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The Highland Line: confusion over interpretation of political messages on the up?

Snippets of an overheard conversation in a Ross-shire pub a few days ago triggered a distant memory of Bernadette Devlin, as she then was, delivering a lecture at Edinburgh University more than 40 years ago.

The youngest (21) woman ever elected to the British Parliament, told how as a socialist and a founder of the People's Democracy group, she primarily wanted to appeal to the Catholic and Protestant working class. However no matter how often she said this, she was always taken to be a spokeswoman exclusively for the Catholic nationalist cause. Almost immediately her point was underlined by enthusiastic applause from supporters waving Irish tricolours.

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A very different kind of politics was on the agenda in the Highland howff, and certainly no connection is trying to be made. The issue is just how confusion over interpretation of political messages seems to increase as debate intensifies.

Back in the bar during a break in the World Cup on TV, a bar stool psephologist was lecturing fellow topers about the significance of Gordon Brown's increasing engagement in the independence debate. The former PM was now, he said, speaking all over the country and people were turning out to hear him, because he was still seen as the biggest Labour figure in Scotland.

Not only that, he was refusing to take his PM's pension and wasn't interested in making money, unlike his predecessor. It showed he was a man of principle, unfairly blamed for the global recession. History would show things would have been a lot worse without him. Then our man at the bar confidently declared Gordon Brown would end up Prime Minister of Scotland, or leave the stage with his reputation restored.

"He is a big man with a big brain", he declared.

Warming to his subject, not to mention the craft beer he was drinking, he developed his thesis. It went something like this. If Scotland votes No, Mr Brown will be seen as one of the main players who saved the union. But if Scotland votes Yes, then things start to get interesting. The referendum was in September which would leave him plenty time to seek a Scottish Parliamentary seat for the first elections to the independent Scottish Parliament in 2016.

Having played significant part in the debate, he would have renewed credibility in Scotland.

Once it was known he was heading to Holyrood, who was going to prevent him from becoming Labour leader? GB would not turn his back from Scotland and would relish the prospect of tackling Alex Salmond, and denying the SNP the chance to form the first government in a newly independent Scotland.

Our man was so confident of all this all this, that he was now seriously thinking of voting Yes for the first time, particularly since it looked likely the Tories would get back in Westminster. Other imbibers saw flaws in his argument, but it was too late. The football was back on TV.

It's possibly not the reaction that Mr Brown was anticipating from his supporters when he embarked on his recent programme of speaking engagements in Scotland; and it is difficult to know which side of the debate would be best/least pleased with his comments - voting Yes out of respect for Gordon Brown who is telling everybody who will listen to vote No.

But just in case the craft beer induces powers of prophecy, remember where you heard it first.

After all is there not something called the law of unintended consequence?

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Local government

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