IF you get your news from television and from the UK media you’ll almost certainly be labouring under the misapprehension that there are just two parties taking a real role in the General Election.

The difference between the American and British political systems is being eroded day by day. So seduced are we by the notion of two men fighting out on the political stage that we are allowing a narrative to be constructed, swapping out Biden and Trump for Sunak and Starmer in a faux presidential battle.

And just to make the American comparison even more relevant, the political gap between the two leaders is being rubbed out too. Keir Starmer is being led by the nose to the right to such an extent that we can only be days away from Starmer announcing that national service for teenagers is an idea with much to commend.

He’s already ditched any ideas tainted by support from the left and he’s determined to stop stalwarts of the left such as Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott from standing on the Labour ticket.

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These are not popular developments within the party he leads but no-one cares. All we are interested in is who will become the new UK president while the party he nominally leads withers on the vine. Starmer can kick out whatever members he deems inappropriate just as Sunak can decide the date of the next General Election and making it public without bothering to consult his cabinet.

The two men will be the only representatives to take part in the first televised election debate on ITV next Tuesday. It won’t match the fan fervour of Taylor Swift’s arrival in the UK that same week but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. It will play a major part in defining the nature of the choice facing voters a matter of weeks later.

Those same voters have the right to hear from the other parties seeking their support, some of which could assume unexpected importance if either the Tories or Labour fail to secure an overall majority and have to negotiate a deal to form a government.

This is a crucial issue for Scotland, where not even TV’s obsession with a two-horse election race can obscure that fact that politics north of the Border involves more than two key players. The SNP are not just any old horse joining the fray, it is the dominant participant in any election and is the third-biggest party in the UK.

The National: John Swinney

A television election debate broadcast in Scotland which excludes any representative from the SNP is plainly bonkers … and undemocratically bonkers at that.

Of course, you can hear them now. Those obsessed with the rule of the union rushing to point out that because the SNP is not standing in English seats it has nothing of note to add to any UK election broadcast. OMG, if the party leader took part in the debate he wouldn’t even be standing in the election. Obviously unthinkable, goes the argument.

What was unthinkable when devolution was introduced in the late 1990s was the very suggestion that political power would ever go to a party that was not Conservative or Labour. And just to make sure, a new electoral system was introduced to make it almost impossible for ANY party to win an overall majority.

Devolution as it stands today should mean that the dominance of the UK and the UK Government is a relic consigned to history. The fact that it pushes the devolved governments into a very much secondary position will one day hasten its downfall. But not quite yet. Too many forces prop up the rusted mechanisms of the past.

Prominent among those forces is the media. Newspapers and their websites, still read by millions even if their print editions are not, represent a wall of unionism in which this title is but a tiny chink.

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Television, forced by its regulator to report the news in a “balanced” manner, does so through the prism of the status quo, so terrified is it that proportionate coverage of Scottish independence would somehow land it in hot water with the politicians who hold its purse strings.

The stranglehold of the status quo forever consigns the SNP – with Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein for that matter – to the outer political limits because none operates in a UK context.

We are left with the Tories and Labour, locked forever in a dance for dominance, with one taking over as other fades, on and on through the decades, at least in Westminster.

The key pillars of the establishment pay devolution no heed. This is particularly true of television news, which keeps its focus firmly on the Westminster parties, narrowing in on Labour and the Tories and keeping the others firmly in supporting roles.

When they were the third-largest party, the Lib-Dems were mentioned only rarely. Now that the SNP have taken over that role exclusion from Westminster coverage is even more severe. Its role as the government of Scotland is played out entirely on the BBC Scotland opt-outs from the main UK national news broadcasts, prominently stamped as second rate, and on STV.

The National: Nobody Knows Glasgow Better feature

The only real challenge to the UK dominance of the main BBC news came with the campaign to establish a six o’clock news broadcast edited in Scotland in which Scottish news would take its proper place alongside the big UK and international stories of the day.

That would have reflected the reality of devolution in that it would have excluded those stories which would have not applied to Scotland and promoted those that were major stories north of the Border but did not affect England and Wales and were therefore not featured on the main 6pm news broadcast which attracts the biggest audience.

But any chance of such a programme being introduced were killed by the launch of a whole new BBC Scotland channel in 2017 which included a 9pm news show which featured Scottish, UK and world news. Despite its usually high quality, that show attracts significantly fewer viewers than the “main” 6pm broadcast.

The current London-edited 6pm broadcast gives the impression that the ‘big beasts’ of politics prowl the corridors of Westminster while the major stories generated by the Scottish Parliament are mostly relegated to the “news where you are” slot after the “main” news. Scotland has been shown its place – and it’s not on the UK’s biggest news programme.

Under that system it’s hardly a surprise that the party of government in Scotland, which has 43 MPs at Westminster compared to 16 for all the other parties combined, has been ruled out of the General Election debate on ITV next week.

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Instead John Swinney will be limited to a genuinely weird “Scottish party leaders” debate on STV the day before, an event cast very much as the support act and which excludes women and Scotland’s fourth-largest political party, the Greens.

This is a nonsense but is no accident. Devolution is designed to downplay Scotland’s position in a UK context, not to increase the range of its powers.

So during the General Election campaign Scottish voices will struggle to be heard on important issues such as the genocide in Gaza – international affairs are reserved to Westminster – while devolved issues such as health which are nothing to do with this election will be weaponised the SNP.

It’s this mindset that led to the bizarre invitation – the 37th he has accepted – to Nigel Farage to appear on Question Time last night when he represents a party which has one MP in the UK Parliament and is unlikely to achieve significantly more while feeling no responsibility to include the SNP on the same programme.

Only independence can tackle this built-in imbalance and you can be certain that’s the one issue that neither Starmer nor Sunak will be discussing during the election debate next week.