Lower Saxony PM plays on his Scottish roots to help get re-elected
David McAllister is hoping that his Scots roots, and the notion of thriftiness, will help to get him re-elected as PM in Lower Saxony
As the bagpipes struck up, the crowds started to clap rhythmically and a beaming David McAllister, flanked by bodyguards, appeared to float into the room through a sea of orange and blue placards that read "I am a Mac".
Having checked that Apple never patented the slogan in Germany, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) adopted it as the campaign slogan for the man seen as the future of the party and the most obvious successor to chancellor Angela Merkel. Now it appears on placards scarves and T-shirts at his rallies.
Many German politicians try to play down their roots if they have a hint of anything un-German about them. Not so McAllister, whose Scottishness - his father was born in Glasgow - has only served to boost the CDU's re-election chances tomorrow in the state of Lower Saxony, where he has been prime minister since 2010.
"It makes Lower Saxony more international, more outward looking that we have him," said Ursula Schaub, 60, who had brought her nephew, a first-time voter, to a McAllister rally in the city of Osnabruck.
McAllister proposed to his wife at Loch Ness, married in a kilt, he likes shortbread, porridge and Irn Bru - a soft drink popular with Scots - and takes milk in his tea. A holder of British and German passports, he supports soccer team Rangers - as well as Hannover 96, in the Bundesliga.
While McAllister stresses how he served in the German army and has spent all his life in Germany, in the run-up to these elections he has played on his Scottish roots for all they are worth. "Schottische Sparsamkeit" (Scottish thriftiness) has been an oft-repeated phrase as McAllister pledged to the 3.9 million voters that he would be the first person to balance the state's books since another Scot, Gordon Macready, who ran Lower Saxony when it was part of the British zone following the second world war.
German voters may not be able to pronounce his name, putting the stress on the "ister", but they do cherish fiscal prudence, affectionately referring to the sales seasons as "Schottentage" or Scots' Days.
Yet far more is at stake tomorrow than a balanced budget, such as childcare provision and traffic bottlenecks.
The vote, in Germany's second-largest state by area and fourth largest by population, is seen as a test run for autumn's general election.
The politician that Merkel hopes will deliver an election victory for her centre-right party is himself using what he calls the "tailwind" of her national popularity to fend off strong competition from the opposition Social Democrats and Greens.
But his Achilles heel is the pro-business Free Democratic party (FDP). As on the national stage, so too in Lower Saxony it is a CDU-FDP coalition that governs.
With the FDP polling well below the 5 per cent threshold necessary to enter parliament, McAllister might yet be deprived of leadership despite the CDU's strong poll lead. If that happened, the CDU's most promising politician would probably find himself with a ministerial position in Berlin in what could accelerate his rise to the chancellery.
McAllister, 42, brushed off such concerns and speculation on Wednesday. "You are looking at the winner," he told about 2,000 people who had stomped through snow and braved freezing temperatures to gather in the Osnabruck Halle.
"I am proud to be Merkel's Mac," he said, referring to the slightly derogatory nickname given to him by Germany's popular press, who have often referred to him as the chancellor's lapdog. "I'll tell you one thing, that's a huge compliment, for you, dear Angela Merkel, are Germany's biggest asset," he said, gesturing to the chancellor who stood on the stage next to him.
He is clearly tickled by the unusually high level of international interest in his campaign.
"Even the Scottish tabloids have been here and are taking an interest in German politics," he said.