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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Campaign shifts through the gears
BBC Scotland's special correspondent Kenneth Macdonald is crossing the country on a one-man mission to avoid politicians.
Week Two (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber; Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
Are we having fun yet? Well I certainly am.
I may have caught the 'Cold From Hell' in Galloway, had my epidermis treated like a free buffet by midges in Ballachulish and been soaked riding a moped along the shores of Loch Ness, but it has been worth it, honest.
(Don't even ask about the moped bit. It's the sort of bright idea we pay television producers to come up with.)
Take the other morning beside a gentle stretch of the Tweed, near Melrose.
Just before six o'clock and the sun is already climbing, although not high enough yet to burn the mist off the surface of the river.
An occasional big salmon leaps to take an insect (the last time the salmon rights hereabouts came on the market they were going for nearly £5m).
There are deer in the woods behind me. For an idyllic half hour it's just me and my wee satellite dish before my guests turn up to discuss the impact of rural issues on the election. Oh, the election. Nearly forgot.
While racing to the second location of the morning - the Lochcarron mill in Galashiels, where I finally found that elusive Singh tartan tie to complete my collection - I spot my first political graffito of the campaign.
In bright red spray paint, it says: "DON'T VOTE". It's the most impassioned political argument of the campaign so far.
There are plenty of reasons why - the odd left jab aside - this has been a fairly dull campaign so far.
Holyrood accounts for most of the bread-and-butter issues like education and health.
The economy may be sending out the odd distress signal but there's no disaster just yet, certainly nothing to tarnish the image of the Iron Chancellor in the way the shine suddenly came off Norman Lamont.
I'm resigned to the possibility that by the time you read this, the campaign will have caught light in new and unexpected ways.
The agenda will have been seized by an issue so incendiary that the populace will have been gripped by an electoral fervour unseen since they queued round the block to vote in South Africa - or maybe not.
'A volatile electorate'
But let me venture one prediction: Even if the campaign continues to rival ditchwater for dullness, election night itself will be riveting.
No, honestly: A combination of factors like low turnout, tactical voting, some parties targeting key seats, and local issues and personalities mean we will see big surprises on the night.
We are dealing with a volatile electorate in a new, post-devolution era. That's why some pundits' predictions aren't within a hundred seats of each other.
It will be worth staying up late for.
Trust me: If the opinion polls were that good, there'd be no point having the real thing, would there?
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