SCOTLAND has been waiting eagerly for the date of the General Election to be announced all year, but as the days of May passed by, expectations grew that we were going to see voters hit the polls in autumn.

So when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dropped the bombshell last week that it will be on July 4, it was not only a surprise but for many, it flashed up as an issue in the Scottish calendar given that for most, it is the first week of the summer holidays.

Schools and universities will be closed and the Scottish Parliament will be in recess, so as well as families seeking some sun even most political journalists would’ve been considering downing tools for a week or so.

Perhaps even more striking was the fact July 4 does not form part of the English summer holidays, with schools breaking up later in the month. So there was an immediate feeling of disregard for Scotland from the Westminster establishment.

First Minister John Swinney was onto it straight away. He immediately accused Downing Street of displaying contempt for Scotland adding it was “deeply concerning” the Scottish holidays had been an “afterthought”.

‘A lack of awareness’

BUT even describing it as an afterthought might be giving Rishi Sunak and his team too much credit, for political experts feel that rather than it being a strategic move or a deliberate swipe at Scotland, the Scottish calendar wouldn’t have been a consideration at all.

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Asked if it would’ve entered anyone’s mind, Dr Lynn Bennie, a politics expert at Aberdeen University, told the Sunday National: “Probably not. If it did, it would have been well down the pecking order of priorities.

“I would’ve thought they’d be thinking a summer election could be quite a positive experience and I suspect they just haven’t thought through the idea of school holidays.

“Rishi Sunak was in Wales last week and one of the first things he said was, ‘are you looking forward to the  football?’. Wales aren’t even in the Euros. That just suggests this lack of awareness of what’s going on in the devolved areas.

“What I do think is interesting is that was the first response from the SNP [regarding the date]. It can be used as ammunition against the UK establishment.”

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Dr Coree Brown Swan, who lectures in politics at the University of Stirling, was in agreement that choosing a date in the Scottish school holidays didn’t necessarily show contempt but did point to a lack of knowledge of how Scotland operates.

She said: “I think there’s a very low level of awareness in England that the Scottish timetable is different. I don’t think it was part of a grand plan, I just think they know they are going to lose a lot of seats and it doesn’t matter whether it’s [the date] going to have a negative impact on Scotland.

“I don’t think it was a strategic move, I just think you had to go now or you have to wait until the autumn.”

A tool in the toolbox for the SNP

POLLSTER Mark Diffley also suggested the date showed a level of ignorance from the UK Government and potentially presented a “gift to the SNP”, given it may influence how people see Westminster’s attitude towards Scotland.

Asked if she felt the same way, Dr Bennie said: “Probably yes. It’s something Swinney can say and he has said in response to the date.

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“I think with the passage of time it won’t be seen as that important but anything like that the SNP will use against the Conservative government.”

But is the timing really a big deal?

AND that’s the thing, the passage of time. There is a sense the SNP have been given some ammo here, but how long it will prove useful remains questionable.

There is no doubt that right now, for politicians, campaigners and anyone keen to make their voice heard at this election, the date presents an issue for many who will have booked holidays.

Brown Swan said: “It’s terrible timing for Scotland because everyone’s scattered and it’s easier to go on holiday right before the English schools get out.

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“I do think people have a greater tendency to postal vote now after Covid but I do wonder if that has a slightly depressive effect on turnout. It’s hard to tell, but it’s going to annoy people.”

Professor Murray Leith, a politics lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, also speculated the timing could have an impact on turnout north of the Border given students will not be in their usual place.

“There is no doubt a lot of people take their holidays in July and the universities aren’t in,” he said.

“The students are away at home and not concentrated in their constituencies.

“There’s definitely going to be a rush on postal votes. It’s really quite surprising at the end of the day given the last July election was in 1945.”

However, while there has been some initial bitterness about the date, there is a feeling that will fade quite quickly given there are many reasons why a summer election could have a positive effect on turnout and ramping up both support for parties and awareness of the vote.

Bennie said the hopefully warmer weather could be a useful aid for parties.

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She said: “One of the things that interests me is in a summer election what you’re going to get is potentially more activists out and about. We know that can boost turnout, so I think overall these things will balance each other out.

“We are living in a time when voters are very volatile so it’s becoming more difficult to predict these things [turnout].

“Last time [2019], the turnout was relatively high given it was deep into winter. What we’ve seen over the years is if people perceive elections to be important then they will turn out.”

Rain or shine, pessimism remains

OF course, we could talk about how the weather and the date might turn voters off or on until the cows come home, but ultimately we’re going to have to wait and see if the numbers that cast their ballot are markedly different north and south of the Border.

What is more certain to have an impact on the election is a clear level of apathy around politics.

Partygate, the investigation into the SNP’s finances, Labour being accused of “parachuting in paper candidates” for Scotland from England and U-turning left, right and centre ­- all of these incidents and others have contributed to a sense of disillusionment and there is an eagerness to see how that is expressed in terms of voting attitudes.

As much as the Labour Party may wish to paint it as their 1997 moment, Bennie expressed doubts over whether even an expected Labour victory would light any fire among voters.

She said: “This is not going to be Tony Blair excitement because the Labour Party is just not exciting voters in the same way.

“The context is very different, there are a lot of challenges economically and everything seems much more difficult for any incoming government.

“Generally speaking, that relationship between parties and voters is very poor, there’s not a lot of trust there or optimism. In terms of how that plays out in Scotland, that’s interesting because we know the SNP are in a downward trajectory, they’ve got a lot of problems, and the Labour Party seem to be on the rise again. It’s hard to know how the different dynamics overlap each other.

“But I think we’re not expecting this to be a terribly exciting election and that deep underlying pessimism about politics is not going to go away.”