AS the General Election campaign stumbles to the finishing line, and unless anything truly unexpected happens now, history will surely marvel at how it succeeded in being both a theatrical non-event and politically momentous all at the same time.

Let me explain why, and look at what the alternative might be in Scotland.

What we have mostly been witnessing in this campaign is phantom politics at its worst. The election ‘debate’ has barely mentioned the multiple global crises facing humanity: catastrophic global heating, mass loss of biodiversity, daily genocide, large-scale human displacement, a renewed nuclear threat, the control of much of the world economy and generative AI by a handful of corporations, and serious shortages of natural resources.

READ MORE: Ruth Wishart: Old age is not for sissies - or for political leaders

In contrast, the UK party campaigns have looked like a competition between a handful of complacent, low-grade shopping channels.

Labour, destined to win on the back of a timid offer not to be the Tories, have built a ‘big tent’ so vacuously large that it can comfortably accommodate hard-right convert Natalie Elphicke (enthusiastically welcomed by Keir Starmer) and left standard-bearer Diane Abbott (awkwardly and reluctantly accepted back into the fold).

While making some progressive noises, what Labour chiefly represents is directionless caution underwritten by a refusal to face economic challenge, acceptance of conservative fiscal rules, inevitable austerity, billions wasted on Trident, and a self-harming Brexit shrug.

In all but name, the party’s social democratic tradition is in terminal decline. Its ambitious left wing is either dejected or defeated, expunged or expelled. Its leader combines soulless woodenness with high ambition – a depressingly worrying prospect.

The Tories, meanwhile, look more like a suicide pact than a political party. With his angry schoolboy debating skills and lack of personal connection, Rishi Sunak has proved as disastrous a campaigner as he and his two predecessors as PM have been in Downing Street.

When your ‘big idea’ is National Service, what’s next? Bringing back rationing? The real story of the Conservative Party is its submergence into far-right politics and anti-migration bigotry. This is combined with a gut hatred of equality, and punitive nastiness towards claimants, disabled and sick people and anyone less well-off than its rich core base.

Meanwhile, the re-emergence of Nigel Farage and Reform UK (not a real political party, but an anti-democratic private entity and fiefdom for raking up money) is all about burying the moderately patrician Tory Party ultimately bequeathed by a patrician like Edmund Burke.

What Reform UK want to see is the Tories replaced by a political cipher aligned to right-wing extremism across Europe and in Trumpland. In this, Farage and his ilk have been amply aided by a confused, corporate-dominated legacy media at the mercy of post-truth politics.

So the outcome of this election could well be a historic and perilous fourfold disintegration.

First, a technocratic Labour government losing rapid credibility when confronted with crises it has no progressive alternative to.

READ MORE: Holyrood committee backs police complaints but questions impact

Second, a Conservative opposition trapped by rightist derangement.

Third, newly bolstered Liberal Democrats scrabbling for a role on the back of witless publicity stunts with no political mooring.

And fourth, an unstable or disappearing electorate disillusioned with political failure, national decline and endemic corruption.

All that is fertile ground for the siren voices of Farage (and worse) to continue scapegoating the most vulnerable in society – not least foreigners – for a mess finally created by the super-rich. This is a dangerous, toxic brew. It is why this non-event election could indeed prove perversely momentous.

So although the Labour-Tory duopoly looks set to receive the lowest ever joint share of votes overall, an antiquated first-past-the-post system that both stalwartly defend will deny smaller parties a fair share of seats.

This will disguise the true size of the Faragist right, but it will also thwart progressive alternatives and independents with a spark of optimism in England, while taking a notable toll on the SNP here in Scotland.

For the SNP, this campaign was always terrible timing. Inner-party turmoil and trauma, plus tiredness in government, is not fertile ground. The election is also likely to prove a missed opportunity to signal the beginnings of a real reset for the party, and a coherent new narrative for progressive politics and Scottish self-determination.

The SNP manifesto elides its own vote with a vote for independence. But this election was never going to be about constitutional change, and a weakening of the SNP’s parliamentary representation and vote share will now simply be used by unionists to claim that independence has been rejected again.

READ MORE: Nuclear will 'leave legacy of debt and radioactive waste', says Lorna Slater

On changing political terrain, the failure of the party’s leadership to engender a robust, honest debate with frustrated activists about the reality of a longer game for independence could cost it dear.

There are worthy policies in the SNP’s manifesto, but no central logic. Pledges to re-join the EU and invest big on climate in a Westminster parliament where you are a permanent minority, whatever the result, will always struggle to inspire – most especially when the party’s performance in government at Holyrood is so open to criticism, and many just want to get rid of the Tories at almost any cost.

What the SNP could have focussed on instead was the actual record of its MPs in defending and achieving things that really matter to constituents (as Chris Stephens has been doing in Glasgow South around food poverty and similar issues), together with creatively insurgent plans to profile Scotland’s needs and put real pressure on a faltering Labour government.

A move against NHS privatisation in England, with significant Barnett consequentials for Scotland, is one good example. Linking pledges for more ambitious use of Holyrood tax powers (as proposed by the STUC) with a challenge to the UK parties’ austerity economics would be another major one. The point is to show what real change — as opposed to Starmer’s cosmetic kind — the SNP can advocate through Westminster.

What is needed, in short, is guerrilla-style politics based on bold ambitions, thoughtful strategies, strong community links, governing competence, and building bridges between the creative use of devolved responsibility with the far greater powers that only come from independence.

The overall aim has to be building a far larger base of support among those who see the dangerously broken nature of UK politics, and who want Scotland to demand and create something better – as the long-running STUC campaign has been proposing to all parties with claims to be progressive.

How this can be achieved ought to be an urgent post-election debate for the SNP and others. It is precisely about getting real and shaking off the phantom politics of this ghost election.

Simon Barrow is director of the politics and beliefs think tank Ekklesia. He has also co-edited and co-authored five books on Scottish politics, and is national secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group