by Barrs in Scotland.

Kirsten Robb, the Scottish Greens’ top candidate in Central region, announced the policy ahead of a public meeting on incineration organised by Greens in Stonehouse, a Lanarkshire community threatened by proposals for an incinerator.

Kirsten Robb said: “Scottish Greens have been on the side of local communities across Scotland who simply want a better solution when it comes to waste. Whether in Newton Mearns or Dunbar and from here in Stonehouse or Carnbroe right up to Invergordon, Greens support campaigners who are worried about the health of their families and who just want a safe and sustainable system for reducing waste. Incineration is part of the same old thinking, it’s ‘landfill in the sky’ for local authorities who are running out of space and facing millions of pounds in fines for not tackling the root causes of this problem.

“We want a Scotland that starts by reducing waste in the first place, not just burning it or sending it to landfill. There are hundreds of examples out there of community projects leading the way in sharing, repairing and reusing items, often saving people money in the process. We think that most people who shop in a supermarket would also agree that big retailers and manufacturers have got a long way to go to reduce packaging and stop pushing offers that increase food waste. Voters who want a party that is ambitious about a more sustainable and less wasteful Scotland should use their second vote to elect a strong group of Green MSPs to the next parliament.”

The Greens launched a mini-manifesto on issues relating to children, with policies including: the provision of free nursery education for all children aged from three upwards, commitments on universal free school meals and outdoor education, the introduction of a new School Grounds Enhancement Fund, support for the Active Schools and Eco-Schools programmes, support for home learning, and the introduction of child safety legislation with the aim of making Scotland the safest place to grow up in Europe.

Alison Johnstone, the Greens’ education spokesperson and top candidate in the Lothian region, said: “These policies are designed to give Scotland’s children the best start in life that we can possibly give them, by keeping them active, feeding them well, protecting them from harm and ensuring that they live, learn and grow up in a safe and sustainable society. The Scottish Greens recognise that today’s young people are tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, and that early interventions to make them as fit, healthy and happy as possible are important in helping them to become well-rounded and active members of Scottish society.

“Our children must not be wrapped up in cotton wool – we must give them the opportunity to explore and learn, and recognise their rights, as well as teaching them about their own responsibilities, to society and to the environment in which they live. If we get it right at the start, the rest just falls into place – active, healthy, happy children are far more likely to steer clear of crime, and to become happy and fulfilled members of society, so investing in them at an early age brings benefits and savings for the whole of society.”

labour3 Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour has reacted to an analysis of the Scottish Tories’ manifesto costings by NUS Scotland which has unearthed a black hole of between £500m and £1.5billion in their university spending plans.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Eastwood, Ken Macintosh, said: “This revelation blows apart any plans the Tories had to balance their budget on the backs of students. Not only are the Tory plans to hit students in the pockets deeply unfair, their sums just don’t add up.

“The Tories must come clean on exactly how they are going to pay not only for their higher education polices, but their entire manifesto promises.

“Only yesterday an independent evaluation of the manifesto costings found that Labour’s was the only party that had balanced it budget. Now the Tories are back, Labour will not only balance the books, we ensure no price tag is attached to those who want to go onto university.”

The last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a Labour government, Scottish Labour said yesterday.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland. In the Good Morning Scotland interview, the prime minister said: “…the more that the Conservatives get in terms of votes and seats in parliament the more influence Annabel will be able to bring to bear and because you have got this particular voting system where you’ve got your peach form as it were for the regional vote, I would urge people, whatever they do for the constituency vote to vote Conservative on the list vote because then we’ll get more Conservatives and more common sense in the parliament.”

Scottish Labour also pointed to one of its latest leaflets that highlight the fact that David Cameron secretly wants a SNP government.

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Dumfriesshire, Elaine Murray, said: “It is clear the last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a strong Labour government standing up to the Tories at Westminster. David Cameron has already arranged for the Tory’s favourite newspaper to back the SNP so it is hardly surprising than he even now even seems to be encouraging people to vote SNP.

“He seems to have given up.

“Now the Tories are back, it is only Labour that can fight Scotland’s corner and focus on the things that really matter like apprenticeships, jobs and getting Scotland back to work again.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has slammed the Tory and SNP campaigns as being “out of touch” with the lives of ordinary Scots, after David Cameron tried to play down the cuts that were being made in Scotland.

The prime minister’s comments came on the same morning that Alex Salmond was guest of honour at a breakfast banquet hosted by News International. Labour believe that News International are backing the SNP in Scotland because David Cameron fears a Labour win.

Speaking after campaigning with Gordon Brown in Fife yesterday, Iain Gray said: ”It is absolutely stunning that David Cameron has tried to downplay the impact of his cuts in Scotland. To try to make out that things are fine is just fantasy.

“10,000 Scots joined the dole queue this year, but Alex Salmond and David Cameron have a vested interest in pretending that everything is going fine. They are giving each other an easy ride, but it’s people in Scotland that will suffer as a result.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland. “Meanwhile, I was in Fife campaigning with Gordon Brown and talking to people about the things that really matter. We were talking to people that were concerned about jobs and we explained how Labour would abolish youth unemployment and create a quarter of a million jobs.

“People in Scotland will be very suspicious of an out of touch SNP that seems to be getting closer and closer to David Cameron’s Tories as each day in this campaign goes by.”

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scotcon2 Scottish Conservatives

A poll in yesterday’s Scotsman has shown that two-thirds of Scots back a graduate contribution of up to £4,000 to the cost of their university education. The poll came on the on the same day that NUS Scotland attacked Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution towards the cost of their degree.

David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative campaign manager for the Scottish parliament election, said of the poll: “This is more evidence, after last year’s Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, that Scots are fair minded and accept that it is fair for graduates to make a contribution towards the cost of their university education. It is clear that, regardless of which party they support, people are in favour of this.

“In a perfect world everything would be free. But in the real world, voters accept that the costs have to be spread.

“Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that, on average, a university graduate will earn £12,000 a year more than those who have not gone to university. Over a working life, that is a pay boost of half a million pounds.

“Despite all the evidence, Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP refuse to find the money needed to bridge the real funding gap. Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution, paid from future earning, at an affordable rate will mean that Scotland’s universities can retain their excellence, retain their student numbers and we can also boost bursary support for students from poorer backgrounds by £55 million a year.

“By contrast, the deficit deniers in the other parties threaten our universities’ standing, threaten up to 13,000 student places and are out of tune with public opinion.”

On the statement yesterday by the NUS Scotland, Mr Brownlee said: “This attack from NUS Scotland is just not credible. On this evidence, NUS Scotland appears happy to sit by and see student numbers reduced and Scottish universities enter into a spiral of decline. If we listen to NUS Scotland, then universities will face a black hole in their funding.

“We have made clear that for the lifetime of the parliament, we would cap the graduate contribution at £4,000. NUS Scotland has got so many assumptions wrong in their haste to attack Scottish Conservative plans to safeguard student numbers and increase bursary support, that their claims cannot be taken seriously.

“Only yesterday, the independent CPPR (Centre for Public Policy for Regions) report from Glasgow University said that alone of the parties only the Scottish Conservatives were looking at plans to secure the necessary support for higher and further education without ‘accepting a slow, gradual, decline in the standard of Scottish post school education and research’.”

snp1 SNP

First minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond attacked David Cameron over Scotland’s near-£200 million fossil fuel levy, in an article in the Courier during his visit north of the border, where he said that the UK government are giving Scotland £250 million of resources for the Green Investment Bank.

Mr Salmond pointed out that the UK government are refusing to hand over the Fossil Fuel Fund without deducting the same amount from the Scottish budget, and that Scotland would be due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank given the advanced nature of our renewables industry in Scotland.

Mr Salmond said: “It is typically Tory to try to short-change Scotland with our own money.

“The Con/Dem coalition are refusing to hand over Scotland’s fossil fuel levy – worth nearly £200 million – without clawing the cash back from the Scottish budget. This money could and should be used to power forward the renewable energy sector in Scotland, helping to reindustrialise the nation, including developing ports around Scotland such as Dundee.

“Pro-rata, Scotland has ten times the renewable energy capacity as England, and we are due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank – regardless of the fossil fuel levy, which should be wholly additional to the Scottish budget.

“The SNP will fight for Scotland’s resources – Labour failed to deliver the fossil fuel levy, the Con/Dems are also pauchling the money, and a re-elected SNP government would have a mandate to get it handed over at long last.”

The Scottish National Party welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll in the Times and the Scottish Sun which puts the SNP ahead on 45 per cent in the constituency vote to 34 per cent for Labour, and shows 42 per cent of Scots backing Alex Salmond for first minister on the list vote with only 32 per cent backing Labour.

The poll shows a 5 per cent swing to the SNP since the last Mori poll in February, and gives the SNP its highest poll rating in this campaign, whilst Labour’s rating is at its lowest since May 2010 (31 per cent, YouGov 3-4 May).

Commenting on the poll, SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “This is an excellent poll, and confirms that more and more people are considering voting SNP – many for the first time – because they want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister.

“We are taking nothing for granted, and will contest the remaining two weeks of the campaign as a close two-horse race. We will continue working hard to earn the trust and support of the people for the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”

The poll result comes as Tommy Brennan, one of Scotland’s trade union leaders, has endorsed Alex Salmond’s re-election as first minister – citing Mr Salmond’s “inspiring goal” to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the world in renewable energy technology.

Mr Brennan was works convener of the Ravenscraig shop stewards, and the man who led the fight to save the Scottish steel industry in the 1980s and 1990s. He worked at the Lanarkshire steel plant for 31 years until 1991.

Mr Brennan said: “Alex Salmond’s vision for Scotland is one all Scots should support. I’m delighted to endorse him for a second term as first minister.

“I remember only too well the pain caused by the de-industrialisation of Scotland under the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s, and believe that Alex Salmond’s ambition to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the renewables energy revolution is an insipring goal for young Scots and for jobs and industry in the 21st century.”

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Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Harris Morgan</em>

Alex Salmond Picture: Harris Morgan

Momentum is everything in politics, and right now it’s with the SNP.

Today’s Ipsos MORI poll for the Times gives the SNP a mighty lead over Labour, the sort of lead that could bring Alex Salmond within reach of an overall majority.

Of course the Scottish parliament’s electoral system wasn’t set up to make that easy. The then Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar made sure the voting system was so balanced as to make it very difficult for any party to achieve an overall majority.

It was suggested at the time that the system had been designed with exactly this scenario in mind: the SNP heading for a comfortable victory. If so, then Labour leaders have a lot to thank the late Mr Dewar for.

According to Ipsos MORI, the SNP is on 45 per cent on the first vote, 11 points ahead of Labour on 34 with the Conservatives on ten and the Liberal Democrats on nine.

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In the regional list vote, the SNP is on 42 per cent, ten points ahead of Labour on 32 with the Conservatives on ten, the Lib Dems on eight and the Greens on six.

Translated into seats, this would give the SNP 61 – four short of an overall majority – while Labour would be on 45, one fewer than it has now. The Conservatives would have slipped back to ten (from 17), the Liberal Democrats would be on nine (down seven) and the Greens would be on four (up two).

Given that the Greens are also in favour of a referendum on independence, such an outcome could offer Mr Salmond the chance to secure the referendum at long last, either as part of a formal coalition with the Greens (which is unlikely) or a confidence-and-supply arrangement.

But this does tend to highlight a strange twist of this election. It does appear from this and other polls that many Scots are voting on who they think is best placed to run the Scottish government.

Mr Salmond has consistently scored far higher on this aspect of the campaign than Labour leader Iain Gray. Mr Salmond is seen as the best first minister to help Scotland weather the cuts being imposed by Westminster, and he is attracting votes from many people who don’t believe in independence.

Because the SNP has already ruled for four years without threatening the breakup of the UK, many unionists feels safe voting SNP because they want Mr Salmond as first minister but know this will not necessarily lead to independence.

Yet, because so many are now turning to the SNP, Mr Salmond may at last be able to secure the referendum on independence he is so desperate to hold.

The Ipsos MORI poll suggests that the SNP got the timing right by holding its manifesto back until the campaign had been going for three weeks – not getting it launched so early, as the other parties did.

It suggests that, in a campaign as long as this one, the momentum the SNP has generated fairly late on may be crucial, and it has raised serious questions about Labour’s reliance on TV debates to swing the campaign its way.

Labour strategists knew that Mr Gray was always going suffer in a public-profile battle with Mr Salmond, but they were convinced that their man could do well in the TV debates and that that sort of exposure would be to their advantage.

But what has happened is that we had one television debate at the start of the campaign and Mr Gray did not perform well. There has then been a three-week gap, during which time Mr Salmond has consolidated his lead over Mr Gray.

Mr Gray may do well in the final TV debates, but so much time has elapsed since the first one that the gap might be too wide to make up by that stage.

In another odd twist, however, a poll in today’s Scotsman suggests that voters oppose the “free education” pledge being promoted with such enthusiasm by three of the main parties.

The SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all promised students that they will not have to pay any tuition fees or any sort of graduate contribution towards the cost of their degrees, despite evidence of a sizeable funding gap between universities north and south of the border and despite warnings from university leaders that such a policy is unsustainable.

Only the Tories have insisted that graduates must pay something. Now, it seems, the voting population agrees, largely, with the Tory position.

The YouGov poll found that a solid 65 per cent of adults supported the idea that students should make some sort of financial contribution.

Broken down by party, researchers found that 66 per cent of SNP voters felt students should make a contribution, as did 56 per cent of Labour voters and 70 per cent of Lib Dem voters.

With the huge rise in support for the SNP and Mr Salmond’s bid to be returned as first minister and this poll showing that most people oppose a central policy plank held by three of the main parties, it perhaps shows that most Scots vote on gut instinct.

They will support the person or party they believe is doing the best job or is capable of doing the best job in charge of the country, and are not too bothered by the minutiae of policy – even when it comes to such central issues as a referendum on independence.

Reacting to the Times poll, SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “This is an excellent poll, and confirms that more and more people are considering voting SNP – many for the first time – because they want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister.

“We are taking nothing for granted, and will contest the remaining two weeks of the campaign as a close two-horse race.

“We will continue working hard to earn the trust and support of the people for the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”

And, in response to the Scotsman poll on higher education, Conservative campaign manager David McLetchie said: “In a perfect world everything would be free. But in the real world, voters accept that the costs have to be spread.”

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Picture by Martyn Gorman

The Scottish Parliament debating chamber

As an long-term independista, I wish I could get all excited, and party like it was 2007 again. With a new poll from Ipsos MORI putting the SNP slightly ahead of Labour in both constituency and regional votes, it seems that we have an electoral race again for Holyrood in May.

The controversial Brian Soutar and his hundreds of thousands are back in Salmond’s campaign money-box; new partisan online publications like Newsnet Scotland (and others in the blogosphere) are correcting Unionist weightings in the mainstream media; even the mother of my children is standing as an SNP candidate in the South of Scotland.

And I’ll be voting my usual constituency (SNP) and party list (Green) preferences. But after those duties are performed, I will revert to my current ho-hum attitude towards existing party politics in Scotland, and beyond.

Yes, I’m pleased to hear that Alex Salmond’s big idea for the Scottish election is that Scotland should become a “powerhouse of the world’s marine energy industry”. With the Royal Society commending Scottish education for its production of science students, our democratic intellect already seems set up to produce a generation of green-tinged engineers and scientists – would that we had the macro-powers to create a better business context for them.

I prefer this energy emphasis, certainly, than thumping on about coal and oil assets, which just staves off Scotland’s reckoning with the low-carbon future. (The operations of “Scottish business winners” like Cairn Energy, rampantly buccaneering for oil reserves in India and Greenland, are hardly suitable for any election manifesto.)

Having been part of the petro-problem over the last 40 years, Scotland seems extraordinarily lucky that it’s now poised to become part of the sustainable-solution. If top-down, big-picture Scottish nationalism justifies itself in any realm (other than the removal of Trident), it’s the argument for more regulatory and economic powers to support the green renaissance of Scottish manufacturing.

But no matter how attractive the policy horizon, we know this routine of existing politics. Capable leaders drill their messages through whatever media they can, to get to an electorate with a once-in-four-years chance of turning their citizens’ consciousness into a political act. This empowers an expertocracy of representatives, civil servants and advisors to get on with it, while we get on with our daily lives.

Many of us who were constitutionally active in the 1980s and 90s hoped that an achieved Scottish parliament would be better than this largely passive process. It would exist in a sea of energetic democracy – waves of petitioning and campaigns that would remind former activists sitting in the chamber of the ideals that put them there.

Hasn’t really happened, has it? The commentator Gerry Hassan has been relentless in his critique of the complacent “establishment” of devolution-era Scotland – and has found himself recently backed up by the head of a major Labour think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research. Where is Scotland’s salon society,  asks Hassan – the busy public sphere of idea-merchants and open meetings that keeps official politics on its toes?

Hassan adeptly analyses what currently squats in its place: a bureaucratic-Labourist complex of bought-over civil society groups, self-satisfied professional bodies, and constrained conventional media spaces. But other than a few bright spots in the blogosphere,  events like Changin’ Scotland and our burgeoning book festivals it’s difficult not to agree with Nick Pearce of the IPPR that the overall Scottish policy debate is a rather moribund culture.

Beyond the coming ding-dong of battling parties, how does the ideas dimension of the political debate become more vibrant in Scotland? To my memory, what typified the “Radical Scotland”  of the 1980s and 90s (the title of that era’s definitive political magazine) was a crucial alliance between the poverty-driven anger (both economic and spiritual poverty) of Scottish schemes and ruralities, and a constitutionally ambitious Central Belt middle-class.

With the implosion of the street-left in the vanitas of comrade Sheridan, a conduit was lost between these two forces – which, let’s not forget, had its opportunity to be part of the Scottish parliamentary process in 2003–07.

Maybe an articulation of the raw edge of need, despair and anger would inject some life into Scottish politics – and perhaps dynamise some of the bottom-up structures currently struggling.

What’s interesting about the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings is that a net-enabled generation examined their police-state adversaries and came up with a politics of protest that was genuinely imaginative. Young activists began to stage creative actions that subtly reclaimed the streets: flash mobbing in city centres to sing the national anthem, dressing in black to stand silently before the Nile.

And their street tactics for their initial “day of rage” on January 25  – in the words of activist Ahmed Salah, “we wanted to be multi-polar, fast-moving, and too mobile for the amin markazi [central security forces]” – sounds exactly like the kind of collaborative, lateral-thinking play that is celebrated in computer games.

Interactive culture of all kinds has shaped a new sense of civic confidence among Arab youth. But they had the brutal, often fatal experience of the police/state oppression of daily life in Egypt to contend with, giving their seriously-playful activisms some real urgency. Is life anywhere in Scotland as desperate as this?

Certainly some of the schemes that the Scottish Socialist Party traversed – in areas where drugs, crime, depression and gang violence dominated – provide daily experiences of peril (as I wrote about recently)  which wouldn’t be all that distinguishable from the world’s mega-slums. We are missing a politics of the poorest in Scotland at the moment. Whether it could be inspired by the brave, bold and innovative tactics of the Arab street movements is quite another question.

So enjoy the Punch-and-Judy show of Scottish party politics over the next few months. For those who have the mental resources to enjoy the high ground of grand policy, the game is worth the candle, performed across the usual media and High St outlets. But there are gaping holes in the thought process of the Scottish body politic, which all the posters and leaflets will not paper over.

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