Somewhere in the middle of the flashmob of reporters and broadcasters was Ed Miliband.
From time to time his face became visible, his eyes rotating in opposite directions as dozens of camera lenses tried to work their way up his nostrils, but he was mostly only identifiable by the no placard held up above his head by a woman who was barely five feet tall. She was never seen again.
With less than 48 hours until the polling booths open, the Scottish referendum campaign reached its seventh circle of hell in a Dadaist piece of electoral performance art, created by the media and the politicians almost entirely for their own benefit.
The event had come trailed as a Miliband walkabout in the St James shopping mall in central Edinburgh: a chance for him to prove that a Westminster politician was prepared to go further than the traditional Caledonian lament of the English outsider before a hand-picked audience of safe faces. Outside the mall, a handful of no voters waved placards in anticipation of their man's arrival, while in the background a dozen or so yes campaigners leaned against a wall, soaking up the late afternoon sunshine: five times as many reporters looked on for any signs of Miliband or trouble. Preferably both.
A whisper went round. Miliband had arrived from the opposite direction and was already in the mall. A race quickly developed between the campaigners and the media to see who could get to the Labour leader first. The media won hands down and Miliband was soon surrounded by journalists while plaintive cries of "Yes, Yes, Yes" and "No, No, No" could just about be heard from the campaigners relegated to the back of the crowd. Shoppers hurried to get out the way while security guards put ram-raid protocols into operation.
Miliband tried to look as if he was cool with the situation but was failing badly. This was his Bono moment and he was blowing it. He wasn't saving the world, he wasn't even saving Scotland. His only thoughts were of his own survival and he could barely manage that. He pushed his way haphazardly on. Past Yankee Scotland. Past Thorntons (no chocs for Justine and the kids). Past Clintons (not even a card). On to H Samuel (an eternity ring, maybe).
Still no respite was in sight and the mob surged on. A TV reporter started asking Miliband questions; the only people to have possibly heard his answers were the television viewers. Past John Lewis. Past Greggs.
The exit to the mall loomed and Miliband still hadn't met a single Scottish voter. In desperation, he dived into one of the few remaining shops; a hairdresser's called SuperCuts. Of all the places and of all the times … Miliband's instinct for the own goal was as sure-footed as ever. A brief conversation and then he was away. Away over the pedestrian walkway and into the car park, where his minders were waiting to take him home. À la Recherche du Miliband Perdu done and dusted in under five minutes.
The mob broke up. Journalists scratched their heads, wondering what on earth it had all been about. Inside SuperCuts, a young teenage hairdresser was being grilled about what Miliband had said to her. She looked to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and in no state to remember. Besides, there can only have been one thing Miliband said to her: "Get me the hell out of here."
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