PLEASE God, let this be the last Holyrood election fought in the constitutional Limboland of devolution.

Despite the best efforts of manifesto-makers, speech-writers and party leaders, little in this campaign feels animated, whole-hearted or terribly hopeful, except as a harbinger of the step towards independence. And that’s not just because half of Scotland is already keen to move on, but because Holyrood increasingly stands revealed as a halfway house – not big, exciting or inspiring enough to really motivate its key players. As a result, the quality of policy debate in this campaign has been poor, democracy is suffering and vitality is haemorrhaging.

For the first time I can recall, no party but the SNP is even pretending it can win. And whilst it’s a relief not to hear the empty boasting of leaders’ past, it’s also weird.

So, this isn’t a real, full-throated Scottish election – and we won’t have one again till the overarching question of our constitutional future is resolved, one way or the other.

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Independence simply stands too tall over everything else – Holyrood included – yet it isn’t at the heart of any debate, except for scaremongering by parties without the guts to open up debate.

We have to move on with indyref2 – to reach a new level of democracy where a thousand flowers can blossom, where policy criticisms of the incumbent government can be aired without fear of derailing the whole independence project, where rival parties don’t concede defeat a month out from polling and where the victor is not a totally foregone conclusion.

By not being allowed under any circumstances by Number 10, Independence has become bigger and more powerful than every other issue – including the policy areas Holyrood does control.

And that is bending our election campaign completely out of shape.

The May 6 poll will almost certainly be won by the SNP – a party that doesn’t essentially believe in devolution but still works it more powerfully than its Labour creators.

The main opposition will be Tories who campaigned against the parliament’s very creation in the 90s or Labour whose negotiators whipped important new powers off the table during the Smith Commission carve-up that followed the first indyref.

Go figure.

Jumping up and down in the corner are the LibDems, whose raison d’etre was EU membership till Brexit prompted its London leadership to drop the policy and persuade its “independent” Scottish wing to do the same.

There are parties with big ideas – the Greens and Alba. Neither will get a pinkie on the tiller if the SNP wins a simple majority but will be roundly ignored as the semi-proportional Holyrood system easily permits. Yet, despite the probability of a fairly impotent life in the margins, both Alba and the Greens insist a supermajority will transform the situation.

Maybe extra media focus and the presence of a former “Big Beast” will give small parties clout beyond the harsh arithmetic of the Chamber. But maybe not.

The National: Alex Salmond leads the Alba PartyAlex Salmond leads the Alba Party

Meanwhile, although the two parties nominally share the same supermajority goal, Alba hopes to get there by generously/craftily advocating a constituency vote for its biggest rival, whilst the Greens will stand against the SNP in key marginal constituencies like Edinburgh Central.

Is any aspect of this election straightforward or unusually, endlessly complex?

Poor, devolved Holyrood.

More progressive than Westminster but not powerful enough to fly unaided or united enough to flex its wings. No political party passes the Bridget Jones test and actually loves this parliament just the way it is.

So we badly need to move on – and one Unionist commentator actually agrees.

Speaking on STV’s Scotland Tonight on Tuesday, former Tory adviser Andy McIver observed that this lacklustre, ideas-free election reflects the fact Scottish politics is now hopelessly distorted by an impending indyref that never quite arrives. So, he agrees the independence question needs to be cleared up – or down – for the greater good so we can all finally focus.

He’s right. But there’s no way to recover from another No vote – because there’s so little wholehearted energy for Project Devolution. And this election campaign really shows that.

These are the dog days of the Union. There is no respect for Westminster – and faith is not likely to be restored.

One day of headlines speaks volumes about the collapse of governance standards. In 24 hours, Boris has abandoned his £2.8million refurbished press briefing studio lest it become a gladiatorial arena; denied promising James Dyson a fix to avoid taxes while producing PPE during the pandemic; ducked questions about his integrity in dealings with former girlfriend Jennifer Arcuri and stood by as the Home Office policy of deporting rough sleepers is branded inhumane –and oh yes, a Minister resigned.

This level of chaos, cronyism and sleaze is the new normal.

Yet Boris is still way ahead in the British polls.

British cohesion is weak, but that means a devolved sense of purpose is hard to maintain.

We are in a place where the centre doesn’t hold, devolution is half-hearted and predictable but independence is still distant and ill-defined.

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The half in-half out state of devolved Scotland is producing topsy-turvey politics and dull, evasive debate. As a result, this election sits betwixt and between with voter interest faltering.

The main point of each manifesto is not policy-driven but purely strategic – how to have or avoid a second indyref.

Not just because opposition plans so quickly bump into the brick wall of the union or timorously remain within current devolved limits, but because big constitutional issues are now all that really excite politicians, candidates, journalists and activists. If it’s the necessary preamble to a second indyref – fine. Otherwise we are in a bad place.

Sure, Scotland needs independence. It also needs good, old-fashioned, full-blooded policy debates. But the only way to the latter is via the former.

To be crystal clear, this is no Unionist plea for a “laser focus” on the day job.

It’s recognition that the most important part of this election is not the campaign and not even the result – but the aftermath.

Nicola Sturgeon must ask for a Section 30 order or embark on another strategy to get the constitutional ball rolling so this is the last election that is hardly a proper election at all.