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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK

Voters confound conventional wisdom

BBC Scotland's special correspondent Kenneth Macdonald crossed the country on a one-man mission to avoid politicians during the election campaign.

Week Four took him to Banff and Buchan, Dundee East and Glasgow Anniesland.

It is time to put the battle bike back in the garage.

It has been a good campaign for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, a poor one for the Conservatives, the Scottish National Party and the turnout - or at least that's how the CW would have it.

Just as small children love their security blankets, journalists cling to the CW - the conventional wisdom.

The CW is what everybody knows is going to happen.

How they know it is never exactly clear, but knowing the CW gives us that nice inner glow.


" Let me assure you the next vote for Holyrood will be a cliff-hanger - or at least that's the conventional wisdom "
Kenneth Macdonald

The thing that makes the CW so entertaining for people like you in the real world is that it is so often spectacularly wrong.

Even before the ballot boxes had been packed away, the CW had it that Labour's landslide was unrepeatable.

That was the 1997 landslide, of course, not this week's repeat.

In Scotland, the CW was certain the Tories would face a Scottish wipe-out for a second time.

Meanwhile, the SNP would increase its share of the vote and hold all its seats, and the Liberal Democrats would suffer a backlash for having to compromise in the Holyrood coalition.

Whoops.

Some fool - on this very site - even trotted out the CW that, while the campaign had been dull, election night itself would be packed with drama and well worth waiting up for.

Oh hang on - that was me.

Now the conventional wisdom is that the politicians will engage in much soul-searching over the poor turnout. But that is to confuse politics with democracy, in which nuisances - sorry, the people - get in the way of politicians exercising power.

What separates those two concepts is the same thing that separates the conventional wisdom from reality: you.

You are difficult to fathom.

Media organisations find you much more expensive to cover than the political process. That's why so much media coverage treats politics like a spectator sport: too much emphasis on the tactics, not enough on the goals.

No wonder you were so bored only six in 10 of you bothered to vote.

Never mind. Let me assure you the next vote for Holyrood will be a cliff-hanger - or at least that's the conventional wisdom.

Mushy peas

A final thought: it's time to stop sneering at Peter Mandelson.

Well, maybe not entirely - it can be so much fun - but certainly over that (possibly apocryphal) campaigning incident in a Hartlepool fish and chip shop.

Remember? The one in which he is alleged to have pointed to the mushy peas and asked for "some of that guacamole."

Because more or less the same thing happened to me in the café at Aberdeen Airport.

I pointed to an appetising dish and demanded "a nice big plate of couscous."

The cook, who looked justifiably pained, replied: "Actually that's skirlie, sir."



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