Tony Benn used to repeat ad nauseam that it is not about the personalities, its about the issues.
And somebody else, I can never remember if it was Marx himself or only, much later, Eric Hobsbawn, observed that all history is economic history.
It was certainly Marx who, in the "18th Brumaire" most decisively turned the left against the "great man" theory of history, while at the same time, and more tellingly, warning against its dangers.
Nonetheless, the best observation in this sphere belongs not to any political theorist but to the Bard:
"There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."
Sometimes a set of circumstance, economic or otherwise, conspires to provide a situation conducive to decisive leadership: Lenin at the Smolny Institute; Napoleon on joining the Army of Italy; dare one say it, Caesar himself on crossing the Rubicon. Sometimes circumstance is not enough, leadership is required for real change.
I am an amateur student of the Risorgimento. I even once spent an entire holiday in Marsala partly so that I could see the very point where the Thousand first stepped ashore.
But for all the efforts of the Red shirts, that delirium of the brave; for all the life work of Mazzini; the brilliant manouvering of Cavour or even the stoic determination of Victor Emmanuel, it is impossible to imagine the unification of Italy, even at 150 years distance without the contribution of that singular heroic figure, Giuseppe Garibaldi.
He didn't create the idea of unification but he embodied it.
The idea of leadership is not a bad thing in itself; the evil is when it leads in the wrong direction as it would subsequently be by Garibaldi's mini-me, Mussolini.
So, for not the first time, I disagree with Marx. Gramsci gets it much better but that's for another time.
But what, if anything, you might ask, have any of these ramblings got to do with current Scottish politics?
Is this lunatic about to compare Tom Harris to a latter day Garibaldi? Not, I reassure you in any sense.I doubt he has ever owned a red shirt, although I don't rule out the possibility that, like Garibaldi, he might at some time be shot by his own side.
No, rather I want to talk about the First Minister. He is a would be great man of history and, frankly, he is up to that task.
People talk about Labour bringing in a "big beast" to take him on but, to be honest, even our current big beasts are pretty small in comparison. Donald could and did; so could John Smith; so could have Robin Cook or, had he not broken himself on the wheel of higher ambition still, so could Gordon. But they've all got one thing in common: they're all deid, except the last, who I fear is fatally wounded. Those who are left will, at best, have to follow the strategy of another hero of antiquity, Quintus Fabius Maximus, and await the all conqueror overstretching himself.
The problem is that I don't know if this latter day Hannibal is going to overstretch himself in the way we currently expect. I return to my starting point and to my Gramsci if not my Marx.
There are circumstances in which other incohate forces are susceptible to decisive leadership. These incohate forces have however to exist in the first place.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, seriously thinks Scotland would vote for independence in a properly held and clearly worded referendum. Not a single serious activist privy to the private polling in the higher reaches of any of the political Parties; not a single opinion former among the intellectual class; not a single newspaper; nobody. Not even the cybernats who keep insisting that such an eventuality is imminent while defending the decision not to hold such a vote "quite yet",
There is however an assumption nonetheless that such a referendum will take place.
So let me into a secret.
Alex Salmond has no intention of holding a single question referendum for, if he can't win the actual vote, what could he possibly gain from such an exercise?
It's aftermath would almost certainly split his Party between the realists and the irreconcilables; any cards those still in the game might once have held in their game of bluff with Westminster would have been shown to be a busted flush; most importantly of all, the First Minister's own career would be over. There might still be some honour in departing the stage as a tragic hero but, somehow, I don't see Eck as personally wanting to play that role.
Clearly his original strategy was to use minority government as the excuse for being unable to stage such a vote.
That obstacle having been removed, there now appears no doubt that his first fall back plan was to trick the devolutionist forces into coming up with some sort of second option (any second option) which might have allowed the SNP to claim some sort of partial achievement (any sort of partial achievement). Unfortunately for him, even our leadership, such as it is, have not proved to be quite so naive (although what Willie Rennie might yet do is anybody's guess).
I suspect therefor that the SNP's revised fallback plan is for late legislation introduced in the reasonably certain knowledge that a legal challenge will prevent the actual vote taking place before the 2016, at which election the SNP's backwoodsmen will be kept happy by blaming the Judges or at least those shortsighted enough to have brought the challenge.
So here's therefore what I suggest we do. Ignore them. Let's say to the Nats that we take them at their word. If they think there is no need to discuss Independence before 2015, or 2016 or whenever, then let's tell them we're quite happy to agree.
And let's get on with scrutinising the day to day government of Scotland while we wait.......................and wait...............and wait. Like Quintus Fabius Maximus.