TO judge by the campaigns so far, this looks set to be a particularly unsatisfactory election, no matter its outcome – even though that remains as unpredictable as ever. If the polling is to be relied on (as experience of the past five or six years’ major popular votes suggests it shouldn’t be), the most likely results are a Conservative majority across the UK as a whole, with a strong, and perhaps improved, showing for the SNP in Scotland.

That, whatever your views on either of those parties, is not a recipe for a new spirit of national unity nor, for opponents of the union, something that clears the path for progress towards independence. It would neither “get Brexit done” nor guarantee independence, even if the UK left the EU in January, or a second referendum were forthcoming, since we now know that these issues are processes, rather than ends, and hugely complicated and contentious ones.

It remains, too, possible that the result will again be inconclusive, with no party able to command a workable majority, in which case it will be difficult to argue that the election has improved matters much. Even if Sir John Curtice believes that the chances of a Labour majority are “as close to zero as they can be”, a minority government led by Jeremy Corbyn is still a theoretical possibility. And, again, the polls could be wildly wrong.

But it is not merely the outcomes that are disheartening, but the choices facing the electorate, and the manner in which they are being presented. The focus on Brexit or a second independence referendum diverts attention from the fact that every party is promising to spend more, though national debt stands at 86 per cent of GDP (by contrast, Germany’s is 62 per cent).

The fact that the Institute for Fiscal Studies characterised Labour’s extremely ambitious spending plans as “not credible” should not obscure the fact that the Tories and SNP are also promising expenditure that they claim will transform health, policing, education and wages (particularly for the lower paid). Yet those two parties ought to be judged on the fact that they have been in government, operating precisely those services, for a considerable period.

If Labour’s claim that 95 per cent of people will pay no more in tax seems to stretch credulity, so should the Tories’ boast that they are building 40 new hospitals (they’re building six, and spending some more money on the rest), or the SNP’s insistence that results in education have not fallen.

The importance of social media and other new methods of campaigning have also led to a dangerous elasticity in what constitutes fair dealing. Whether it is the parties themselves or their more partisan adherents, highly contentious claims are being presented as if they were fact; while the media and tech companies may have a role in calling those to account, news coverage (as opposed to comment articles) can do no more than establish facts – not the same thing as describing politicians as liars.

Labour’s claim that the NHS is to be privatised, the SNP’s that it is outwith their control, Lib Dem leaflets with misleading bar charts suggesting that only they can win, and the Tories’ rebranding of a Twitter account as a fact checking site are all, at the very least, playing fast and loose with fair political discourse. Such tactics may have always been around, but are now becoming so pervasive that they are an impediment to informed choice and genuine debate.

Rebus gets real

The news that Rebus, Ian Rankin’s hard-smoking, heavy-drinking detective, is to move out of his third-floor flat because his lung disease is getting worse may show a commitment to realism by the author. But it reopens the divide over whether crime fiction should reflect real life, or whether we like it because it gets us away from real life. Either way, the excellent Rebus books are not going to be The Thirty-Nine Steps.