ELECTION nights in Germany generally lack the shifts and swings of their counterparts in the UK, where personal and national dramas get to mix and froth till dawn.

The German equivalent, which we had at the weekend for the election of the 20th Bundestag, is normally not thrilling. The results start being declared as soon as the mechanised polls close at 6pm and in the past the overall outcome has usually been obvious at once.

The Germans follow the same electoral system as we have in Scotland, except that a party does not qualify for any seat at all with less than 5% of the vote. Their contests are therefore less complicated than ours. Onlookers do the sensible thing and ask first what a party’s overall percentage is, rather than whether this or that personality is in for another term.

These elections have a slightly dull history, in other words, and if anything have been getting harder to follow. Germany once counted on a stable two-party system of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats but it has been moving towards something more exotic as these two have weakened. They have gradually been giving way to minorities they can’t control – this time round the Greens, the left or former Communists, and the right-wing Alternative for Germany.

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During 16 years of government by Angela Merkel, now at an end, the trend has been fostered by her grand strategy of dissolving differences between the rival parties, so as to make the whole electorate more susceptible to her personal charms and her desire for politics to be free of surprises. It has not done much to make policy more incisive, and now it turns out to have left even her own Christian Democrats with little to say that is likely to enthuse the voters.

While Germany may not have been a country given to tumultuous political change, the world moves on regardless. It’s probably no advantage that new directions emerge not out on the hustings but afterwards in backrooms in Berlin (nowadays smoke-free). But let me follow a thought of my own and show how this 20th Bundestag might during its four-year term show some decisions of interest in Scotland and its future relations with Europe.

To date, it would be fair to say, Scotland has figured in German politics scarcely at all. Average voters take little interest in foreign affairs anyway, so we are no different in their estimation from other wee nations. They will know more about Braveheart than about any of our modern politicians, so the tartan tat that appears – on our errant football supporters, for example – might at least be recognisable.

Yet perhaps, post-Merkel, the Scottish profile might rise a bit. One of her bright young men, David McAllister, at present serving in the European Parliament, is the son of a Scottish squaddy in Berlin who, as he reached adulthood, decided to live out his life in Germany rather than Scotland. If his ancestral homeland does start to figure among the foreign policy questions for Europe, he might well become the man of the moment.

The reason it could happen is simply that Scotland voted to stay in the EU when England voted to get out of it in 2016. If we can now push through to independence, the prospect of returning to Europe as well would quieten many voters’ fears about life on the outside. We need not doubt on whose side the Germans, also dismayed by English isolationism, would be taking a friendly interest. All this could follow during the 20th Bundestag.

On the other hand, on the morning after election day it looked rather more likely that the next German government will be headed by the Social Democrats’ leader, Olaf Scholz, re-elected with more seats than his party has held for 20 years. It seems, however, unlikely that this new government would stray far from Merkel’s path, because Scholz has been serving as her finance minister since 2018.

JUST as Merkel was a figure from the right who stretched for support towards the left, so Scholz is a leader from the left who makes sure that German finance and industry have nothing to fear from him.

His fiscal policies were geared to keeping the budget in surplus, something that allowed him to greet the coronavirus crisis with ample reserves for emergencies at the corporate level and to keep the generous national regime of benefits for individual citizens running smoothly along.

Before entering into politics at the federal level, Scholz was mayor of Hamburg. Here again, he built up a sound progressive reputation. His is the wealthiest city not just in Germany but in the whole of Europe, and it likes to be ruled by solid, reliable politicians who are not going to rock the boat (Helmut Schmidt was a previous example of the type).

Germany, the wealthiest member of the EU and by far the biggest contributor to its budget, has always been happy to give as far as it can (sometimes not all that far) a frugal tone to policy rather than have its officials shoulder the actual hard labour of administration. So they often take a back seat but even so, there is no doubt that little can be done without their approval.

This, then, is the situation that may well face Scotland if we start during the next five years on the decisive road to independence and EU membership.

We will certainly be encouraged from across the North Sea. But the process will also demand an effort on our part to cultivate these European friends and ensure we move back into harmony with the world’s biggest trading bloc, perhaps by a conscious effort to absorb and adopt its values.

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I’m not sure how easily this will come to today’s SNP. One of the strictest EU rules the Germans like to see all member states observing is the one that sets 3% of the total national budget as the limit for borrowing, rather than tax, to finance it. Today’s Scottish Government, if it were already independent, would be carrying a budget deficit far bigger than that. It seldom gives any thought to the fiscal balance. Once a full EU member, it will have to.

Again, most European governments offer aid to individual companies of strategic importance for the sake of strength and sustainability in the economy as a whole. These schemes also need to be compatible with one another from country to country so as to make sure competition at the corporate level remains fair. It is another German-inspired structure.

Scotland re-entering the EU at a later point in this decade will have had to bring itself back into line with the strict but equitable philosophy of the regulation. I’m not sure if the sort of industrial policies Nicola Sturgeon has been pursuing will as a matter of fact conform to it.

She has in some cases called them socialist policies and made their element of subsidy explicit. I don’t think she will find that during the 20th Bundestag she can get much support from either the left or the right in the German economy that sets the tone for the rest of Europe.