TEN days to go until this strange Holyrood election is over.

Strange because Covid has meant the level of direct, face to face voter contact – all the street stalls and door knocking – is much lower than usual for a national campaign.

A critical element of reliable political intelligence opinion polls cannot capture is missing. The experienced canvasser’s gut feel for which way the wind’s blowing. The words that pledge support when the averted eyes suggest otherwise. The sensations Scottish Labour canvassers no doubt felt in 2015, as their hitherto impregnable Central Belt heartlands slipped away.

This campaign is being fought as never before with highly targeted messages on social media, rather than the main parties’ traditional ground game. In recent elections the SNP has been able to deploy more activists to pound the streets. It’s doubtful it has established this time similar superiority in the digital domain.

READ MORE ANDREW DUNLOP: Sturgeon is not the right leader for Scotland’s post-Covid recovery

More importantly, the election is strange because it’s not about who governs Scotland after May 6. We know the answer to that question already. Nicola Sturgeon’s occupancy of Bute House is safe. The reins of power will remain in SNP hands This election is therefore about how Scotland will be governed for the next five years.

The establishment of the Scottish Parliament over 20 years ago was famously intended to usher in a new and better style of politics. More consensual, more representative of the full range of opinions across the country, forcing politicians of different stripes to work together for the common weal. If ever there’s a moment crying out for this style of politics it’s now, as the country recovers from the biggest national crisis of our lifetimes.

To suggest that the original lofty ambitions for the Scottish Parliament haven’t gone according to plan is the understatement of the century. The vehicle for the founders’ idealistic aspirations was an electoral system designed to prevent one-party domination. This has been bent out of shape beyond all recognition by wrapping itself for the last decade around an immoveable constitutional lamppost.

Hand on heart can anyone really say that this state of affairs has led to better government in Scotland? If even Nicola Sturgeon is apologising for the record of her own government, it can’t be much of a record. As she herself has admitted, she’s taken her eye off the ball. And her inattention extends way beyond the acknowledged failure to tackle drug deaths to just about every area of public service.

This may explain why she has appeared uncharacteristically subdued and flat during this campaign. As if she’s going through the motions, operating on auto-pilot, animated only by flashes of tetchiness when forced to account for her government’s failures. She is the embodiment of a tired political leader who’s run out of ideas. And who can blame her, you might say, after 14 years at the top of government. Would Nicola Sturgeon in her pomp duck an invitation to appear with fellow party leaders on BBC Question Time? That’s the kind of brittle, defensive behaviour for which she used to excoriate craven opponents.

HeraldScotland: Sir Sean Connery at the opening of the Scottish ParliamentSir Sean Connery at the opening of the Scottish Parliament

So what sort of parliament do Scottish voters want and how do they engineer it?

It seems pretty clear to this observer where the current consensus in Scotland lies. Nicola Sturgeon to continue as First Minister. The governing priority to be on recovery from the pandemic. No second independence referendum any time soon. And if last week’s You Gov poll is correct that only a third of Scotland supports another referendum on Sturgeon’s timetable, then even a sizeable chunk of Yes supporters don’t think it should be a priority either.

Little wonder that most SNP campaign literature and messaging is now downplaying independence. This represents a huge shift from just a month ago when all talk was of the SNP’s desire, literally, to put independence on the ballot paper. They dare not risk such a thing now.

Be sure of one thing though. While independence is downplayed now, every vote cast for the SNP will be taken as an independence vote. Even if your priority is recovery. And if you care most about the environment, be warned. Every vote for Scottish Greens will be annexed as a vote to prioritise independence too. Ignore the joint leader’s protests that their manifesto is for a greener recovery, not for independence. Once re-elected, Green MSPs will revert as night follows day to their favoured position as obliging SNP Yes people.

READ MORE ANDREW DUNLOP: Independence has lost its bloom

So if you don’t want another independence referendum any time soon, don’t vote for it. Use the Holyrood voting system as it was intended to be used – to accurately reflect the state of opinion in Scotland. Vote to keep Nicola Sturgeon’s eye on the ball and the SNP focused on recovery, not another divisive independence referendum. And with both constituency and list votes to cast, Scotland’s canny voters can do just that.

Scotland has 14 wasted years to make up for. It deserves better than another 5 years of division and non-delivery. This election is an opportunity to re-connect the Scottish Parliament with its original ideals – a chamber seeking consensus, rather than one consumed by conflict.

A government encouraged to exercise the powers it already has but doesn’t use, rather than forever demanding more. An executive held properly to account, rather than riding rough-shod over the will of parliament.

Scotland’s greatest living historian, Sir Tom Devine, has observed that the Anglo-Scottish union for most of its 314-year existence has been an association of tolerance and respect.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think MSPs elected on May 6 might come to be remembered as forming an assembly of tolerance and respect? The moment when the Scottish people reclaimed the Scottish Parliament for its original purpose. As an instrument for bringing together people, not driving them apart.

Next week Scotland’s future really is in Scotland’s hands. Choose wisely Scotland.

Andrew Dunlop was an adviser to former Conservative prime minister David Cameron during the 2014 independence referendum

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