TODAY I’m writing not just for Scottish readers but also for French Canadians. This is after I got a call from an old friend, Christian Rioux, who is the Paris correspondent of a paper published in Montreal, Le Devoir. It’s rather like The National in being the only Quebecois daily to support independence – the others are all Canadian unionist.

Under UK restrictions, Christian has not been able to get to Scotland himself to cover Thursday’s election. He has to rely on pals from former times to supply him with the local lowdown.

What! Has Le Devoir not got a London correspondent? As a matter of fact, it hasn’t. When financial moves were being made to found the paper in 1910, it needed to decide how it was going to cover imperial affairs. French Canadians had by now settled down under British rule, yet still not exactly ecstatic about it. In the Boer Wars, for example, most had supported the Afrikaners as the oppressed underdogs, never thinking to ask about the black people (not that the Brits did any better). Things were just different in those days.

At Le Devoir, they decided one way to be sure of getting some objective reporting and comment was to set up their European office in Paris rather than in London. And there they have stayed ever since. There are no doubt disadvantages at times like this, but in the cultural context the point is underlined that Canada’s roots lie at least as much in France as in the UK, a fact of life that its journalism ought to reflect.

John Buchan, author of The 39 Steps, came to the same understanding when he served as governor-general of Canada right at the end of his career – he died in Ottawa in 1940. He loved the country not only for its vast natural wilderness but also for the sterling qualities of its people, who he found just like his own Scots in many ways. Settled amid the most severe physical conditions, they cultivated in their families, their communities and their religion a way of life equal to the challenges.

After another century since Buchan, we can confirm he was correct. The Quebecois have been rooted where they are for 400 years, and I think they will still be there for another 400 years. But looking at Scotland since 1603 and 1707, we can say the same. I have little doubt Christian Rioux will conclude as much. And another key date along the national route will be 2021.

That said, I must admit the account of the present situation I gave my friend was not an unduly optimistic one. I regret that Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have fallen out and so far there is no hope of the breach being bridged. Alex concluded that Nicola had drifted away from a necessary degree of commitment to the ideal of independence, to the extent this was becoming increasingly unlikely to happen.

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Having set out his dismay so brutally, it simply could not be ignored. He has indeed prompted the First Minister to a shift of position, or perhaps rather to a definition of it that she would have preferred to leave vaguer for the voters’ consumption and more flexible for her herself and her government. In interviews last weekend, she suddenly sounded much more combative again.

But the effect of the shift has not been all to the good. Some polling evidence seems to show the electorate’s move towards the SNP since the turn of this year may have been largely among tentative converts, people who were never out-and-out nationalists to start with. This shift was rather among marginal supporters who could be influenced by arguments other than the ideal of independence for Scotland – by the behaviour of the Tory Government in London, by the state of the economy, by the results of Brexit and so on.

As the other points of political contention grow in importance during the last days of the campaign, so those marginal voters may drift back towards their original allegiance. The effect is most marked among the ones who swither between SNP and Tory.

THERE are plenty at the northern and southern margins of the nation, in the suburbs and in the countryside. Boris is reported to be thinking hard about how to win them back, and one of his brighter ideas is not to come to Scotland himself.

Nicola doubtless agrees with him there, yet she sticks to the scruple that she should make no appeal whatever to these drifters and shifters other than one setting out from utter contempt for Toryism and all its works. This line may be easy to understand, but is it really going to attract such voters? It is asking people who are still part-Tory to jump over to being totally anti-Tory. I’m not sure this is the likeliest way to tempt them across the chasm between the two parties on Thursday.

And this has been happening at a time when the official Scots Tory Party seems keen on making itself more unpopular than usual. People of a conservative disposition tend to be patriotic, yet this Tory Party says pooh-pooh to patriotism of the Scottish kind while boring on against a referendum.

Such people tend to support fiscal prudence, yet this Scots Tory Party is as spendthrift as the leadership in London. Such people may be the backbone of local business, yet the Scots Tory Party wishes to follow the sort of fiscal line favoured in the Home Counties of England.

And so on …

The SNP need, above all, a programme for an underperforming economy (and underperforming before coronavirus, not just since). What the government should be single-minded about is raising our growth rate. When it came to power 14 years ago, under John Swinney as finance secretary, it aimed to bring a laggard Scotland up to the same growth rate as England enjoys. This was a modest target, implying an improvement in the rate of a half of 1% per year. But it was never achieved, and now seems to have been forgotten.

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Instead, Nicola talks almost as if she rejects the aim of higher economic growth in favour of economic equality, closing the gap between higher and lower real incomes. This ignores the fact that growth makes equality easier, not harder, to achieve.

I do not believe her policies will win equality for the Scottish people anyway, because no government has ever won equality by the means she chooses. If anything, greater inequality is the way to do it because it provides incentives for working hard. I do not say it will be easy to improve Scotland’s performance, but it won’t happen if we don’t try. Otherwise, this will remain a laggard nation and all the less likely to choose for itself the even more challenging goal of independence.