THE campaigning for this year’s Holyrood election has been decidedly lacklustre, but it is not so much the absence of surface sheen, but of serious and substantive proposals, that is the principal disappointment.

Without exception, the parties have presented very little in the way of concrete suggestions for ensuring that the country recovers from what has been the greatest international crisis and economic catastrophe in generations.

Instead of what the electorate deserves – a comprehensive and detailed set of policies that take into account the enormous costs of the pandemic to individuals, companies and the public purse – the party leaders have chosen to engage in a competitive auction of unrealistic and unaffordable schemes, or to concentrate on ideological matters far removed from the immediate priorities and everyday concerns of voters.

The coronavirus emergency, naturally, makes it more difficult to focus on the nuts and bolts issues that would normally dominate any election campaign; the ideas of the various parties, and the desirability and plausibility of the measures they propose. But it also makes it the more essential. Thousands have had their lives and livelihoods hit for six and deserve serious plans for ways in which, in the trite phrase, we may be able to “build back better”. They can also see plainly that the tremendous costs of the past year will have to be borne for years to come.

Yet practically no one submitting themselves to the Scottish public seems ready to acknowledge that obvious, probably generational, challenge, still less to have formulated a credible programme to address it. When attention has shifted from the immediate focus on dealing with Covid, it has been to peripheral distractions, such as the internal ructions between nationalist politicians or allegations of sleaze at Westminster.

Nicola Sturgeon retains a high level of public approval, and few doubt that the SNP will remain by far the most successful party at the ballot box. That dominance (which might be seen as an indictment of the opposition parties) has enabled the Government to disregard serious criticisms that can be made of its record in office which in several areas, notably transparency, education and drugs policy, has been poor.

Labour, under Anas Sarwar, has begun to look more credible, but it has not yet produced anything like the sort of viable policies that are essential for any party that hopes to govern. Its proposals, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, ignore financial realities. Advocating things such as £75 shopping vouchers is – like the SNP’s free laptops and bicycles – a transparent attempt to distract the electorate from the fact that either public spending cuts or tax rises are going to be an economic necessity. The public, presented with these kind of pie in the sky wheezes, correctly sees them as unaffordable gimmicks.

The Tories, meanwhile, have been ill-served by their counterparts at Westminster who, though they remain well ahead south of the border are, to put it mildly, off-putting to Scottish voters. Nor is it clear that Douglas Ross’s decision to centre the campaign on preventing a future independence referendum is wise. If his own argument – that it is a distraction from more pressing day-to-day priorities – is sound, the Conservatives should be offering a solid plan of action on matters like policing and potholes, rather than railing at a hypothetical threat.

It is a pity, and more, a disservice to the electorate, that none of the parties has been more forthcoming with serious suggestions for recovery. Voters want – and recognise they have a duty – to lend their support to politicians who offer the best prospect of facing the coming challenges. They are looking for a clear vision that encompasses support for businesses that have been hammered, individuals who need to rebuild their lives, and public services fit for purpose – and that they can afford. As the campaign draws to a close, there is still time for politicians to make such a case, and the public deserves to hear it.