Friday, 19 February 2021

An Anniversary.

I have taken the day off completely because it is my wedding anniversary.

When you are married you inevitably mark the major occasions of the year together. Easter, the Glasgow September Weekend, Christmas, New Year. But you do that alongside the rest of the western world, or at least alongside the rest of the west of Scotland. And you also obviously celebrate each other's birthday and, if you are fortunate enough to have them, your children's birthdays. But these are more or less randomly arrived at dates and even when, in respect of the latter,  if they have to be chosen, chosen out of necessity rather than pre-determined....... choice. 

But your wedding day is different. It is the one day that you have chosen together and the one day that will forever be uniquely yours. 

So, since my wife, Maureen, died in April, this is a date I have particularly dreaded, and I suspect will for the rest of my own allotted span. 

I'll shortly go and lay flowers at her grave, a task I have been putting off. Supposedly, in my own rationalisation, because of the weather but in truth because it will be very difficult. Then, I will probably get very drunk. 

But you can't separate this melancholy from what is happening in the wider world. Maureen died, for reasons totally unrelated to Covid, just fifteen days into the first lockdown. We couldn't have a proper funeral, just a small gathering outside the house who walked behind the hearse directly to the cemetery. None of her brothers, or nephews and nieces, who lived further than Glasgow, could attend. Her best friend of sixty years could not attend, as she was shielding to protect her own husband. We didn't get to go the pub after her body had been received into the church the night before the funeral, as it couldn't be so received anyway. Nor to enjoy a purvey and some inevitably black humour after she had been laid to rest.

But there was more. The last major bereavement I had was when my mother died in 1979. Even between her death and her funeral, I recall I went out campaigning in the forthcoming general election. Not because I was a political fanatic (although I probably was a bit at the time) but because that meant activity, and company, and diversion. And I went back to my work the day after her funeral for that very same reason.

Here I could do none of that. I couldn't go to the court and shake hands and exchange hugs with my close colleagues or accept the condolences of others. I couldn't even speak to my friends and business partners, (not mutually exclusive) except on the phone.

And this has just gone on and on. It was nearly over. I was beginning to think we might finally get our requiem mass and commemorative event, possibly even on the first anniversary of Mo's death. But then of course it started up again.

Earlier in the week, there was a report on Channel 4 news featuring the conservative MP, Sir Charles Walker. He certainly didn't seem to me to be a frothing Coronavirus denier and nothing I have read since suggests he is. But he had a more rational point. At some point we have to consider what the continued lockdown is doing to wider health, particularly but not exclusively mental health. And also what it is doing to the general wellbeing of children.

And we have to apply a cost benefit analysis to continued lockdown. As, I learn from Google, the self same Charles Walker said last Autumn, I paraphrase slightly, no Government can ever entirely abolish death. 

Twenty plus years ago, I was on the Board of the Cumbernauld & Kilsyth Addiction Service. I was mainly engaged by the drug side of its work but I met a lot of people doing sterling work on alcohol addiction. They obviously had hugely disproportionate knowledge of alcohol abuse and addiction, sometimes from tragic direct personal experience. But it became clear over time that many of these people were effectively abolitionists, or at least would have been, had U.S.experience not demonstrated the impossibility of that. But while nobody doubts the negative effect alcohol can have for some you have to set it against the positive effects, in moderation, that it does have for many. That's what has led Government's of all complexions to proceed on the basis of regulation alone, disagreeing only on exactly where the balance of that regulation should lie.

You can't let the rules be set by those with the worst experience. 

So in considering the pace at which the lockdown should be lifted the government has to listen to more than virologists and immunologists. It needs to listen to psychiatrists and paediatricians and simply general physicians of every discipline as well. "But" I hear some protest "there might be new strains, you might get long Covid, you might be someone in a vulnerable category for whom the vaccine isn't effective!" Well yes you might, just as you might be someone for whom an initial half of lager at 16 leads to you drinking a bottle of vodka a day when you are thirty. But you need to calculate that "might" in determining public policy and never confuse "might" with "will".   For the avoidance of doubt, I write that as someone absolutely of the opinion that alcoholism is a disease and not simply a failure of character. 

And Government also has to listen to the public. Once the most vulnerable are all vaccinated, and that appears, thanks to herculean effort, to be possible by the end of March, then if you ask those left whether they'd risk what for the overwhelming majority would be a mild, non threatening illness, which, the odds are, they won't catch anyway, in exchange for fully re-opened schools and colleges,  shops, restaurants, sports stadiums, cinemas, theatres, music venues, hotels, airports, and, yes, pubs and clubs, I suspect you'd get a pretty overwhelming response. I say that, I concede, as someone of 62, who would by then have had the jag, but I am equally certain it would be my view if I was 42, never mind 22.

I finish where I started. Huge numbers have been bereaved during the pandemic and, in truth, their getting over that bereavement has been hugely hampered by continued lock down. They should have a voice here as well.  And I declare an interest.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

A simple question

I wrote a big long version of this earlier but in the end remembered my day to day trade. Questions should be only as long as necessary. So here we go.

We are in the midst of another Scottish Labour leadership contest. It's no secret that I'm for Anas but I want here to ask a difficult question for both candidates to answer. It proceeds I accept on a hypothesis but it is a pretty realistic hypothesis. It might not have to be answered now ("We are in it to win it") but if the polls don't move very substantially it will certainly have to be answered before polling day. Even if that's avoided it certainly would need to be answered after polling day.

Given current polling it is almost inconceivable the SNP would not be the largest Party at Holyrood if there is an election in May but even a modest post Leonard revival might get us second place. Last time, the SNP lost six seats, mainly to the Tories. If they lose six again, (even with the Greens) they would no longer have an absolute majority. So, let us assume that happens. What would Labour do?

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Told you so.

Last January, I wrote a blog pointing out that for the foreseeable future there is not going to be an independence referendum or indeed independence by any other means. Despite its logic being patent, everybody just ignored what was staring them in the face, not least the entirety (then) of the SNP. I sat down tonight to outline why again but experienced a sense of deja vu. So, in the interest of brevity, here is my January blog;https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/01/new-year-new-world.html, my July blog https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/07/much-ado-about-nothing.html, my September blog https://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/09/shortest-blog-ever.html and finally my November bloghttps://ianssmart.blogspot.com/2020/11/the-walking-dead.html . Glad to see those who make their living from writing about Scottish politics are finally catching up. 

I'm enjoying as much as anybody the Salmond/Sturgeon fall out. But it is a diversion. The idea that Sturgeon, the best known and popular Scottish politician by a country mile, might fall over whether she told the truth to the Scottish Parliament that first knew of the allegations against Alex Salmond on 29th March as opposed to 2nd April 2018 (remember that pre pandemic decade?) is the most wishful of wishful thinking. Even if a (very) few understand why that lie might be significant. 

But the exact terms of the SNP Manifesto for an election to Holyrood this year, whether in May or October? That is very interesting. 

The current Scottish Parliament was elected in May 2016. Only just over 18 months after the Independence Referendum. But there was already a significant part of the SNP membership demanding another referendum. Indeed the "All Under One Banner" marching organisation was set upon 12th October 2014! That is, if they weren't still insisting, apropos Trump, that the First Referendum had been stolen. Although even they couldn't entirely work out who by.

But, nonetheless, zoomer conspiracy theorists make up a significant section of the SNP rank and file. So they had to be thrown a bone. And that bone was that a vote to leave the EU would be a material change of circumstance justifying the demand for a second vote. This was an easy bone to throw. In May 2016 nobody thought the UK would actually vote to leave the EU. After all, every major Party in the UK was opposed to that. 

But jings, despite Nicola Sturgeon's own enthusiastic campaigning (illogically) for the very Brexit referendum result that would not  justify a second independence referendum, that is what happened, Supported by two in five Scottish voters and, more awkwardly still, by a majority of voters in Wales, also otherwise supposed to be being "dictated to by England". Nonetheless, in March 2017, Nicola did ask for her second referendum and Mrs May told her to go and raffle herself. And what then happened? Nothing happened. 

Fortunately the dilemma this might have presented to the SNP leadership was avoided for the moment by the 2017 election. Not only did the reverse the SNP suffer then cause even the bravest of bravehearts to ponder whether an immediate second referendum was actually a good idea, the UK wide election result cast doubt on whether we would actually leave the EU. That, and the usual boilerplate rhetoric, at periodic conferences, managed to disguise the continued dichotomy that the SNP, in attempting to block Brexit, were attempting to block their own rationale for having a fresh Independence vote.

However, the December 2019 election has changed everything. Not only has it restored momentum to the SNP it has also installed a UK Government with a solid majority on a manifesto expressly saying they will not consent to a second referendum. Oh, and in case you missed it, we then did leave the EU. 

Which would have placed the SNP leadership back in a hole were they not saved in a way they would never have wished by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

For while polling on the question has undoubtedly (in the abstract) moved in their direction, the population is not nearly as animated about imminently asking it again as are the Nationalist Rank and File.

Which brings me back to my question. What will the SNP manifesto say? You see, one suspects the leadership would like to stick with Plan A. "Give us a "mandate" and somehow the Tory Government will change their mind about agreeing to a referendum." And that would be it. But they won't get away with that because their own troops won't let them. They will insist on a plan B.

However there is no viable plan B. I outlined that in my blog last January. So the zoomers will have to be confronted with that before the election. That will be a bloodbath and one from which the SNP leadership might not emerge victorious. For there is a fair part of the SNP who would never be willing to accept that, having had and lost a referendum, the only way forward now is with the consent of the UK to another referendum. Which they are not going to get. But that is the truth of their situation, If the leadership win the internal battle, their manifesto will say they propose to have a referendum which they know they are not going to have. But the only true difference if they lose will be the three words "which they know". The public however would know that this second route presents a period of continuing constitutional (at least) chaos just as we struggle to  recover from Brexit and the pandemic. Is there a majority for this in Scotland despite momentary polling? Let's see. But there are good and rational electoral reasons the SNP leadership are reluctant even to contemplate a plan B.





Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Why May?

There is a vaccine. Thank God there is a vaccine. By the Summer we should all have had it and things be back to (the new) normal.

And that new normal would include elections and all that goes with them. Door to door canvassing: street stalls; hustings; TV debates with a live audience; Party rallies. Above all, scrutinised counting of the votes. Unless the vaccine is rolled out much more quickly than currently envisaged however that will not be the position in April or early May. Yet it remains the position of the Scottish Government that we should still have a vote on the first Thursday in May. A Scottish Government, you might note, who have already decided that the challenges of dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath means that we can't have secondary school exams in June or, indeed, conduct a Census at any time during the calendar year 2021.

On its last sitting day of 2020, Holyrood did pass legislation to allow for the possibility of the 2021 elections being postponed. So far was it recognised that we are far from out of the woods that it even provides that the election can be postponed by the presiding officer alone if (and the Bill, soon to be Act, says this expressly)  the Parliament can't meet because of continued Coronavirus restrictions.

So, in April/May it is acknowledged that the crisis might be far from over but the plan is still to have an election.

Indeed, on looking at its actual terms of the Bill, it is clear that the SNP Government wants an election in May. They give themselves powers to conduct an entirely postal ballot and reserve powers to conduct in person voting over several days. How logistically possible the first would be at this short notice is altogether another matter, while pulling essential local government workers away for days to act as polling clerks, Police officers being diverted from their duties to guard polling stations overnight and many schools being closed for days during a year of already widely disturbed educational is, how would you put it, an odd sense of priorities. 

And this is all wholly unnecessary. Almost as soon as the pandemic broke out, English local government elections were cancelled for a year by cross Party consensus. I understand there are quiet conversations going on about them being further postponed. The Electoral Commission have already recommended that.  But this time we wouldn't be talking about a year, for, if all goes to plan, there should be no reason that we couldn't have a normal election, as described above, on the first Thursday in October. Given they would remain in power in the interim in Scotland, why would the SNP object to that?

Here's why. They know they need to cut and run. The polling might look good at the moment but who says that will last. Particularly if, as I suspect, the failure to apply the cash they were given for business support, choosing instead to spend it on pre election freebies, sees the economy bounce back here much more slowly than in the south. Particularly further if, on more considered reflection, given our inherent advantages (in pandemic terms): far lower population density; far fewer multi generational households; far fewer particularly vulnerable ethnic minorities, people begin to question whether we really did much better than "them". Or even better at all. Except, even I would concede, in the field of public presentation.

Public presentation I suspect the Nats hope that, if they can hold on to May, they'll can continue with until a few weeks before the polls open? And also, in the process, avoid a Party Conference that might finally have to be confronted with there being no plan B. 

In summary therefor, there should be no election in May and if that is not a decision willingly taken at Holyrood, it should be taken at Westminster. Power devolved is, after all, power retained. 


Sunday, 29 November 2020

The Walking Dead

Party Conferences have two purposes. Firstly they allow the Party's activists, among their own herd, to  feel important, although in any well run Party they will not actually be. Secondly they require the media to pay your Party some attention and provide some favourable coverage. In both respects the SNP Conference has been, for them, a disaster. It is no wonder their leadership postponed it repeatedly.

Sturgeon's interview on the Marr show today was a meltdown moment. She was caught out lying on not one but two occasions. About two unrelated matters, the first of which, about how many people in Scotland were dying of Coronavirus, was a performance which, in its indifference to the population she governs and  regard instead for protecting her own image, would have put Donald Trump to shame. 

Whether this will be a breakthrough moment only time will tell, but I suspect wiser heads in the SNP have appreciated for some time that Nicola is only the air in an increasingly over inflated bubble and that someone might come along with a pin at any moment. If she has just evaded this pin today, there will be others to come. In my lifetime first Ally McLeod and then Fred Goodwin went from being the most admired person in Scotland to the most despised person in Scotland within the space of a month. If it became common currency that Sturgeon had used an hour of live telly every day not to inform the people of Scotland but to lie to the people of Scotland, you could see a similar moment coming. 

But the second way in which the conference has failed is in making the Party's own activists, herding among their own, to feel important. Don't take my word for this, look no further than The Reverend Stuart Campbell, proprietor of the Nationalist's favourite website, Wings Over Scotland. He suggests the SNP leadership are treating their ground troops like (his simile) mushrooms. To be kept in the dark and fed shit. Now, to describe many SNP activists as as insentient as mushrooms is probably an insult to funghi worldwide but, if those continuing to support the leadership's strategy of waiting for the UK Government to grant them as.30 are stupid, how much more are those wanting a "Plan B"?

There is literally no Plan B. Insofar as I can even comprehend it, it consists either of passing a referendum bill at Holyrood and waiting for the Supreme Court to vote it down. And then to be..... aggrieved. Or instead have a referendum about something else such as "Should Holyrood have the right to have.....a referendum?".

What all this ignores is that their has been a referendum in 2014 where, on a record turnout, 55% voted to remain in the UK. All the attention has been on the relative recentness of that event. Not enough of the decisiveness of it. Not just regarding the result but regarding the turnout. Now, were the SNP to have some sort of other referendum and get 2.1 million votes, or even something remotely approaching that, then I kind of agree that might make a difference. But there is literally no prospect of that! And if the Plan B team think otherwise they are not just stupider than a mushroom, they are stupider than a grain of salt. The only kind of goal they are pursuing is an own goal. 

The SNP is now existing in a strange zombie like incarnation, They can move about. They can, to be fair, still bite people. They certainly continue to take chunks out of the Scottish Labour Party. But they are in truth the walking dead. They should stop herding about  to draw attention to that.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Numbers

Yesterday, Douglas Ross talked about what everybody interested in Scottish politics should have been talking about for months. What happens if the SNP and their gardening wing don't have an overall majority at Holyrood in May next year?

That is much more of a possibility than conventional opinion allows. However, as I have pointed out elsewhere, conventional opinion has a vested interest in a narrative that an SNP majority is inevitable and so all attention should focus on there being to come, somehow, a second independence referendum. 

But, as you will surely know, I am on twitter a lot. And for a long time I had as my  pinned tweet one sent initially early in the morning of of Friday 6th May 2016, pointing out, based on early results, that the SNP were about to lose their overall majority. As I watched the live TV on the night, it was about two hours before those commentating acknowledged that this was happening, despite it surely being obvious to the informed participants. Because conventional opinion in advance deemed such an outcome inconceivable. Even after it had long since been conceived by the votes of the actual electorate.

So let me start by conceding the most likely outcome of a Holyrood election next May. The SNP, possibly relying on The Greens, will still have a majority in the chamber. And the second most likely, they will still have a plurality. But if you express that second result a different way? The second most likely outcome of the next Holyrood election is that the SNP and their allies will no longer have a majority. For a second independence referendum or, unless they cobble together votes on an issue by issue basis, for anything else. In 2016, the SNP lost six seats. If that happens again, and the Greens simply stand still, the second referendum game's a bogey but Scotland will still need a government. 

So why has there been an utter silence on this? As New Labour stored up opinion poll lead over opinion poll lead in the run up to the 1997 election, there were still counterfactual pieces written about what a fifth continuous Tory term might mean. As we in turn stumbled to defeat in 2010, reams written about the potential post election landscape. In Scotland however? Complete silence from the commentariat about what, as I say, is the second most likely outcome of an election six months away. An outcome about which current polling suggests is improbable but hardly impossible. An outcome, in terms of no Party and its obvious allies having an outright majority, being what PR systems normally produce. 

Yesterday, Douglas Ross did us all a favour by breaking that silence. The Tories would do a deal with anybody except any party proposing a second independence referendum. And, to be fair, our own current leader, Richard Leonard, responded almost immediately. We would do a deal with anybody except the Tories. I have literally no idea why he said this.

Logically it would mean that if he had come an improbable second to an SNP/Green block denied an overall majority, his immediate response would be to offer that block continued support as the government of devolved Scotland. Because he would never do a deal with the Tories. Even if Douglas Ross tracked him down on a picket line somewhere and begged him to become First Minister, even offering to take his place and hold his placard while he got on with the job, Richard would still never do a deal with the Tories. Really?

Dare I suggest it is not as simple as that. Let's model my six losses for the SNP, assuming an equal division of spoils. It gives you 57 Nats, 6 Greens, 33 Tories, 26 Labour and 7 Libs. 

Now let's look at the law. The aftermath of an Scottish Parliamentary election is dictated by sections 3 and 46 of the Scotland Act 1998. Unlike at Westminster, a First Minister does not remain in office until someone else is appointed. Rather, within 28 days the new Parliament must elect (or re-elect) a First Minister. If they do not, then there is another election. The Parliament itself can't change this because it is in the Act. Simple as that. 

The First Minister so elected has to win a majority of votes cast, so, if, on my model, the three "unionist" parties voted consistently against any SNP nominee but failed to take any other initiative, there would be another election. 

But why conceivably would they do that? "Unnecessary" elections are never popular with the electorate. Those responsible never prosper. They are also expensive. And refighting an election on the platform that the choice was either continued stability (of sorts) with a returned SNP majority or, alternatively,  probably a third election. Really?

So there would be a mutual "unionist" interest in their not being an immediate further contest. At least until the Autumn of 2021, probably, assuming the local government elections still go ahead, until the Autumn of 2022 at the earliest.

But what happens in between!!!???

Surely the unionist parties also have a mutual interest in denying the SNP the advantages of continued incumbency? Of using public money to subtly and sometimes even not so subtly promote their separatist agenda. Of using the power of patronage to reward their friends or the threat of patronage withdrawn to silence their critics. And that logically must involve Labour talking to the Tories about some sort of interim administration.

Now would this be difficult or far from perfect? Of course it would. Labour and the Tories are agreed about the failures of the SNP but have radically different solutions. No Labour Party would support the criminal justice changes Douglas Ross proposed yesterday just as no Tory Party would support the permanent nationalisation of Scotrail. Much of the criticism of the SNP for being unwilling to do anything "bold" for fear of imperilling that part of their electorate with a vested interest in the status quo, would undoubtedly carry forward to an administration unable to do anything bold because the bold things the Tories would do would horrify us and vice versa.

But such an administration would not be without potential opportunities where we and the Tories (and the Libs) actually do agree. I say that particularly in relation to local government. We are entirely agreed that the failure to pass Barnett funding on to local authorities must stop. We are entirely agreed local government must be given more power and more respect. Written in to law. Although this would require a policy change on Labour's part, we might now be strangely agreed on directly elected Lord Provosts. We might even be able to find a way forward on non-domestic rates reform.

We would also have a mutual interest in rebranding the Scottish Government to reflect its true constitutional status. No more Saltires (alone) on everything from letterheads to commemorative plaques. No more overseas embassies. A happy embrace and acknowledgement of projects directly funded by the UK Government. Agreement with the UK Government when possible and respectful disagreement when required. But with the emphasis on respectful.  

I also think there is probably more agreement than you'd think on Pandemic recovery, using the powers of the Parliament to support small businesses and the Green revolution coming to assist the private sector (yes) in exploiting Scotland's natural resources in this regard. 

I couldn't see such an administration lasting five years. We and the Tories have too many genuine differences of opinion for that but I could certainly see it having a useful two years. While the SNP tore themselves apart over their (supposed) missed opportunity after Brexit and worked out that they hadn't known what they had with Nicola until she was (surely) gone.

The big question however remains which Party secures the key position of First Minister. I can't conceive of  us ever voting for a Tory FM or indeed them ever reciprocating. My answer would be neither. It should go to the third member of the triumvirate, the Lib Dems, on the understanding that this was to be a collegiate administration with the incumbent more chair than chief executive. 

But I also want to finish by stating one further clincher argument for Labour. If the Nats lose their majority and Labour stands aside, we will eventually get to a situation whereby the SNP, having been perceived to have lost the election, are nonetheless being kept in power by the Labour Party. If he had thought that through, that's above all why Richard should not have been so speedy in his response.




Sunday, 15 November 2020

Step aside brother.

The next few weeks are my least favourite period of the whole year. Autumn's glories are fast fading and all of that season's rituals passed. The September weekend; Halloween; Guy Fawkes night; Remembrance Sunday and, probably now also on that list, the start of Strictly. Yet the Winter Solstice and the Christmas Festival of celebration to follow are still a bit too far away to provide (forgive the cliche) a light on the horizon.

Yet last week was a good week. A vaccine was announced. Biden was confirmed as the winner of the US Presidential election to the satisfaction of everybody except Trump. Scotland qualified for a major football tournament. In UK politics Dominic Cummings was despatched back to Barnard Castle to spend more time with his family, while the Labour Party NEC was decisively regained by those who are more interested in winning elections than in excusing anti Semitism. In Scotland, there was even a straw in the wind that the pandemic fuelled bubble of enthusiasm for Scottish independence might be beginning to deflate.   

But in the midst of all this good news, one grim spire stood standing. Richard Leonard's ongoing disastrous leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. While it was good to be reminded by last week's events that you don't always lose, Scottish Labour remains in a mindset of not even trying to win.

There was a by-election in Edinburgh on Thursday. In what as recently as the 2012 local government elections was a Labour Stronghold. Not only did we not come second, we very nearly came fourth behind the Greens. 

Now, at a UK level, there seems little doubt that the accession of Starmer has led to a Labour recovery. I actually have some sympathy with the Corbynistas argument that had Corbyn been the only problem for Labour we should actually be doing better still but equally the more sentient of them would concede that, for whatever reason, we have gone from being consistently behind the Tories under their hero to being at least neck and neck.

But there has been no recovery in Scotland. That despite the following undisputed facts.

1. While Johnson's management of the pandemic has been hapless, Sturgeon's, presentation aside, has been at least as bad. Indeed, factoring in population density, arguably significantly worse. Tellingly, even Devi Sridhar, asked on Channel 4 News weeks back whether Scotland had done better than England, pretended to misunderstand the question and talked instead about something else. And nobody would surely have been keener than her to answer with an emphatic "Yes", had that been conceivably possible to justify. 

2. There is something fishy about the Salmond case. Something that is, behind the scenes, causing a very real schism within the SNP. A schism that has led or is leading a significant faction within the Party to contemplate removing Sturgeon from her current position of leadership, personal opinion poll ratings notwithstanding. Even today,  Sturgeon is spending your and my money to try to get a court order to prevent the publication of a paragraph in an email she sent to the Permanent Secretary about this matter. A most unusual thing to have to do if she was truly taking no part in the process, then or now. Jackie Baillie is playing a blinder on this but Leonard is looking on like Zelig. He seems to misunderstand that being "present but not involved" was not one of the greatest merits of our recently departed UK leader. 

3. The Scottish Government is tired. That is not a partisan point. All government's get tired after too long in office. Clement Attlee's revolutionary government of the left got tired, perhaps to soon but after delivering so much. Just as Margaret Thatcher's revolutionary government of the right also got tired. If we were being honest, excepting Brown and Darling's response to the crash, the latter years of New Labour leave little in the memory. But as each failed someone had to be positioned to pick up the baton. The sole purpose of the SNP running the Scottish Government was to have an independence referendum. They did. They lost. No matter how much they might pretend otherwise to emolliate their kilt wearing, flag waving, rank and file, there will not be another such event in the immediate future. Even if there were somehow, the nationalists do not have a coherent argument to make. This is hardly a difficult argument for an opposition to articulate. 

Yet Scottish Labour remains utterly irrelevant to the political process. Obsessed with internal wrangling over who gets the distinction of failing to get elected as a Labour candidate next May. A complete policy free zone. An organisational shambles. 

Now, just as Corbyn was not the only problem for the UK Party almost a year ago, Richard Leonard is not the only problem for us here in Scotland. It wasn't a left wing leadership who lost the last Holyrood elections or indeed presided over our original collapse in 2015. But there is simply no way his continued occupation in office is helping the situation. He has, to be fair, upped his media profile but it is too late. Nobody is listening and, excepting a running commentary on internal matters and a wholly confused narrative as to where we stand on a second referendum, he has, anyway, literally nothing of interest to say. Anybody think that Anas or Jackie would not improve matters somewhat in what should be the only important measure of performance, how well would we do at the polls? Can they win a Scottish General Election, in the sense of gaining a plurality of votes? Almost certainly not. But can they gain enough ground to deny the nationalists an overall majority? That remains to me a real possibility. And perhaps someone should be saying what we might then do with the balance of power. 

But time is short. I've long been of the view that there should not be a Holyrood poll next May. Campaigning would be too difficult in current circumstances. No door knocking; no street stalls or leafleting; no public meetings or hustings; no rallies; no stickers or balloons. The result of the US Presidential Election might have been satisfying but the process leading up to it was not. I suspect with a less controversial incumbent it might have been delayed by cross Party agreement.

But there is no way the SNP will want to waste their current poll advantage brought about by their (or at least Nicola's) impression of being the, pandemic assisted, only show in town. They also will want the election over before any pandemic post mortems have time to be concluded and before they are finally obliged to publish their much delayed report into the state of Scottish education. 

So, it will be May. Less than five months away. For Scottish Labour, less than five months away from disaster. 

The STUC is currently running a campaign to increase the number of women in leadership roles under the slogan "Step aside brother". A proud trade unionist, Richard should take the hint. Otherwise, as a distinguished historian of the Scottish Labour Party, he may well end up writing its obituary.