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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 17:05 GMT
It never rains but it bores
Ken MacDonald
Ken MacDonald is on the election campaign trail
BBC Scotland's special correspondent Kenneth Macdonald is crossing the country on a one-man mission to avoid politicians.

In a radical departure from the norm he's gone to seek out the people who really matter in this election: voters. Each week he'll be filing pages from his campaign diary.

Week One (Edinburgh Pentlands, Galloway and Upper Nithsdale).

If the number of roadside signs is an accurate indication of the strength of a political campaign then there's no doubt who's winning in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale.

Except foot and mouth isn't standing. Admittedly these are only the opening overs of the campaign but people in the south-west have other matters on their mind right now.

Hence the scores of red signs warning motorists of the dangers of spreading infection compared with just the two I spotted promoting a candidate - the Conservative.

The Tories lost both this seat and the one next door in Dumfries and would dearly like both of them back.

But for most of the people I spoke to, such considerations will have to wait awhile as farming and tourism try to pick themselves up again.

The farming industry is lobbying for financial help

Foot-and-mouth is of course why we hacks are on the campaign trail right now rather than already tapping out pieces explaining how we alone had accurately predicted the result (with one hand) and packing our sun tan oil (with the other).

The official line is that the outbreak is now under control, but that's not how it feels in places like Gatehouse of Fleet or Wigtown.

Two stories were moving on the evening I arrived: That some restrictions were being lifted, and that another case had been confirmed in the constituency.

Foot-and-mouth gives us a key to understanding why this Westminster election is unlike any we've seen before.

Anyone wanting to vote against Labour for its handling of the crisis (or for that matter voting for it to say thanks) would be barking up the wrong tree.

Make distinction

The responsible minister on this side of the Border is a Liberal Democrat, Ross Finnie; he isn't standing this time round because the next parliamentary elections for Holyrood won't be happening for another couple of years.

Are ordinary voters making that distinction in this campaign? Some parties fear not: that's why you'll see - say - John Swinney of the Scottish National Party campaigning on issues like getting more police officers on the beat which are matters for Holyrood, not Westminster.

But if the people we encountered in Galloway and Pentlands are anything to go by, the Holyrood effect may be subtly different. People seemed aware of their MSPs and what they did. But their MPs and Westminster were fading into the background.

Some are worried the turnout in this election will be the lowest of modern times, but that may be something we have to get used to in devolved Britain.

To expand on the Travis choon, why does it always rain on me and my satellite dish?

Ken MacDonald

Week one of what has already been dubbed the Stirring Up Apathy Tour 2001 has left one burning question unanswered.

To expand on the Travis choon, why does it always rain on me and my satellite dish? Beautiful mornings dawn, only to be reduced to the storm scene from Lear every time I get out my wee outside broadcasting kit and point it at the heavens.

The next time there's a drought I'll be hiring myself out to the farming community. If there's one left by then.


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18 May 01 |  Scotland
Farm disease factor for parties