IN the fog of mendacious sanctimony that cloaked the first two Holyrood leaders’ debates, the most threadbare fictions belonged to the parties of the Union. They appear to have signed up to a pre-election entente that compels each of them to deride the concept of managing Scotland’s Covid recovery and holding a referendum at the same time.

When asked by STV’s invigilator, Colin Mackay, why he thought a richly-resourced political administration and a sophisticated electorate can’t do both, Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, spluttered: “You just can’t, Colin.” So wretched has Mr Ross’s leadership of this party been that he’s achieved what many had believed impossible: to make the reign of his predecessor, Jackson Carlaw, look like a halcyon period in the Scottish Tories’ feckless existence.

Labour’s Anas Sarwar and Willie Rennie of the Liberal-Democrats attempted to explain their positions by deploying apocalyptic imagery. Apparently, families were “ripped apart” in 2014 and something approaching a state of martial law was imposed on the lieges. The Electoral Commission, the globally respected body which fosters the ethical and honest conduct of all UK elections, seemed to think otherwise. Their official report following 2014 described the campaign as meeting a gold standard in democratic political engagement.

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Having opted to dispense with anything demonstrably original or fresh in their stilted presentations, Mr Sarwar and Mr Rennie also warmed to the Tories’ position on multi-tasking. These men ride high in a polity which rewards them opulently for their endeavours. Yet they believe the task of Covid recovery and staging an exercise in democratic engagement is beyond its wit.

Thank God they weren’t around when Scotland and the UK started the Second World War three goals down against the most malignant and powerful military machine the world had yet encountered. Somehow, the British working-class provided the personnel to fight the Nazis all over the globe while achieving record levels of industrial and agricultural produce to feed, clothe and wage war. Mr Ross and his Labour and Liberal confreres would have thrown in the towel before Dunkirk. “Come away in, Adolf; you won’t think us rude if we prefer to attend to our domestic duties?” “Aye, no bother, herren, don’t mind me.”

As professional students of the UK’s recent political history, all of them will know that Sir Winston Churchill had to discard the appeasing instincts of the Tory grandees in his war-time cabinet and reach out to the Labour Party and the trade union movement to get the job done. While Lord Halifax and his aristocratic chums sought a deal with the Nazis while covering their own fundaments, the British working-class, as ever, stepped up to defend the realm.

Yet, Messrs Ross, Rennie and Sarwar think that a six-month exercise in attending events, listening to the arguments and then, er … popping along to the local primary school unmolested by flying bombs to cast a ballot will bring the house down. Get a grip, chaps; behave yourselves and let’s get real.

Of course, the concept of getting real in this election is an alien one to the leaders of our main parties. Instead, they seek to camouflage the absence of anything truly transformative in their plans for the working-class communities who will be most adversely affected by the pandemic. They do this with a well-rehearsed suite of subterfuges and a lexicon of fatuous words and phrases.

Green Recovery is the most malignant of these. It suggests that by reducing our carbon footprints and harnessing Scotland’s natural energy resources we’ll be rocking and rolling out of the Covid on waves and wind. This nonsense was being floated by Alex “Tiger Economy” Salmond more than a decade ago when he predicted that Scotland would become the Saudi Arabia of renewables. Since then, owing to mismanagement, an excess of caution and (there’s no other way of putting this) an unutterably dense political class, other countries are enriching themselves on our coastal resources.

By signing up to the EU’s neo-liberal procurement laws we’ve watched helplessly as the steel jackets for oil-rigs off the Scottish coast are made overseas and then shipped halfway round the world to arrive back at the host country. Green Recovery is a caprice of the ponytail and red-corduroy brigade to make them feel good about themselves. It won’t create a single new and properly-paid job in our most deprived communities.

By all means let’s reduce our carbon footprint. But to possess one of these you first have to be alive, this being the main day-to-day task of our poorest communities who, 20 years after devolution, are still dying 20 years younger than people in the most affluent ones.

Each party has also pledged to be “progressive” in their manifestos. This is another barren and dishonest idiom, heavy on performative gesture and light on committing to specific, long-term activity in those neighbourhoods in direst need.

During lockdown, the NHS was exploited to wring every ounce of emotion from the rest of us. Now, it’s being pimped out again. Everywhere, the Scottish political classes talk about transformational support for the NHS or increasing NHS activity. It’s immeasurable and unaccountable. It travels on the assumption that the electorate will have too many other issues to deal with over the next five years to remember. We’re still waiting for that educational attainment gap to reduce and there’s no indication that this will be happening any time soon.

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The bleak glossary of locutions and platitudes keeps rolling along: progressive; eco-friendly; hate crime. Their primary purpose is to exclude and entrap; to gas-light entire communities and deprive them of the agency to help themselves; to render them as something less than civilised for failing to keep pace in this shape-shifting and gaseous moral maze.

And thus to deprive them of seats at the tables where the decisions are made: Holyrood; the health boards and all the quangos which act as halfway houses for the temporarily unemployed of civic Scotland and keep them connected until the next gold-plated sinecure lands in their laps.

We still have 18 days of this political ectoplasm to endure. Thank God the pubs will be re-opened for the last part of it at least.

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