by Douglas Lindsay, with Dr Ian Shackleton, senior lecturer at the Glasgow School of Politics and Football
Love him or loathe him, voters in Scotland must prepare themselves to see far more of SNP über-leader Alex Salmond over the summer, as Yes campaign strategists look to make the most of what they see as one of the clear advantages they have over Better Together.
While the No campaign is fragmented and frequently fractured, with the likes of Big Gordon Brown and David Cameron forced on to the same platform, resulting in an often mixed message, the Yes campaign has been far more focused, largely because of the guiding influence of the First Minister.
Political analysts, such as Dr Ian Shackleton of the Glasgow School of Politics and Football, are in no doubt that we'll be seeing more and more of the SNP leader as the weeks go on.
'It's a bold and clever strategy,' he told me this morning, as we spoke in his 98th floor office in the magnificent new Blair The Deceiver Building at the heart of Glasgow's Persian Rug district.
'Sure, everyone knows that this is a legacy vote. This is about the next 1000 years, not what happens in 2016. Truly, it's not about economics, it's not about welfare policy, it's not about Jeremy Paxman. It's about much more existential stuff than that.
'Nevertheless, at the heart of it, it's about voters, and what do voters see? On one side, Alex Salmond, a man of the people. On the other, David Cameron, a man of the trough. Everyone in Scotland, even that posh bloke you heard talking in a wine bar once who voted Conservative, thinks Cameron is the bastard son of Lord Voldemort and a jackal.'
Now, as they go for the jugular and try to push home Salmond's popular appeal, the Yes campaign intend throwing the First Minister into a variety of manly situations to exacerbate the differences between him and the bullying, effete, Westminster Nancy boy.
The next few weeks will see Salmond:
• swim from Aberdeen to Hammerfest
• wrestle Yang Guang, the male panda at Edinburgh zoo, wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos
• kill Piers Morgan with his bare hands
• shoot things
• lead the Black Watch on an incursion south of the border to retake Berwick
• appear naked in a Cosmopolitan centrefold
• take the ring of power deep into the heart of Mordor and throw it into Mount Doom
'Women will go wild for him,' says Shackleton, 'and men are going to look up to his movie star charisma. It's going to be like watching Die Hard 6.'
Holyrood insiders say that the SNP have been looking east, to leader of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, for inspiration.
'Watching that guy,' said one friend of a friend of a political insider, 'is like watching all those Robbie Williams videos from back in the day. You know, he'd be a cowboy for one song, then a spy, then a racing car driver, and so on. That's what Putin's like. Of course, he has nuclear weapons, so it's a bit scarier, but Mr Salmond needs to copy him. People will go balls out for it.'
Rumours around Holyrood also suggest that the First Minister will officially change his name to The Incredible Captain Scotland in order to accentuate his manliness.
Other Referendum News From The Past Week
Wednesday May 28:
The referendum debate reached new levels of petty name-calling, squabbling, sophistry, fibbery and incompetence today with both sides presenting financial figures on the immediate benefits to individuals in the year following independence.
The claim and counter-claim continued most of the day, leaving voters asleep in their chairs. There were reports in central Glasgow that upwards of 17 people were literally bored to death while watching the news. Another nine were said to have been treated in hospital for infectious verbal diarrhoea inhalation.
Better Together promised that if the nation voted No in September's vote:
• each individual would get a Ferrari and a voucher for free sex or chocolate
Placing their own valuation on independence, the SNP announced that in the event of a Yes vote:
• the grass would be greener
Following the announcements, the two sides proceeded to rubbish the opposition claims, until finally Danny Alexander and Alex Salmond agreed to meet in a 15-round naked cock-wrestling match in Glasgow's George Square.
Political analysts, such as Dr Shackleton, are unimpressed with the latest bullshit. 'It's like watching the crappiest, most mind-numbing, face-palm of a game of football you ever saw, but you don't get to leave early or go home after 90 minutes,' he told me this morning, as we talked over a mochaccino.
'There are still over three months to go, and they're going to spend all that time stuck in midfield, kicking each other. Oh, for a defence-splitting pass…'
Friends of party political insiders doubt that there's a defence-splitting pass to be had, from either side. With politicians repeatedly saying the same stuff over and over, statistics and costs and money and figures being tossed around like a baby in a wind tunnel, and with one day lurching inexorably into the next on the back of the same old shit, Dr Shackleton believes voters can look ahead to little other than what's gone before.
'I'll say it again,' he said, looking out over the golden spires of the city. 'It's not about economics. A bountiful country can be badly run, a country low in resources can be well run. This is about something much more intrinsic. These politicians should be having big and bold discussions about our place in the world, and in these isles. Instead they squabble over the price of a deep-fried Tunnock's Tea Cake.'
Late news reports indicated that the Salmond/Alexander cock-wrestling match had gone to extra time and penalties.
Friday May 30:
There was rejoicing in Scotland today as the formal 16-week referendum campaign finally got under way. 'Thank God,' said one ordinary voter this morning, 'maybe now politicians, and people on the internet, will feel free to speak their minds.'
Tricia Marwick, presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, marked the start of the regulated period of the campaign by saying that she thought the sides would be able to 'come together' after the vote, regardless of the outcome.
Later, however, she clarified her comments by stating that she meant they'd come together in the way that Rangers and Celtic fans came together after the 1980 Scottish Cup Final.
Other ordinary people from ordinary hardworking families, admitted that they were already suffocating beneath the weight of spurious and disingenuous bullshit, and that the 16-week period seemed like an esoteric triviality, nothing more than an excuse for politicians to talk even more than they already had been doing.
Addressing such ordinary people, the Scottish Parliament issued a statement outlining the specific rules that governed the last three and a half months of the campaign. The statement confirmed that there would be limits on:
• politicians making stuff up
• outrage at perceived bias of the BBC
• comparing iScotland to South Sudan, North Korea and Somalia
• use of the term 'democratic deficit'
• Big Gordon Brown turning up on your doorstep, smiling
Dr Shackleton is relieved that the campaign can get down to serious business. 'The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great political debate of our time. The weeks ahead promise so much. There's the Salmond-Cameron best-of-seven Flappy Bird play-off, we'll get to see Danny Alexander's head literally explode live on national television, there's the metaphorical Scottish Parliament wet T-shirt competition and, of course, there's the serious, in-depth debate about Scotland's place in the world and the opportunities presented by both a Yes and a No vote.'
Later, Dr Shackleton admitted that none of the above would actually happen.