I must say, I'm finding the lead up to the General Election really quite fascinating. So much is going on that it's almost impossible to predict, and it seems that almost anything could happen.
And yet, at the same time, it's largely irrelevant, both in terms of who eventually wins and even in terms of my own vote.
The thing is that, regardless of what happens, we'll end up with one of two things: either a Tory-led government or a Labour-led government. That may be a majority from one party (unlikely), a coalition with some other party (maybe), or a minority (probably the most likely).
But here's the thing: it doesn't actually matter.
If the Tories win, there are a further 37 billion pounds worth of cuts coming. The scale of those cuts is such that it's not really a matter of where they'll cut, or even what their priorities are - everything will need to be cut to the bone.
So that's simple, surely - can't have a Tory government.
The problem is that, at conference, Ed Balls committed any incoming Labour government to follow the Tories' spending plans. Which means that, if Labour win, there are a further 37 billion pounds worth of cuts coming. The scale of those cuts is such that it's not really a matter of where they'll cut, or even what their priorities are - everything will need to be cut to the bone.
And, in the face of £37b cuts nothing else really matters - there's so little flexibility left that the parties might as well not bother with any other policies, because there's no money to fund them.
It really doesn't matter who wins.
Looking more locally, it's also irrelevant, this time because my options are few. In Falkirk there are three options: vote Labour, vote SNP, or waste your vote - UKIP, the Lib Dems, and the Tories might as well not stand, because they have no chance.
But Labour in Falkirk have been an absolute disgrace. Firstly, they're responsible for foisting Eric Joyce on us for the past 17 years. But now, just as we're getting rid, they've somehow contrived to make things worse, firstly by imposing an all-women shortlist (which I object to on principle), and then with the scandal surrounding the selection of the candidate.
The bottom line is that voting for Labour, in Falkirk, and for me, is simply not an option. It has to be the SNP.
(There's one caveat to this. There was a suggestion that Dennis Canavan might stand as an independent candidate. I don't think that's particularly likely, but if he did then that would shift my vote.)
And so, the General Election is actually rather irrelevant to me - it doesn't matter who wins, and the destination of my vote is already determined, if only by a process of elimination.
Yet it's still rather fascinating, because of three big questions:
- Just how well will the SNP actually do? Surely they'll get more than the 6 seats from last time, but how many? (One set of poll results even suggested they'd get 57 of the 59 Scottish seats - with one Labour and one Lib Dem MP left - but that must be just as unlikely as them getting fewer than 7 seats. Mustn't it?)
- Just how badly will the Lib Dems do? They're clearly on course for near-annihilation in Scotland, and almost certain to lose a lot of seats elsewhere, but how many? Will they remain the third-largest party, or slip to fourth? Or fifth?
- And, of course, just what will UKIP do?
As I said, it's really hard to predict what might happen. Still, here are my best guesses:
I expect the Tories to end up as the largest party, but to fall short of a majority. Further, I expect them to fail to find any coalition partners, and to end up forming a minority government for the next five years. (And, as a consequence of that, I expect the mooted EU referendum for 2017 to fail to appear.)
Consequently, I expect Labour to be the second largest party. I don't really have much to say here, except that an awful lot depends on how they react to the loss. Will they finally engage in some much-needed introspection, reconnect with their principles, and start to win back some repect; or will they simply shuffle the roles and carry on?
I expect the SNP to win somewhere in the upper 20's in terms of seats and to be the third largest party. In theory, this could make them kingmakers for the next parliament, but I don't see this happening - they can't be seen to empower a Tory government (because the Tories are absolutely toxic up here), and I don't think a Labour government could be propped up using SNP votes against the majority will of the English. Besides, Labour hate the SNP.
Conversely, the Lib Dems are heading for near-annihiliation in Scotland, and won't do much better elsewhere in the UK. They'll probably retain about 10 seats.
UKIP are a bit of a wild card. By this time tomorrow I expect them to have 2 MPs, and they may even go into the General Election with a few more if some more Tories do indeed defect. And yet, I don't expect a major breakthrough for them - they might get 5 MPs, but might well end up with none.
Unfortunately, I expect the Greens to lose their one existing seat. A shame.
#56: "Nightblade", by Liane Merciel